Previous White House administrations have dealt President Trump a lousy hand in in high-stakes nuclear gambles with Syria, Iran, and North Korea, along with their Russia and China backers.
Fortunately, the tables may finally be turning.
Adversaries who have become accustomed to winning through deceit and intimidation have finally met an opponent who is evidently calling their bluff and raising the ante through a comprehensive and aggressive three-part game plan.
Peace Through Strength
In combination with the U.S. retaliatory response to Bashar al-Assad’s ruthless attacks on civilians last April, this month’s American, British and French coalition airstrikes on Syrian chemical weapons facilities delivered a serious message to Damascus, Tehran, Pyongyang and Moscow.
In short, those former times of empty White House rhetoric are over.
U.S. and coalition actions in Syria also served notice that America and key Western allies are not willing to cede Mideast and global security interests to domination by dangerous adversaries. Here again, however, the president has inherited another daunting dilemma.
Allowing Iran and Russia to continue to have their way in Syria also opens the door to a dangerous confrontation between Tehran’s Lebanese Hezbollah proxies and Israel which will inevitably draw America into an even larger conflict. Overthrowing Assad, on the other hand, will lead to an expanded American military commitments in combination with uncertain efforts to cobble together a less radical Damascus government.
Stability Through Sustainable Coalitions
The Trump administration appears to be making real progress towards influencing anti-Iran Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar and Egypt, to commit increased military and economic contributions in Syria. The ultimate goal is to rapidly withdraw and replace the 2,000 remaining American forces altogether.
Speaking at an April 16 joint press conference with U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Saudi Arabia foreign minister Adel al-Jubeir stated, "We are in discussions with the U.S. since the beginning of the Syrian crisis about sending forces into Syria." He added that the Obama administration had rebuffed his country’s 2016 offer to deploy troops to Syria in support of a U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State.
As for financial support, the foreign minister argued that Saudi Arabia has a record of doing its part. He said, "In terms of financial contributions, Saudi Arabia has always maintained its share of the burden."
The Trump administration has also achieved apparent success in persuading China to bring North Korea to the nuclear disarmament bargaining table. Kim Jong Un recently agreed to freeze nuclear testing, and also to drop a requirement that U.S. troops be withdrawn from South Korea as a condition for the summit meeting.
Consequential Leverage Through Sanctions
China’s participation in U.N. Security Council trade sanctions against North Korea has registered major impacts. According to the South Korean Ministry of Unification, their exports to China fell from $3.4 billion in 2016, to $1.7 billion in 2017.
The U.S. and Europe now have only until May 12 to agree upon any fixes to the Obama administration’s infamous "Iran nuclear deal." That current diplomatic disaster frees up billions of dollars for Tehran to purchase atomic weapon and ballistic delivery technologies from Pyongyang for its own use, along with armaments to advance its misadventures in Syria.
The Islamic Republic of Iran spent about $15 billion last year to finance Assad’s military and their Lebanon Hezbollah proxies. Tehran’s support to Damascus also includes deployment of its Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to Syria.
Any truly consequential to repair the Iran deal debacle will demand renewed sanctions that target all Revolutionary Guard and Hezbollah sponsors, including Russia. The Trump White House has already put Moscow on notice that continued interventions on behalf of Assad will have costly repercussions.
Less than two days after this month’s coalition airstrikes upon Assad’s chemical weapon facilities, U.N. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley told CBS’s "Face the Nation," "You will see that Russian sanctions will be coming down . . . And they will go directly to any sort of companies that were dealing with equipment related to [Syrian President Bashar al-Asad] and chemical weapons used."
Securing European support will likely be a hard sell given that many EU companies are handsomely profiting from Iran trade tied to the same funds. On the other hand, the coordinated U.S., British, French coalition response to Assad’s latest chemical weapon assault affords an opportunity to parlay rare trans-Atlantic and bipartisan support to leverage sanction pain.
In this context, the timing for effective actions is actually on our side. Weak economies are causing Iranian and Russian populations to become disenchanted with Syrian military engagements that compete for overly-stretched domestic resources. Meanwhile, Pyongyang, already a desperate economic basket case, is struggling to shore up hard currency needed to purchase petroleum and other essentials.
America may finally be holding a winning Trump card after all.
Larry Bell is an endowed professor of space architecture at the University of Houston where he founded the Sasakawa International Center for Space Architecture (SICSA) and the graduate program in space architecture. He is the author of "Scared Witless: Prophets and Profits of Climate Doom" (2015) and "Climate of Corruption: Politics and Power Behind the Global Warming Hoax" (2012). He is currently working on a new book with Buzz Aldrin, "Beyond Footprints and Flagpoles." Read more of his reports — Click Here Now.
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