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Trump Should Be Wary of Putin’s Syria Plan

Author: Stephen Sestanovich, George F. Kennan Senior Fellow for Russian and Eurasian Studies
May 12, 2017
New York Times


There is no more hopeful way of describing President Trump’s foreign policy than to say it is slowly becoming “normal.” We are told that sensible and experienced advisers have growing influence and that disruption for its own sake is no longer prized. I’m hopeful too, but a lot of evidence still points the other way.

For that reason, Mr. Trump’s willingness to endorse Russian proposals to “de-escalate” the civil war in Syria will be a crucial test of policy normalcy.

The president, optimists could argue, has distinguished his approach from Barack Obama’s in three ways that should strengthen his hand in the Middle East: He reached out to traditional allies of the United States, cultivating the presidents of Turkey and Egypt and announcing visits to Israel and Saudi Arabia. He expanded the American military effort against major strongholds of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. And — the best-known move — he ordered a cruise-missile strike on Syrian forces that had used chemical weapons. What better way to show other players, especially Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin, that the United States was back in the game?

If Mr. Trump were to succeed, skeptics like me would have to admit that he knows how to get things done — and to get others to help him. But his effort to restore American influence is floundering.

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