The Irish Times view on Donald Trump’s foreign policy: Going Putin’s way

Autocrats see US confusion on the world stage as an invitation to act ruthlessly beyond their own borders

As Donald Trump’s missteps in the Middle East compounded his impeachment troubles this week, Vladimir Putin could look on contentedly as the cards in Syria fell Moscow’s way. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

As Donald Trump’s missteps in the Middle East compounded his impeachment troubles this week, Vladimir Putin could look on contentedly as the cards in Syria fell Moscow’s way. Photograph: Alexey Druzhinin/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

 

As Donald Trump’s missteps in the Middle East compounded his impeachment troubles this week, Vladimir Putin could look on contentedly as the cards in Syria fell Moscow’s way.

After the abject withdrawal of US troops from northern Syria left their erstwhile Kurdish allies at the mercy of Turkish forces, Russia could legitimately declare itself to be the one power capable of mediating between Ankara, Damascus and the Kurds, while also maintaining close contact with a watchful Iran.

Russia has bombed hospitals and other civilian sites to crush Assad’s foes, and his military is accused of using chemical weapons, but under Barack Obama and now Trump the US has chosen to look away rather than stop the Syrian leader and the Kremlin.

Moscow has become a major player in the Middle East by sticking resolutely with its ally Assad

Syria is now set to be carved up by Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan, autocrats who have attacked the rule of law and political opponents at home, and now see US confusion on the world stage as an invitation to act ruthlessly beyond their own borders.

The last two American presidents have little in common, but both have let Putin and other anti-democratic leaders erode US power far from its shores, in countries that believed Washington would back up its words with actions and use its strength to defend certain values.

Russia paid barely any price for invading Georgia in 2008 and turning two of its regions into Kremlin protectorates, and six years later it occupied Crimea and started a war in eastern Ukraine that has since killed more than 13,000 people.

Moscow has become a major player in the Middle East by sticking resolutely with its ally Assad, while Trump’s abandonment of the Syrian Kurds is evidence for what Putin regards as the cynical hypocrisy of the West.

In Brussels too, western powers broke a promise to friends this week, as France blocked the start of EU accession talks with North Macedonia and Albania.

If small nations cannot trust the likes of Washington and Paris, then in strategic regions like the Middle East and the Balkans, everything is up for grabs.

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