Tentatively, it’s good sign that US President Donald Trump had a productive phone call – again – with Russian leader Vladimir Putin this week, vowing to push for a diplomatic settlement in war-torn Syria.
At least the two leaders appear to be talking to each other – not at each other. Businessman-turned-politician Trump seems to have a refreshingly pragmatic way of respecting Putin as a potential partner, not viewing the Russian president with preconceived notions of Cold War-type hostility.
Another tentatively positive development this week was Trump’s Secretary of State Rex Tillerson giving a major speech to the US State Department on priorities for foreign policy. Tillerson called for cooperation with Russia and reminded his audience of a meeting last month held in Moscow with President Putin in which both of them acknowledged that there was an all-time low in US-Russian relations which urgently needed improvement.
So, admittedly, there appears to be a willingness in the Trump presidency for at least engaging in mutual dialogue with Moscow, as opposed to adopting an imperious attitude of lecturing Russia on alleged wrongdoings, which was all-too evident under the previous Obama administrations.
A willingness to talk is a welcome place to start building trust between the world’s two military superpowers. Nevertheless, the next and more difficult problem is: talk about what exactly?
Can agreement be found if one party to dialogue possesses such a thoroughly misguided understanding of international relations and conflicts?
The US political leadership in Washington, whether Republican or Democrat, seems to be so bereft of realistic understanding about the world. It is cocooned in a bubble of self-deluding hubris and propaganda about American power and the nature of many pressing world conflicts.
Rex Tillerson told his State Department staff that in order to improve US-Russia relations he has instructed his top policy staff to carry out a study on how to “remove irritants” between Washington and Moscow. The US chief foreign policy official went on in the same breath to accuse Russia of “behaving badly” in Ukraine.
It’s rather daunting to hear that Washington needs to conduct a high-powered investigation into finding out how to “remove irritants” in relations with Russia.
How about the US and its 28-member NATO military alliance beginning to de-escalate the unprecedented build-up of offensive forces along Russia’s border? If Tillerson can’t see how that threatening military encirclement of Russia is a major irritant then the prospects of a productive conservation are hampered from the outset.
Or how about Washington and its European allies letting go of their unfounded mantra accusing Moscow of destabilizing Ukraine? To anyone with an open mind there are ample grounds to argue that Ukraine has in fact been destabilized by US and European illegal meddling in its internal affairs. Washington and Brussels are living in denial if they cannot acknowledge that an illegal coup d’état took place in Kiev back in February 2014.
Subsequent American and NATO military support for a dubious regime in Kiev that is flagrantly violating international law from its offensive campaign on eastern Ukraine is a far more brazen manifestation of actual Western interference than is presumed about Russia.
Getting back to President Trump. He says he now wants to work with Russia to bring peace to Syria. One additional good sign was that for the first time this week, the US sent an official delegate to the peace talks that were held in Astana, Kazakhstan. There, a breakthrough was brokered by Russia, Turkey and Iran on creating “de-escalation zones” to help towards implementing a broader ceasefire.
However, the deal worked out in Astana was immediately undermined by hardline anti-government militant factions who objected to the role being played by Iran in brokering any agreement. The US and Saudi Arabia also rowed in behind the militants, making provocative disparagement of Iran’s role as a “supporter of terrorists”.
The irony, of course, is that the militants opposed to the Astana process and their Saudi and US state sponsors are the main practitioners of terrorism in Syria and beyond.
In his first overseas official trip as president, Trump is to visit Israel and Saudi Arabia later this month. The White House says Trump will seek to strengthen the “cause of fighting terrorism, reining in Iran and uniting the world against intolerance.”
The Financial Times this week reported: “US president plans to unite a coalition against Islamist terrorism and Iran.”
It’s hard to imagine a worldview so divorced from reality than that. Saudi Arabia uniting the world against intolerance and terrorism? This despotic feudal kingdom has unleashed jihadist terrorism all over the world, from the Russian Caucasus to Europe, across the entire Middle East to as far as North and West Africa. Saudi oil money along with CIA “expertise” has been the engine of global terrorism since the 1980s.
For Trump to say that he is going to Israel and Saudi Arabia to form an anti-terror coalition really shows that this president is totally clueless about the world. The people actually fighting terrorism are Russia, Iran and Syria, terrorism which has in large part been fomented and fueled by the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel.
As we began earlier, it is a welcome sign that the Trump White House is at least prepared to talk with Russia on a basis of partnership and respect. Trump and his top diplomat Rex Tillerson have both this week intimated that this kind of engagement should be the way forward to improve badly frayed relations.
But that is only a tentative beginning. Far more serious is the obstacle of American delusions and downright ignorance about the real state of the world and the destructive role of American power.
If Trump and his team can’t see that NATO’s military forces pointing into Russia’s face is an outrageous provocation, or if they think that Saudi Arabia can be a reliable partner to fight terrorism, then that does not bode well for resolving problems.
Besides, an additional, perhaps ultimate, problem is that Trump and his officials have limited control over US foreign policy and power. Trump might want to talk and even be prepared to learn a new concept of world relations (which is doubtful).
But the shadowy, unelected forces that actually run American power – the Pentagon, CIA and corporate elite – are the real players behind the throne. Their track record is one of belligerence, militarism and hegemony – not one of peaceful resolutions.
By Finian Cunningham