US President Donald Trump has been thrust into the center of international affairs since his November victory. Having limited experience in the area of foreign policy, Mr. Trump must prove himself to be a quick study as he is the target of those who wish to exploit his naivety in order to serve their interests and agendas. Unfortunately, the issues of the International Community are infinitely complex. Not only are the conflicts of interests between international actors a tangled mess, it is terribly difficult to access what are the true interests of the United States, which is what Donald Trump must address as the US President.
Russia and the Middle East, specially the Islamic State threat nurtured by the Syrian Civil War, are attracting the greatest amount of attention. For Donald Trump, Russian hostility is a far less pressing issue than the threat of the Islamic State and globalized terrorism. It is, however, important to remember the Islamic State is a far more pressing concern for those in Middle East and Africa, as well as Europe and Asia, due to their geographical proximity to the unstable region. The United States does have interests in Iraq and Syria, specially ensuring the Islamic State does not become a far more serious threat to the US, but it is not the role of the US to win this conflict nor is this conflict going to end quickly.
It is important to first recognize that the fight against the Islamic State has never been and will never be just about subduing the threat of the terrorist group. Already serving as a proxy war between the Saudi-led Coalition and Iran, the broader Syrian Civil War continues to grow increasingly complicated. Direct Russian military intervention in Syria has, of course, redefined the conflict as a proxy war between the US and Russia as well as a proxy war between Turkey and Russia.
American war hawks have long advocated for intervention on the ground in Syria and renewed commitment to the Iraq War, but the costs of the Afghanistan and Iraq Wars have made such a level of engagement both unrealistic and hazardous to US national security. The unfortunate reality is that terrorist groups like the Islamic State will continue to arise in the Middle East as long as the underlying issues behind destabilizing civil unrest and terrorism exist. Frankly, the Islamic State threat is far too vast for a handful of special force members to make a difference.
What this means is that mission creep in the fight against the Islamic State is inevitable, unless the missions of foreign forces in the Middle East are limited to well-defined roles. Even if the Islamic State can be bombed out of existence or hunted down by special forces, other competing factions, including other nations, will emerge to become the predominate threat in the region. This will prove to be true until national and sectarian rivals stop using extremists groups and tactics to undermine each other in the perpetual proxy wars of the region, which is why US engagement must be limited to a support role.
Furthermore, the prosperity, security, and stability of the International Community, which have a far greater impact on the national security, economic, and broader interests of the United States than the regional concerns of the Middle East, are threatened by the polarizing conflicts surrounding Russia and China. On the Chinese front, developments in the South China Sea Crisis and the escalation of the restarted Korean War are fostering animosity between US-aligned nations and China. On the Russian front, the Ukraine Crisis and Russian support of the Assad regime in the Syrian Civil War are driving the US, Europe, and the Middle East to treat Russia as an enemy.
Where Beijing frames developments like China’s militarization of the artificial islands it built in the South China Sea as a response to alleged US aggressions in the form of freedom of navigation patrols, the US and its Asian allies see such explanations as nothing but justifications. US-aligned nations have long believed Beijing had already planned to militarize the artificial islands in order to seize and defend the South China Sea territory it claims as its own. From Beijing’s perspective, China is simply using its renewed strength to assert its rightful ownership over the South China Sea
As the modern leaders of China, the Communists feel they are reclaiming the stolen-legacy of their predecessors that they are entitled to control. China’s neighbors see Beijing’s efforts in the South China Sea and elsewhere as an effort to invade their territories. While Beijing frames the US as a regional interloper siding with illegitimate governments of stolen Chinese territories, the US sees Beijing lacking the legitimacy of a democratically elected government.
Russia’s seizure of Crimea, which started the Ukraine Crisis, continued intervention on behalf of the Assad regime, and new weapons deal with Iran, which recently used the Iranian Nuclear Deal to free itself of sanctions, are analogous to the situation with China. Although the Putin government claims all its policies were made necessary due to Western meddling, the West believes Russia planned these events long before Western reactions to developing situations justified these Russian policies.
From the Russian perspective, the Ukraine Crisis and Western criticism of Russian intervention in Syria fits nicely into the Cold War narrative. The Putin government frames both situations as necessary responses to NATO expansion, Western interference in the domestic affairs of other nations, and US efforts to overthrow unfavorable governments. The West, however, sees the Ukraine Crisis as a response to Russian dominance while Russian support of the Assad regime is seen as a destructive move to support a regime that provoked a civil war for the sake of maintaining power.
