President- elect Donald Trump will be inaugurated in less than a week and questions remain on the table about how the former reality star turned politician will handle thorny foreign policy issues on the international stage, particularly as they relate to China, Russia, and the Middle East.
The 2016 presidential election was a volatile election that saw unprecedented Russian meddling which the top 3 U.S. intelligence agencies have unanimously concluded in a report was authorized from Russia’s government with the sole objective of helping Donald Trump to become elected to the White House.
President-elect Donald Trump has been reluctant to embrace the belief Russian meddling occurred during the presidential election but finally acknowledged during a press conference on Wednesday that “Putin shouldn’t have been doing it” concerning the hacking of U.S. political organizations and individuals followed by the release of damaging e-mails on WikiLeaks.
Trump also said he doesn’t think President Barack Obama went too far after he slapped additional sanctions on Russian, including the expulsion of 35 Russian diplomats, in response to Russian meddling during the election.
The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that President elect Trump said he would keep sanctions on Russia that President Obama imposed in late December connected to Russian hacking during the election but also remain open to lifting sanctions if Moscow proves to be helpful battling terrorists and reaching other goals that are important to the U.S.
“If you get along and if Russia is really helping us, why would anybody have sanctions if somebody’s doing some really great things?” Trump said.
On December 29th U.S. President Barack Obama released a statement indicating he is imposing additional sanctions on Russia through executive order that covers nine entities and individuals connected to Russian intelligence agencies.
The sanctions also include shutting down two Russian compounds in Maryland and New York, and declaring “persona non grata” 35 Russian intelligence operatives who are believed to be Russian diplomats operating in the U.S.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Friday that he is open to meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin after the inauguration on January 20th.
Although Russia and the U.S. have a shared common interest in defeating global terrorism, the two nations have different allies in the Middle East that are often antagonistic and even hostile towards one another.
Those divisions comes to a sharp focus particularly in Syria where a proxy war has led to an exodus of millions of Syrians and ISIS has waged a military campaign to siege control over Syria.
The U.S. and its Arab partners spent millions training and supporting moderate rebel groups in Syria to battle ISIS with a shared common goal removing Syrian President Bashar al Assad from power and enacting a new transitional government in Damascus.
Under the Obama administration, the U.S. has been critical of Syrian President Bashar al Assad for human rights violations beginning in 2011 with the crackdown of protestors in the Arab Spring marches and the later release of chemical weapons on civilian populations in Syria.
In 2012 President Obama issued a “red line” warning to Syrian President Bashar al Assad over the use of chemical weapons on civilians in Syria and came close to asking for Congressional support to authorize attacks in Syria but instead he brokered a deal with Russia and Syria to get chemical weapons out of the war torn country.
Since then, Russia has doubled down with its military support towards Syrian President Assad and maintains a close relationship with its other ally Iran which is a rival of U.S. allies in the region, including Middle East power player Saudi Arabia that is involved in Yemen battling against Iranian supported Houthis fighters.
Backed by the assistance of Russian air bombing attacks, the Assad regime in Damascus has taken control over Aleppo and driven back Arab rebel groups, including U.S. supported moderate rebel groups.
Syrian President Bashar al Assad has Alawite roots that are rooted in Shia Islam.
President Assad’s regional ally, Iran, is predominately Shia and supports Hezbollah in neighboring areas such as Lebanon.
The U.K.’s Guardian is reporting that Iran is repopulating Syria with Shia Muslims to help tighten the Assad regime’s control over Syria.
The new Shia arrivals in Syria have a different allegiance and profess a different Islamic faith than former Sunni inhabitants.
The influx of Shia arrivals are part of a plan to make a lasting demographic change in Syria.