For the Trump administration, it’s not about Syria in the Middle East, or even Russia; it’s about Iran, and only Iran.
The president’s national security staff has made a decision - Iran and its militias should be pushed out of the Levant. In addition, either the regime stops its malign behavior or the regime eventually falls. There is no gray area for John Bolton and his crew in the White House.
POTUS has the tools to do both.
But where does that leave Russia, Turkey, the Iraqis and the Kurds?
For starters, Russia is embedded with the Assad regime in the air bases near Latakia and the naval port at Tartus. All are being upgraded. Syria has been a long-term Soviet/Russian outpost in the region. I don’t think this is a show-stopper for the Trump administration. Russia can play a good game for a while, but there is no way it could confront a serious U.S. military expeditionary force in the Levant, not without moving a whole lot of more force structure to the area. That is not going to happen.
Russia doesn’t have the money, and it doesn’t have the political will domestically for that to happen. Vladimir Putin has touched the third rail of Russian politics with pension reform. The resulting civil unrest is a much bigger threat to the Kremlin currently than the need to confront President Trump in Syria in any substantial way. The recent downing of the IL-20 reconnaissance plane by Russian-manned air defense networks near the Khmeimim air base shows how tenuous the Russian position really is at the moment. A massive Russian military deployment to Syria is simply not going to happen.
Turkey is keen to stop the Kurds from establishing a Kurdish state on their border, and to maintain influence in the Fertile Crescent. Mr. Trump has no problem with this either in the long run. This is a diplomatic issue that needs to be solved. It won’t be solved in any substantial way militarily. The Kurds, of course, want autonomy and President Trump may use this as leverage against Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his Islamofascist behavior. There is serious support for the Kurdish movement in the U.S. A solution needs to be found and will be found in my opinion.
As I said in the beginning, the real problem in the Middle East, in Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Bolton’s eyes, is the Islamic Republic of Iran. The White House has decided that Iranian forces and Iranian-backed forces have to leave Syria. The administration has also decided that it has the tools to stop Iran‘s malign behavior across the world and, if necessary, bring down the regime. This is the likely end game here. Mr. Trump said as much at the United Nations this week, if you read between the lines.
Iran will not be allowed to obtain nuclear-weapons capability. Iran‘s support for terror around the world, from Europe to the U.S., has to be stopped. Iran‘s ballistic missile development has to be stopped. Iran‘s threats toward the Jewish state have to be ended. Iran and its armies simply cannot remain in Syria and continue to endanger Israel’s very existence. If you haven’t noticed recently, Israel obviously feels the same way.
There is nothing Tehran and Moscow can do about this eventual outcome.
Most likely, the Iranian regime will not stop its murderous behavior. Therefore, regime change is the likely option — not pursued by American military force, but by the Iranian people supported by Washington, of course.
Russia‘s goal of reaping billions from Iran through weapons sales and other transactions is dead. Although Europe is talking a good game of continuing to support the regime for irresponsible, economic reasons, I believe this will fall through as well. The European Union (EU) has already arrested Iranian diplomats on the continent looking to bomb opposition events. The U.S. has arrested spies in Washington, D.C., targeting opposition figures. The Iranian regime will continue to act out in desperate ways as their power diminishes. Europe will not be able to withstand the stink of terror that will come with that scenario.
There will be a deal between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. Russia stays in Syria. The Assad regime remains in power propped up by Moscow. But Iran has to leave.
It’s not a matter of if, but when.
L. Todd Wood, a graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy, flew special operations helicopters supporting SEAL Team 6, Delta Force and others. After leaving the military, he pursued his other passion, finance, spending 18 years on Wall Street trading emerging market debt, and later, writing. The first of his many thrillers is “Currency.” Todd is a contributor to Fox Business, Newsmax TV, Moscow Times, the New York Post, the National Review, Zero Hedge and others. For more information about L. Todd Wood, visit LToddWood.com.