As the US withdraws from Syria, the war-torn country risks becoming another battleground in the proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia.
By Nathalie Goulet
Nobody seems to have explained to President Trump... that international politics is made up of precarious balances and that the US plays a major role in maintaining them.French Senator
The Middle East has never been an area of great stability. Areas of lawlessness or lacking of governance have multiplied since the US invasion of Iraq and the disasters that followed. Unfortunately, we all know the dramatic consequences, not only for the region and its people but for the whole world.
Today, Iraq asserts itself as a free country, having conquered terrorism. After parliamentary elections in May, the country seems to have resumed a normal course. It's almost miraculous.
Meanwhile, the unpredictable American president, not content with overturning the policy of his predecessor (Obama of course making his own mistakes in the region), pursues a foreign policy which ignores multilateralism (or rather, ignorant policies full stop).
President Trump does not want to be the policeman of the world, certainly, but in terms of the Middle East, he has become the deregulator-in-chief. In transferring the US embassy to Jerusalem, Trump showed not only how much he supports the Israeli prime minister, but also his contempt for international law and the Palestinian people’s rights. He did it without triggering many reactions or protests, using once more his ‘fait accompli’ strategy.
By deciding to withdraw the US from the Iran nuclear agreement and restoring sanctions, he reiterated his support - against all odds - to Saudi Arabia.
President Trump is beginning to look more and more like a sorcerer's apprentice, waving his wand indiscriminately. How could he, for instance, allow some countries to trade with a demonised Iran while others are barred from doing so under pain of exorbitant sanctions? Meanwhile Europe, being totally unable to counter the extraterritoriality of US law, now seems content enough to just issue statements in search of an unattainable common policy.
Amid this ongoing turmoil, we witnessed during Christmas week some very stupifying decisions whose timing cannot be by chance. Announcing the unilateral withdrawal of US troops from Syria, leaving the country in the hands of the Russians, Turks and Iranians while also writing off the Kurds, President Trump trumpeted the decision of ally Saudi Arabia to contribute to the reconstruction of this moribund country.
For their part, Turkey and Iran announced a financial agreement of over $30 billion (€26 billion) on 20 December. All this must be closely examined. You’ll recall that Turkey, an essential ally to the US and a key member of NATO, re-established major trade links with Iran with Trump's blessing, while also shamelessly attacking the Israeli prime minister as a "racist killer."
At the same time, Saudi Arabia has committed to rebuilding Syria in the wake of the US withdrawal. Should there not be some kind of substitution? Will this bring the stability to the region? By intervening financially in Syria, the Saudis will be confronted by the Iranians who played a major role in the elimination of Daesh.
Trump’s declaration and Saudi and Turkish promises are bringing Saudi Arabia closer to the Iranian border. While the situation in Yemen seems to be resolving and Lebanon resists its old demons while awaiting for a new government to be announced soon, does Syria risk becoming a new battlefield between two irreconcilable regional powers?
Nobody seems to have explained to President Trump (who does not seem to be the kind of president to do a lot of listening), that international politics is made up of precarious balances and that the US plays a major role in maintaining them. Unbalanced, unjust and unpredictable, President Trump takes potentially heavy risks with the safety and stability of his allies who begin to doubt his versatile word by the day.
More seriously, this new American policy highlights to Europe our extreme fragility and our inability to stand together to defend ourselves. The war on terror is not over; not in the Middle East, Central Asia, Afghanistan or sub-Saharan Africa. It is high time that the European Union's funds of almost €79 billion earmarked for security and defense were used to put in place a coherent and effective strategy in Europe.
This is a major talking point for the next European elections and must be at the top of the list of candidates' concerns. We must prepare for further Trumpian tsunamis. We must ensure our independence and our security. What is happening in Syria and the Middle East must serve us as a warning.
Nathalie Goulet is a member of the Senate of the French Republic, Vice-Chair of the parliamentary Friendship Group between France and Yemen and a member of the Finance Commission
Opinions expressed in View articles are solely those of the author.