Alwaght- The US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw American forces from Syria met drew oppositions from his critics at home. Disregarding the objections, the President set a four-month timeframe for his troops to leave the war-ravaged Arab nation. The new strategy for Syria has raised a set of questions surrounding Trump’s real goals. Some believe that by doing so the American leader wants to free up further US potentials to focus on China. If true, 2019 could be a year laden with trade war and geopolitical tensions between the two heavyweights. But how this can be true? And what are the signs?
Trump said the victory over the ISIS terrorist group made him take the decision. He said that fighting terrorism was the only drive for the American troops' deployment and now this drive no longer exists as the war on the terrorists is won. Last week, Trump during his trip to Iraq told the American troops serving there that the US cannot be the global police.
The unexpected decision was met by strong opposition both at home and abroad. Florence Parly, the French Defense Minister called the move “a grave decision”, adding that the coalition’s Syria mission has not ended yet and ISIS is not fully obliterated.
Trump does not want to pay any costs for the Syrian war because the main beneficiaries of Washington presence in Syria are the Syrian Kurds, Saudi Arabia, the Israeli regime, and the UAE while the campaign has no considerable interests for the US itself. In the 2017 national security document, Trump said he sought to transfer the US security costs on the allies. He stressed in the document that the US will continue long-term strategic partnership with Iraq. He continued that he will establish new partnerships in the region. His surprise visit to Iraq in late December and the plans to strengthen the US military bases in Iraq are meant to prevent ISIS new power gain after ISIS withdrawal from Syria.
Trump knows well that over 2,000 ISIS fighters now form sleeping terror cells in Syria and once the US forces leave, they will reorganize and reemerge. This knowledge leads him to the decision to devise a Saudi-Israeli alliance in Syria. In a recent tweet, he said that Saudi Arabia is going to pay for Syria rebuilding, though his comment met Saudi Arabian rejection. On the other side, France announced that it will continue to fight ISIS in Syria.
France, a member of the US-led military coalition in Syria has 1,100 military troops and four military bases on Syria soil. This drives Trump to the conclusion that US withdrawal will serve its interests more than its stay because on the one hand the military costs will fall on Russia and France’s shoulder and on the other hand a competition may rise between Turkey, Russia, and the Syrian government over filling the American vacuum and thus an alliance where Washington has no place can be undermined. Yet another goal for Trump behind Syria pullout and Afghanistan troops cut is beefing up the American presence in East Asia.
Trump and China in 2019
In his national security document, Trump refers to competition for influence as a key principle in the American foreign policy. The document reads that China seeks to replace the US in the Indian Peninsula and Oceania. Trump is strongly against the economic and military order sought by Beijing for that region. In the document, he wants to boost the long-term military presence and establish a powerful defense network there. Trump sees China as the biggest threat with the largest technological capabilities and military potentials after the US, something that he thinks needs to be prevented before it is too late. This view of China made him break with the long-held belief of his successors that allowing Beijing integration into the global economy will have the best for it to adjust to the American-designed universal order.
In his New Year message, Trump claimed the economy is doing well and Washington made serious accomplishments. This mainly meant to justify his controversial measures over the past two years. But Dow Jones Index, the US industrial indicator, lost 1,500 points in two days to the end of 2018, with many analysts blaming the trade war with China and Trump's policy volatility for the fall. Nasdaq, the US electronic industries index, fell 4.8 percent at the end of the year. Dow Jones fall is unprecedented in two years.
These statistics indicate that Trump’s economic confrontation with China is harder than what he thought before. So, he has decided to move the counter-China policy to a new stage in 2019. The new measures include new tariffs on car imports from China and security pressures on Beijing by expanding ties with Taiwan and intensifying naval presence in the South China Sea. Part of the new policy was launched in late 2018 when USS Decatur destroyer sailed as close as 12 miles to the South China Sea which is increasingly claimed by Beijing as an undisputed area of naval dominance. The move drew strong condemnation from China Defense Ministry. In response, a Chinese patrolling destroyer reportedly sailed dangerously close to the American vessel, which left the region afterward.
After the incident, US Vice-President Mike Pence at the Hudson Institute, a pro-Trump think tank, criticized Beijing for the naval confrontation. He argued that China expansion of naval presence across East Asia follows the aim of cutting US links to its regional allies. He further said that China uses the policy of loan giving and indebting foreign governments to proceed with its global agenda. He lashed out at Beijing relations to President Nicolas Maduro of Venezuela who is under US economic and political pressures. The US sought to put strains in China by sanctioning Iran and Venezuela, two main oil suppliers to China. The US is raising its oil production a bid to seize the world energy markets. As China becomes the largest oil consumer, the US seeks to become the largest oil supplier in a bid to control the Asian power using energy instrument.
US military moves around China
The US National Defense Strategy commission in its last 2018 report said that the US global military superiority has declined and cannot confront more than one country in a potential war. Now Trump. Has to decide whether to focus on Russia and West Asia or China. On the other side, Kim Jong-un of North Korea has recently said if Washington fails to change its approach of sanctions, he, who in 2017 promised to disarm in return for lifted sanctions, will take a different path. So, the vital US interests, Trump thinks, are threatened mainly in East Asia not in Syria and pointing the security concentration on China will automatically hold North Korea, which is fed up with Washington’s promise of sanctions relief delay, under its control. The recent US destroyers deployment close to China’s territorial waters was meant to pressure Beijing. Trump finds the military pressure a supplement to the trade war with China.
In negotiations between China and the US, the two sides agreed that if they fail to reach a trade deal by March this year, Trump will impose new 25-percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese-made goods. Car industry will effectively influence a deal between the two. Trump is reportedly awaiting the Department of Commerce to finalize his decision on new levies.
Having in mind that Trump seeks to deal a blow to the Chinese economy not to seal a win-win deal with Beijing, he is preparing himself to make the trade war painful for China using the security pressure. As part of this aim, on last Saturday the American surveillance planes were detected to be flying close to Chinese coasts. They left the region after Chinese fighter jets were scrambled for reaction.
Trump’s surprise decision to leave Syria and focus on China comes while he is in a race against time to finalize his win in a trade war against China. If he fails to turn our victorious, his loss of 2020 presidential election will be highly likely.