Trump call for 'safe zones' in Syria worrying start for new White House

John Wight
John Wight has written for newspapers and websites across the world, including the Independent, Morning Star, Huffington Post, Counterpunch, London Progressive Journal, and Foreign Policy Journal. He is also a regular commentator on RT and BBC Radio. John is currently working on a book exploring the role of the West in the Arab Spring. You can follow him on Twitter @JohnWight1
Trump call for 'safe zones' in Syria worrying start for new White House
The election of Donald Trump allowed many to hope for a change in US foreign policy. However, recent statements by Mr. Trump give reason to believe that crucial lessons have yet to be learned in Washington when it comes to international law.

It is of course impossible at this stage to know if the new president is a man given to making inflammatory pronouncements in support of the image of a tough, no-nonsense president for whom at home and overseas it will be a case of my way or no way; or if they are the product of his lack of experience in politics and thus can be ascribed to ignorance.

Regardless of the reasons, his most recent comments regarding Iraq and Syria are shockingly and alarmingly dangerous.

On Iraq, during an interview on the US ABC television network, Trump said: “We should have kept the oil when we got out” of Iraq.

Here he was merely repeating what he said during a speech he gave at CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, confirming that it is a position he firmly holds and one that presumably he shares with his team and close advisers. In fact, during the speech he went further and suggested “maybe we’ll have another chance [to take ownership of Iraq’s oil].”

Let us be clear: the expropriation of Iraq’s oil by the United States would constitute a clear and flagrant breach of international law. Indeed, it would be an act of international and colonial piracy redolent of the 19th century, one that would be resisted to the death by the Iraqi people as an insult to their national sovereignty and dignity. In fact, if the Trump administration were actually to attempt to follow through on such an objective, it would succeed in uniting the Sunni and Shia of Iraq in a way they have never been united in their history.

Not satisfied with outrageous comments on Iraq, Trump also recently mooted the prospect of the US establishing “safe zones” in Syria. "I'll absolutely do safe zones in Syria for the people,” he said.

The Reuters news agency reported that his administration is intent on instructing the Pentagon and State Department to come up with a plan for setting up said “safe zones” in the country.

Perhaps Donald Trump has been asleep these past six years. How else to explain the extent of his ignorance of the conflict in Syria. To remind him, it is a conflict that has involved the Syrian people and government, in conjunction with their Iranian and Russian allies, writing a new page in the annals of determination, courage, and tenacity against the most brutal and barbaric menace the world has seen since the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia in the 1970s – a menace supported by US regional allies such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. And it is a struggle they have waged, and in which thousands have given their lives, in defense of Syria’s independence, freedom, and national sovereignty.

Does President Trump really believe the Syrian people or Russia would stand by while Washington attempts to impose “safe zones” on Syrian territory in violation of international law? To ask this question is to answer it. What Trump is advocating here places the US on a collision course with Russia, thus ending any illusions that his election may have marked a rejection of the 'might is right' fantasies of the neoconservative hawks who went before.

Two places where no one is harboring any illusions when it comes to Donald Trump’s presidency are Beijing and Tehran. On the contrary, both China and Iran are girding themselves for the very real prospect of military conflict with the US going forward.

In a recent editorial in the China Daily, the country’s state-owned newspaper, the Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunyin, issued a warning to President Trump over his bellicose and saber rattling threats against the People’s Republic over the ongoing territorial dispute in the South China Sea.

Mr. Chunying said, “China's determination to protect its own territory and sovereignty will remain unchanged, regardless of what other countries say or what changes occur.”

Throughout his election campaign, Trump had some harsh words to say concerning China, in the process dredging up the kind of ‘Yellow Peril’ tropes popular in the 1950s and 60s. He accused Beijing of effectively undermining the US economy with currency manipulation and other such inscrutable and devious practices.

However, the claim that China is engaged in currency manipulation is disputed by no less a newspaper than the conservative Wall Street Journal, which the last time anyone checked is not the in-house newspaper of the Communist Party of China.

So what is Trump’s game when it comes to Beijing? Is it bombast and bluster with the objective of negotiating a more favorable trade relationship with a country whose economic growth relative to the US continues to be phenomenal? Or is it more than that? Is the path of hostility and confrontation with China being taken as part of a strategy to split Russia’s alliance with the People’s Republic – i.e. an attempt to place Russia in the invidious position of choosing between positive relations with Washington at China’s expense, or vice-versa?

One still clings onto the hope, of course, that rather than any of the aforementioned, what we are being treated to is a billionaire who never in his wildest dreams expected to become the leader of the ‘free world’ and as such is merely giddy with the trappings of power - kind of like a child on Christmas morning with a new train set. If so then it is hoped we can put his inflammatory statements down to inexperience and over exuberance.

However, it would be folly of the most naïve kind not to take the words and statements that have and continue to issue from the lips of the US president at face value. It is why a note of caution where his leadership is concerned must now be struck.

Ultimately, when it comes to President Trump, we may soon be faced with the hard reality that rather than his leadership proving a case of meet the new boss ‘same’ as the old boss; it may turn out to be a case of meet the new boss ‘worse’ than the old boss.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.