22 December 2018   Leave a comment

Turkey and Iran have indicated that they are willing to work with each other in Syria despite having differences on the possible outcomes of an end to the civil war there. Turkey has indicated that it will not comply with the US-imposed sanctions on Iran which came about after the US unilaterally pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal. It appears as if both countries have recognized the dangers of conflict after the US decision to pull out of Syria. Both countries are jockeying for positions of influence in Syria–Turkey wishes to use the US departure as an opportunity to eliminate the Kurdish drive for autonomy in the region and Iran wishes to establish a corridor of influence that extends from Tehran through Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon. These objectives are not necessarily incompatible, but they require delicate diplomatic efforts to avoid conflict.

It also appears as if Turkey’s influence was decisive in President Trump’s decision to pull US troops out of Syria. The Washington Post has an extraordinary article recounting a telephone conversation between President Erdogan of Turkey and US President Trump. The Post paraphrases the conversation on accounts presumably given by officials in the White House who had access to the conversation:

“The Islamic State, according to Trump himself, had been defeated, Erdogan said. Turkey’s military was strong and could take on any remaining militant pockets. Why did some 2,000 U.S. troops still need to be there?

“’You know what? It’s yours,’ Trump said of Syria. ‘I’m leaving.’

“The call, shorthanded in more or less the same words by several senior administration officials, set off events that, even by the whirlwind standards of Washington in the Trump years, have been cataclysmic. They ended, for the moment at least, with Thursday’s resignation of Defense Secretary Jim Mattis.”

The decision leaves in the lurch two important and loyal US allies: the Kurds and the Syrian Defense Force, a melange of Arab anti-Assad forces in Syria. Both have proven to be effective in fighting Syrian government forces but are now completely abandoned by the US. There are many analysts who are making the argument that the US decision weakens the US tremendously in the region. There are some analysts, however, who believe that the decision to leave Syria is the correct decision, although there are reservations about the way it was done.

The decision also undermines Israel, which is a curious outcome given the strong support President Trump has given to Israel. Iran will undoubtedly believe that it has a freer hand in supporting various groups in Syria and none of those groups have any sympathy for Israel’s interests in the region.

The global economy seems to be slowing down at a brisk pace. There are probably a number of factors behind this decline: the tariffs the US has imposed on important commodities and the reciprocal tariffs imposed by other states; the rise in the value of the US dollar brought about by increases in interest rates by the US Federal Reserve; and fears of credit excesses in China and several European states.

The decline is also manifested in financial markets as a high degree of uncertainty has been injected into investment decisions. That uncertainty has been fueled by what appears to be capricious decisions by the US in terms of its international commitments, the fears of a government shutdown, and concerns over a burgeoning trade war. The US stock market endured its worst results since the Great Recession of 2008. But markets all over the world have suffered. There is no question that US pre-eminence in the global economy is no longer taken for granted and that change suggests that the global economy is at risk of becoming unmoored.

Posted December 22, 2018 by vferraro1971 in World Politics

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