With that in mind, these deepening conflicts between major world powers did not start a few years ago nor are they solely rooted in current disagreements. Whether these conflicts were engineered or predictable reactions to the leaders of the US, China, and Russia pursuing their perceived interests, what really matters is how to confront and resolve these conflicts. Instead of obsessing over who is to blame for these current threats to International Community, it is more important to recognize why these conflicts have just now emerged as serious crises.
Since the world emerged from the Cold War, the International Community has emphasized the need to foster positive relationship and the development of the global economy. By engineering an International Community where there was a mutual interest among all governments to sustain peace and stability, the hope was that armed conflicts could be avoided. What happened was that legitimate conflicts of interests and grievances were repressed when they needed to be confronted in a constructive manner.
Where maintaining the status quo benefited the United States and its powerful European allies, rogue nations like North Korea and Iran quickly realized the desire of world powers to avoid armed conflict afforded them an opportunity to improve their influence within the International Community. Observing the appeasement of rogue nations, as well as efforts to avoid confrontation and armed conflict at all costs, Moscow and Beijing saw opportunities to improve their position as global powers by defying the will of the United States and the International Community.
Because the legitimate grievances from the Cold War were ignored, leftover Cold War sentiments have been revived to foster distrust between the Western and Russian Peoples. Fixated on their resentment of efforts by groups like the CIA to engineer coups, for example, the Russian People are quick to overlook the wrongs of their leaders. Thanks to the misbehavior of the CIA and NSA as revealed by the Edward Snowden revelations, the Putin government has been able to act in Ukraine and Syria by framing its actions as a response to Western provocation in order to avoid public outrage.
Seeking to garner public support for its agenda and avoid civil unrest, Beijing has also tried to use the wrongs of influential Americans to reawaken nationalistic and anti-American sentiments at home. Viewing the US government as just another form of government where special interest groups replace authoritarian officials, the Chinese leadership sees only the need to govern. Consequently, it hopes to replace United States as a hegemonic power in order to foster global stability and improve global governance with strong authoritarian oversight.
As Cold War relations thawed, Beijing forced the Chinese People to embrace a role as the world’s factory in order to secure Chinese prosperity. Where Western political leaders had hoped the economic embrace of China would force Beijing to embrace democratic ideals and help address human rights issues, the plutocratic Chinese leadership has used its entanglement in the global economy to gain influence in order to pursue its agendas. Instead of democracy, Beijing seeks to rule the Peoples of the world as they have ruled their own Peoples, i.e. with the oppressive guise of superficial Communism.
Due to increased competition from the economic woes of the Great Recession, civil unrest as exemplified by the Arab Spring Revolutions, and the inability of Western militaries to cope with all global crises, the leaders of Russia and China see an opportunity to resolve their Cold War grievances in a way that favors them the most. In other words, leaders stuck in a Cold War mindset believe they have been able to seize upon strains in the International Community to assert their influence and use fear of conflict to empower their nations.
Unfortunately, the only means to avoid armed conflict at this point is the embrace of cold war polarization. By their very nature, cold wars are wars of attrition where proxy wars, like the Syrian Civil War and the Korean War, are used to weakened competitors. In order to win a cold war, the victor must outlast its opponents, which the US did by building a network of allies larger than that of Russia. As this approach can take decades, there is a need to resolve the grievances fueling such conflicts far quicker. Russia has legitimate grievances against the West that need resolved and the West has done plenty of things wrong, but Putin’s actions in the Ukraine Crisis and, now, the Syrian Civil War are causing problems for the world.
The drama of the Ukraine Crisis and the Syrian Civil War is monotonous and frustrating. It distracts world leaders from working on their policy priorities and issues like nuclear disarmament, poverty, economic instability, climate change, cyber security, and a myriad of other hurdles to human progress. The truth is that most people would like to avoid all of these problems in order to focus on far more interesting, progress-building subjects like space travel, advances in medicine, and nanotechnology, but the crises before the world today must be addressed before the future can be built.
The Western-Russian culture class, which has helped inspire the Cold War and the Ukraine Crisis, the ancient Chinese-Russian rivalry, the Korean War, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Kurdish-Turkish conflict, the Indian-Chinese-Palestinian conflict, widespread destitution in Africa, globalized terrorism, skyrocketing National Debts, and severe economic disparity are all issues no one wants to hear about. In many respects, these problems are the problems of other people, but the nasty thing about these kinds of problems is that they tend to eventually become everyone’s problems when they are ignored. Until these deeply rooted, difficult-to-solve problems can be resolved, the world must focus on dealing with these issues.
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