By J.D. Gordon
As the world witnesses the humanitarian catastrophe unfold in Aleppo, there is intense speculation about how President-elect Donald Trump will handle the Syrian conflict.
After all, Bashar Al-Assad’s response to the Arab Spring uprising in 2011 has claimed over 300,000 lives, helped give rise to the Islamic State’s self-proclaimed caliphate, and fueled the worst migrant crisis since World War II.
So what’s next?
Critics know it’s far easier to point to obvious failures rather than to actually fix problems. President Barack Obama must understand this quite well. After all, he railed against the Bush Administration only to see “hope and change” lead to more global chaos at America’s expense. Having personally served as both a Pentagon spokesman for four years and a National Security Advisor on three presidential campaigns including Mr. Trump’s, I know the difference between having responsibility to my fellow Americans and launching criticism.
The former is extremely difficult -- the latter extremely easy. That said, the overarching world views of the Commander-in-Chief do make a big difference.
So here’s the good news:
Donald Trump is a realist and a tough negotiator. The author of the “Art of the Deal.” And thank goodness.
He recognizes that we have a country $20 trillion in debt.
We can no longer afford to be the world’s policeman. He understands that wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us dearly in blood and treasure, yet haven’t fundamentally made us much safer. He recognizes that our top allies have relied disproportionately on American taxpayers for over half a century. Only five of 28 NATO nations pay their fair share of 2 percent GDP annually towards defense. Our Arab allies have done even less in terms of burden sharing. Our Asian allies are mostly somewhere in the middle.
So what can we expect from Mr. Trump on the Syrian conflict?
First, he recognizes that democracy can't be exported like a commodity. Toppling and/or marginalizing dictators in the Middle East has led to failed or failing states in Syria, Iraq, Libya and Yemen. It pushed Egypt to the brink during the Muslim Brotherhood’s brief reign of terror. While his understanding of each specific case has increased over time, like the rest of us, he’s also got the benefit of hindsight.
Everyone has now seen wishful thinking from both presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama exposed as just wishful thinking. It’s a fantasy to think we can impose stable democracies overnight in places where ancient sectarian rivalries and religious extremism can erupt into violence in a flash.
Let alone in places where basic education and employment opportunities lag far behind the Western world.
Second, Mr. Trump has refreshingly delivered special interest-free, straight talk about stopping the rise of Radical Islam. Since the 1970s, the age of jihad has been fueled by a proxy war between extremist Sunnis in Saudi Arabia and extremist Shia in Iran.
They’ve been fighting for domination over the Middle East and spiritually over Islam worldwide. Ground zero is the Shia Crescent where Shia and Sunnis have periodically battled for control of land, natural resources and power throughout what's now Iraq, Syria and Lebanon for 1,400 years. So until the Saudi/Gulf States vs. Iran battle stops, to include their weapons and cash to warring factions, the Middle East will remain on fire and the West will remain a target.
Third, he feels strongly about the importance of keeping refugees and migrants in the local area. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and beyond. Like a true realist, he understands admitting distressed populations from war torn areas where global jihad is prevalent is a guarantee for increased terror attacks in America and Europe.
Boston Marathon, Chattanooga, Orlando, San Bernardino, Paris, Nice, Brussels, Copenhagen, London, Madrid and Munich... how many more lessons do we need? He’s right to call for extreme vetting of people coming into America. It’s common sense.
And fourth, he’s placed an emphasis on improved relations with Russia.
If Russia gets its way on its core national interest in Syria, i.e. Bashar al-Assad remains in power and they retain their prized Tartus Naval Base, perhaps Moscow will be more likely to work with America on our core national interest -- halting Iran's nuclear program. Considering the Sunni-Shia conflict at the heart of Aleppo’s tragic meltdown, the world needs to brace itself for shock if Iranians get a hold of nuclear weapons. The Saudis, Turks and Egyptians would race for them too.
And since Middle Eastern civilizations have fought each other for thousands of years, it’s a nightmare scenario.
So yes, folks are right to question what Donald Trump will do about Aleppo. And they’re right, the Syrian conflict has no easy answers. Yet given his worldview as a realist, tough negotiator and common sense leader, there’s plenty of reasons to be optimistic.
J.D. Gordon is a former Pentagon spokesman who served from 2005-2009 and is a retired Navy Commander. He has also served as a Senior National Security & Foreign Policy Advisor to Republican Presidential Candidates Donald Trump, Gov. Mike Huckabee and Herman Cain. The views expressed by Contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill