Incoming US administration must draw a red line between al Qaeda and US-backed rebels, say analysts
US President-elect Donald Trump’s incoming administration must consider the far-reaching consequences of allowing US-backed opposition forces to work with al Qaeda in Syria, Charles Lister, a senior fellow at the Middle East Institute, said at the Atlantic Council on January 12.
Policy should not be dictated simply by whether or not a particular extremist group poses an immediate threat to the United States, said Lister. Rather, “there is a broader interest-based assessment that needs to be made,” he said. Because al Qaeda was not countered from the outset of the conflict in Syria, its extremist ideology has become normalized within the opposition, and they are now far more dangerous to the United States, Lister added.
“Our values, our security, our prosperity, and our very way of life are tied to this [rules-based] order and we… the United States and our closest partners, must come together to prevent Russia from succeeding in weakening that order,” Power said at the Atlantic Council in her final public remarks as ambassador.
Power called for a renewed commitment to the rules and institutions that have underpinned the liberal world order for the past seven decades, and the development of new tools to counter Russia’s attempts at undermining it. Russia’s attacks have “exposed” and “exacerbated” vulnerabilities within Western democracies, she said, adding, “we cannot let Russia divide us.”
Citing George Washington’s warning about the danger of foreign interference, Power said: “More than 220 years later, Washington’s warning feels strikingly relevant.”
In an interview with the Times of London and Germany’s Bild newspaper published on January 15, Trump bashed NATO as “obsolete,” described the European Union (EU) as “basically a vehicle for Germany,” applauded the United Kingdom’s decision to leave the EU, and predicted that more EU member states would follow. The comments rattled the United States’ European allies.
Trump’s key cabinet picks—secretary of state nominee former ExxonMobil Chief Executive Officer Rex Tillerson and defense secretary nominee retired Gen. James Mattis—broke with the president-elect and spoke favorably of NATO at their confirmation hearings earlier in January. However, the absence of a depth of EU expertise among Trump’s cabinet is striking, said Fran Burwell, a distinguished fellow at the Atlantic Council.
“They know about NATO or have had experience in NATO, but not regarding the EU. There is no correcting mechanism at the cabinet level that we see so far that would present a counterview to what Trump has said” about the EU, said Burwell.
“The EU itself is in for a rough ride over the next few years,” she predicted.
White House ends policy that allowed Cubans reaching US soil to automatically apply for asylumUS President Barack Obama’s decision to end the “wet foot, dry foot” policy that allowed any Cuban migrant who reached US soil to stay in the country will slow the number of Cuban immigrants rushing to the United States, but is unlikely to deter US President-elect Donald Trump from reversing some of the recent progress in the bilateral relationship, according to two Atlantic Council Latin America analysts.
Trump has said that he will dismantle the progress made in the US-Cuba relationship—a progress marked by a historic diplomatic détente in the summer of 2015 and US President Barack Obama’s visit to Havana in March of 2016—unless he gets a better deal.
A wholesale reversal of the advancement in the bilateral relationship would give China unchallenged access to Cuba, said Jason Marczak, director of the Latin America Economic Growth Initiative at the Atlantic Council's Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center.
“By disengaging from Cuba, what the administration would be doing is giving China a beachhead ninety miles off our shores,” he said.
“I remain very confident with what I have seen in the last several months,” Barkindo said at the Atlantic Council’s inaugural Global Energy Forum. “The level of commitment I have seen on both sides, to me I think is unparalleled,” he added. Barkindo expressed confidence that signatories to the deal will meet their commitments, emphasizing the level of cooperation among all stakeholders.
On the campaign trail, Trump said that he would pull the United States out of the climate accord reached in the French capital in December of 2015, but after winning the election on November 8 he told the New York Times that he is looking at the agreement “very closely” and has “an open mind to it.”
“To protect what we have here, we have to work toward solving problems abroad,” said Graham. “I’m trying to convince the new administration and my Republican colleagues that we’re going to pay now, or we’re going to pay later.”
Although Tillerson objected to recent Russian actions, he largely demurred to questions on whether it was important to continue sanctions on Russia and stressed the need to work with Russia on areas of mutual interest such as fighting terrorism. His unwillingness to describe Russia as a threat, instead calling it a danger, is unfortunate and showcases a more accommodating position on Russia in the next administration.