Trump files and tackling Russia and Iran
Russia-US relations are important for those in the West and for us, writes Abdulrahman al-Rashed
Russia-US relations are important for those in the West and for us. It’s not only important because Russia is an active ally of Iran and a major partner in the war in Syria but also because much of international relations depends on what transpires between Russia and the US.
A more optimistic projection is the beginning of a new era of greater cooperation between Moscow and Washington. The result may be surprising considering the reasonably good relations between the two countries during Barack Obama’s eight years as president.
President-elect Donald Trump has commended Russian leader Vladimir Putin and repeatedly said that he will be able to improve relations with him. However, I haven’t heard any expert who supports this and thinks that the US, under the Republican control in the White House and the Congress, can improve the relations.
Several problems exist between the two sides including the conflict in Ukraine, disagreement over borders and influence of NATO and threats against European interests. Some Republicans blame the Obama administration for not confronting the Russian expansion and for not holding on to their old zones of influence during the days of the Cold War.
Trump possesses a strong character and it is expected that his frequent accusations of Obama policy being weak reflects his true vision which is likely to lead to tensions between the two superpowers unless Russia backs down in Crimea and East Europe. Everyone is waiting for Trump to announce his team and it’s possible that he will choose a Secretary of State from among the hawks in order to demonstrate that Trump’s America is different from Obama’s.
Although Obama obtained Congress approval on the agreement, and overpowered the Israeli lobby, opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran continues to be strong and may be obstructed in the new political seasonAbdulrahman al-Rashed
But what should be our matter of concern when it comes to relations between Moscow and Washington? The end of the Cold War in the beginning of the 90s represented the end of the map of alliances in the Middle East as the world knew it for almost half a century. This phase was followed by two contradictory American policies – an aggressive one in the form of invasion of Iraq during George W. Bush’s term and a passive one as seen during Obama’s term.
Some Republicans criticized the current administration because it completely ended American military presence in Iraq and violated Bush’s policy, which was withdrawal of most troops but leaving enough to prevent a vacuum that may allow other powers to infiltrate an important strategic country. This is exactly what happened later as Iran dominated the scene there and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) emerged.
The other chapter in this file relates to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, American strategic relations with Israel and Washington’s interests in the oil-rich Gulf zone. After the negotiations with Tehran were no longer a secret, Israel was the first to actively oppose these negotiations and the agreement.
Although Obama obtained the Congress’ approval on the agreement, and overpowered the Israeli lobby, opposition to the nuclear agreement with Iran continues to be strong and vows to obstruct it in the new political season.
Iran did not give Obama anything significant in exchange and was quick to reassure the Russians that its nuclear agreement will not harm its special relations with them. It then confirmed its alliance with Russia through joint military operations and other deals. This will probably recolor the map of Middle East alliances and divide them between the Russians and the West.
Trump’s rise and Putin’s insistence to adhere to his stances may bring back the ghost of the Cold War but not the war itself. The question is whether this possible scenario is in our interest? On the one hand, this has negative consequences because tension will rise. However, it is also possible that this could lead to US-Gulf defense agreements and addressing of Israel’s objections against Hezbollah, which may put an end to Iranian expansion in our region.
There’s no doubt that Trump’s arrival in the White House is a significant development that will leave its mark on the world including on our region. Many issues remained suspended during Obama’s term and they will be linked to interpreting relations with Kremlin and with the presidents’ capability to later cooperate or compete.
We must not expect much during the first half of Trump’s first year, especially in major conflict zones like Syria and Iraq, as his administration’s policy will crystallize only later.
During this time, will Iran be able to tilt the balance in its favor? Or will the Arab countries succeed in obstructing the latter’s advancement and prompt the reversal of the western policy of containment of Iran? Or will Iran alter its behavior in response to new international developments?
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on Nov. 14, 2016.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed