Trump blasted for plan to co­or­di­nate with Rus­sian mil­i­tary

The Washington Times Weekly - - Geopolitics - BY GUY TAY­LOR AND CARLO MUNOZ

Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s talk of di­rect U.S.-Rus­sian mil­i­tary co­or­di­na­tion in the war against the Is­lamic State in Syria is al­ready draw­ing crit­i­cism on Capi­tol Hill and has Pen­tagon and State Depart­ment of­fi­cials scram­bling over how to im­ple­ment the sharp shift in pol­icy in the months ahead.

As a can­di­date, Mr. Trump — who spoke by phone with Rus­sian Pres­i­dent Vladimir Putin on last Mon­day — re­peat­edly crit­i­cized the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion for fail­ing to co­or­di­nate bet­ter with Rus­sia in the fight against the Is­lamic State, say­ing Moscow and Wash­ing­ton had a common goal in de­stroy­ing the ji­hadi move­ment.

Ca­reer mil­i­tary of­fi­cials and diplo­mats say they will im­ple­ment what­ever pol­icy the com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion or­ders, but sources be­hind the scenes say the most im­me­di­ate col­lab­o­ra­tion with Moscow is likely to cen­ter on re­viv­ing a stalled Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion plan that calls for joint U.S.-Rus­sian airstrikes in Syria.

“We were ready to go, and we can be ready to go again,” one U.S. de­fense of­fi­cial told The Wash­ing­ton Times, speak­ing on the con­di­tion of anonymity hours be­fore the Krem­lin an­nounced that Mr. Trump and Mr. Putin had dis­cussed ways to work to­gether on the Syria cri­sis.

A State Depart­ment of­fi­cial said on back­ground that the Obama plan, which in Septem­ber called for the cre­ation of a Geneva-based Joint In­te­gra­tion Cen­ter staffed by Rus­sian and U.S. mil­i­tary of­fi­cials, likely would be pre­sented to the in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. But the of­fi­cial stressed that no one knows whether Mr. Trump and his yet-to-be named na­tional se­cu­rity team will em­brace the plan.

“It’s all spec­u­la­tion at this point,” said the of­fi­cial, adding that it was un­clear “whether they’re go­ing to keep the strat­egy as it is, tweak it, re­vise it or do away with it com­pletely.”

Such ques­tions have been fed this week by the mixed sig­nals Mr. Trump and his small cir­cle of ad­vis­ers have sent over key na­tional se­cu­rity and diplo­matic ap­point­ments. While for­mer New York Mayor Ru­dolph W. Gi­u­liani has emerged as the front-run­ner for sec­re­tary of state, it is un­clear whether he will get the nod.

Mr. Trump’s think­ing on the sec­re­tary of de­fense and CIA di­rec­tor are even more cloudy. That re­al­ity was ham­mered home when for­mer Rep. Mike Rogers of Michi­gan, who served as chair­man of the House Per­ma­nent Se­lect Com­mit­tee on In­tel­li­gence, abruptly quit the Trump tran­si­tion team.

Re­tired Lt. Gen. Michael T. Flynn, the out­spo­ken for­mer De­fense In­tel­li­gence Agency di­rec­tor who is re­port­edly in the run­ning for a top na­tional se­cu­rity job, is known to have ad­vised Mr. Trump to push for a new era of U.S.-Rus­sian mil­i­tary co­op­er­a­tion.

Mr. Trump said on re­peated oc­ca­sions dur­ing the cam­paign that he would push to re­work the over­all U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tion­ship, and the Krem­lin said that he and Mr. Putin had dis­cussed Syria and agreed that they shared a common view on “unit­ing ef­forts in the fight with the common enemy No. 1 — in­ter­na­tional ter­ror­ism and ex­trem­ism.”

But the ques­tion of who and what con­sti­tutes a ter­ror­ist in Syria’s 5-year-old civil war has long been a stick­ing point be­tween Moscow and the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion. While the Rus­sians claim to be help­ing long­time ally Syr­ian Pres­i­dent Bashar As­sad fight ter­ror­ists, U.S. in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cials say Rus­sian air power has been de­ployed mainly to bol­ster the As­sad regime’s abil­ity to crush any and all anti-gov­ern­ment rebel forces — in­clud­ing those backed by Wash­ing­ton.

U.S. war­planes, mean­while, have fo­cused on tak­ing out tar­gets tied to the Is­lamic State, the cap­i­tal of whose self­styled caliphate is based in the Syr­ian city of Raqqa.

Push­back on the Hill

Mr. Trump’s ef­fort to over­haul U.S. pol­icy to­ward Rus­sia is prov­ing con­tro­ver­sial on Capi­tol Hill, in­clud­ing with a key mem­ber of his own party.

Senate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee Chair­man John McCain, Ari­zona Repub­li­can, bris­tled at the idea of any kind of “re­set” in U.S.-Rus­sian re­la­tions. He sug­gested that Mr. Putin is tak­ing ad­van­tage of the in­com­ing pres­i­dent.

“Vladimir Putin has said in re­cent days that he wants to im­prove re­la­tions,” Mr. McCain said. “We should place as much faith in such state­ments as any other made by a for­mer KGB agent who has plunged his coun­try into tyranny, mur­dered his po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents, in­vaded his neigh­bors, threat­ened Amer­ica’s al­lies and at­tempted to undermine Amer­ica’s elec­tions.”

Mr. McCain warned that the price of work­ing with Moscow will be “com­plic­ity in Putin and As­sad’s butch­ery of the Syr­ian peo­ple.”

Rep. Devin Nunes, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House in­tel­li­gence com­mit­tee, told For­eign Pol­icy that Mr. Trump should “pro­ceed with cau­tion” with the Rus­sians.

Mean­while, Rus­sian forces launched fresh airstrikes on parts of the north­ern Syr­ian city of Aleppo held by op­po­si­tion rebels that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion spent years try­ing to prop up.

Op­po­nents of the As­sad regime re­ported that the strikes came from Rus­sian war­planes and ship-based cruise mis­siles, The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported.

The Pen­tagon said U.S. of­fi­cials were still sift­ing through the re­ports.

“It re­mains to be seen who is do­ing what [in Aleppo],” said Navy Capt. Jeff Davis. The spokesman added that Mr. As­sad’s forces, not Rus­sian planes, may have been be­hind the strikes.

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