“To repair his abysmal approval rating, Trump is likely to further intervene in Syria, prompting a dangerous Russian response”.
What conclusions has Moscow drawn from the failed rapprochement with the US, after the Tillerson-Putin meeting? 1) Washington’s internal objectives outweigh external ones. Trump was expected to reduce foreign policy activism and focus on domestic problems. But having encountered challenges in his domestic political agenda, he decided to use foreign policy to improve the political atmosphere. The strike on Syria was the first move to win broad approval in Washington. But this is very dangerous strategically, because the White House has no plan of action in Syria. Washington is returning to its position of three years ago: regime change in Syria and support for rebels, but in a new situation which can lead to military confrontation with Russia. 2) Russia is not in and of itself an important focus for the U.S. The disproportionate attention Russia is given in the US political debates is a convenient foil for settling political points between groups in Washington. 3) The widespread support of the strike by allies will encourage Washington to act in the same vein again. 4) Trump is not impulsive and unpredictable. He has acted exactly as he declared. The main idea of his political rhetoric is that “everyone must respect us, and if anyone doesn’t, we will make him do it.” The purpose of the strike in Syria was to show everyone that America is back in the game. 4) It is senseless for either side to make concessions. For Trump, an agreement can only be reached from a position of strength. But for Putin, there can be no agreement under pressure. This is risky. Russia is not seeking confrontation, but if pressure keeps growing, Russia will respond asymmetrically and sharply. Faint prospects for a political settlement that began to emerge when the U.S. had stepped back may be ruined again by great-power rivalry. Its logic is merciless: priority is given not to the interests of the Syrian people but to prestige, very important for both Putin and Trump.