Middle East further encroaches on US presidential campaign

Some experts warn that there are indeed seri­ous risks if US are to pursue a more confrontational policy in Syria.

Demonstrators taking part in protest against Trump

2016/10/30 Issue: 79 Page: 1

The Arab Weekly
Mark Habeeb

WASHINGTON - With US presidential elections in the final week of campaign­ing, Republican Par­ty candidate Donald Trump unleashed a scathing attack on Democrat Hillary Clinton’s sug­gestion that she would pursue a more assertive policy towards Syria.

By risking a confrontation with Russian forces, Trump said, Clin­ton’s proposed “no-fly zone” in the air and “safe zones” on the ground would “end up in World War III over Syria”.

Trump said Clinton’s harsh rhetoric against Russian President Vladimir Putin would make it dif­ficult for her to negotiate with the Russian leader effectively were she to become president. “How is she going to go back and negotiate with this man who she has made to be so evil?” Trump said.

Trump said the United States should focus on fighting the Islamic State (ISIS), not the Syrian govern­ment of President Bashar Assad. “Assad is secondary to me, to ISIS,” Trump said. He added that by fight­ing Assad, the United States is fight­ing Russia and Iran as well, the As­sad regime’s two allies.

Trump has consistently argued that the United States and Russia should be cooperating in Syria to defeat ISIS.

Trump’s comments were in part a reaction to the Clinton campaign’s continuing assertion that he is un­fit to be president because of his volatile temperament. A recent television campaign ad for Clinton features a retired US military officer sitting near what appears to be the launch controls of a nuclear missile silo. “The thought of Donald Trump with nuclear weapons scares me to death. It should scare everyone,” the former officer says.

Another ad by a pro-Clinton po­litical group depicts mushroom clouds and scenes of the ruins of Hi­roshima, Japan, following the atom­ic bomb attack that destroyed it.

Clinton’s campaign denied Trump’s assertion and noted that in the last debate Clinton had declared that establishment of a no-fly zone would come only after dialogue with Russia. Clinton spokesman Jesse Lehrich said Trump was merely “parroting Putin’s talking points” while “refusing to lay out any plans of his own for defeating ISIS or alleviating humanitarian suf­fering in Syria”.

However, some experts have warned that there were indeed seri­ous risks if the United States were to pursue a more confrontational policy in Syria.

Matthew Rojansky, a senior Rus­sian scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington, told Politico that “if you trace out the trajec­tory of most things that candidate Clinton has said and most things that President Putin has said, they intersect at conflict.” Rojanksy said it was conceivable that Russia or Russian-backed forces might shoot down a US plane in Syria, creating a dangerous escalatory situation.

“Does it guarantee you we go to war? No, but we do go to Defcon 1,” Rojansky said, referring to the first step in the US military’s nu­clear readiness system. Defcon 1 has been informally described as “a cocked pistol”.

Mark Habeeb is East-West editor of The Arab Weekly and adjunct professor of Global Politics and Security at Georgetown University in Washington.

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