Trump’s Strikes on Syria a Big Hit in Caucasus

by Joshua Kucera

The United States missile strikes on Syria have gladdened pro-Western hearts among in the Caucasus, where they have been seen as a sign that the new Trump administration is willing to act tough against Russia.

“I think what happened April 7 in Syria, the launching of the Tomahawk missiles, changed the situation very dramatically,” said David Shahnazaryan, a senior analyst at the Yerevan-based Regional Studies Center and a former senior Armenian security official. “The Kremlin now must be much more careful. Maybe this will slow down, a little bit, the possibility of another war” in the Caucasus, he said.

Shahnazaryan was speaking at the South Caucasus Security Forum, held April 20-21 in Tbilisi, a gathering of Atlanticist foreign policy wonks from around the region. The uncertain foreign policy of the Trump administration was, naturally, a running theme throughout the event. And if there had been any worries that Trump might be soft on Russia, the Syrian missile strikes appear to have dispelled them.

“We saw how lost and how frightened Russians were” after the strikes, said Nodar Kharshiladze, the founder of the Georgian Strategic Analysis Centre and a former deputy minister of both defense and internal affairs. “Yes, they [the Russians] will come up with something nasty, but the initial reaction, they were very confused, they simply didn’t know what to do. That shows that, when it’s done properly, deterrence works very well. They recognize force when they see it, and they recognize weakness when they see it.”

Another speaker, former Georgian ambassador to Washington Batu Kutelia, even saw traces of legendary cold warrior Ronald Reagan in Trump’s emerging foreign policy. (This is high praise in Tbilisi, which features the only statue to Reagan in the former Soviet Union.)

“It is not just a mix of different, seemingly controversial statements, but quite a streamlined policy,” he said.

Kutelia, now vice president at the Atlantic Council of Georgia, said he had tried with colleagues to work out a Trump foreign policy doctrine based on what he’s said and done so far. “Strangely enough, it closely resembled National Security Decision Directive 75 of President Reagan. Whether Trump will be the new Reagan or not, history will be the judge.”

One such Reaganesque move was the Syrian strikes, Kutelia argued: The attack on the Syrian government was a piece of a Trump administration strategy deftly “turning the assets of an adversary into liabilities.”

He argued further that as a result, Georgia’s chances to join NATO — on life support now for several years — have been revived. “The Trump administration is the first since the end of the Cold War that didn’t start with some kind of reset with Russia,” he said. “Russia is now more of a primary threat than a possible partner. And that, combined with other U.S. national interests in Europe and globally, the possibility of Georgian NATO accession is much higher now.”

I also spoke at the forum, and my take was different: I argued that the Syrian strikes were a symptom of Trump’s obsession with presenting an image of toughness and decisiveness instead of evidence of any particular strategy or stance toward Russia. But I was in the minority.

Reprinted, with permission, from Photo: David Shahnazaryan

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  1. ‘ “The Kremlin now must be much more careful. Maybe this will slow down, a little bit, the possibility of another war” in the Caucasus, he said.’

    Clearly the Georgians got the Washington memo: it’s Trump’s steady hand at the wheel that’s gonna curb the reckless behaviour of the Kremlin and the hot-headed Putin. And in our bizarro world, where nobody remembers the dangerous stupidity of “legendary cold warrior Ronald Reagan,” with his “evil empire” rhetoric and his Star Wars project, the Georgians need have no fear of facing the humiliation of being corrected in public. They own what passes for truth now and will surely be rewarded for grasping it.

  2. I notice that all of the Georgians that the author has cited are in some way or other Atlanticists in outlook, and, given the economic ties between Russia and Georgia and the still schizophrenic relationship Georgia has with the West (starting from with crazed Sakaashvili), and with Russia, I wouldn’t jump to conclusions.

    Frankly, if I were Georgian, and thinking a bit more critically, I’d be terribly concerned that the U.S. should have done such an about face so quickly about Assad, and attacked Syria under such false pretenses- with a message to Georgia (and every other country) that ‘you could be next.’

    The hasty and embarrassingly amateurish NSC ‘assessment’ has only gotten play because the MSM has run interference for it and kept silent about anything challenging its bona fides- including, (1) the most VIPS memo by some of our finest former Intelligence officials, one or more of whom have been in contact with former Army operatives colleagues on the ground in Idlib and elsewhere in Syria who have reportedly stated that the event occurred as Syria and Russia have reported it; or, (2) two extraordinary analytic reports by Dr. Theodore Postol, perhaps the Pentagon’s very best independent scientific consultant/expert on WMD; or (3) commentary by Pat Lang, a distinguished former member of the DIA, with extensive experience and contacts in the Middle East; or, (4) the principled stand by Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard urging that Congress avoid accepting the NSC assessment until an appropriate independent (e.g., appropriate OPCW) investigation is completed, and its findings and conclusions are published; (5) the detailed and precise reports by the Russian military, who, if you’ve been following their efforts in Syria are doing the best job of documenting and reporting; or (5) the 4/12/17 statement by Bashar al-Jafaari, the Syrian Ambassador to the UN who also alluded to the British-Pakistani doctor at Idlib, a propagandist for the jihadists, and who had even been convicted and jailed for 13 months in a British prison on terrorism related charges. I know Russia and Syria (and RT) seem to a piñata every day for the Administration, Congress, and the MSM, but, why not introduce a little bit of fairness in the reporting, especially since RT is providing he best coverage with the best sourcing of all. We just might learn something we didn’t know, but should have.

    Apart from the NSC assessment, I’d be just as concerned that the OPCW has allowed itself to be compromised so badly by the US and Britain, so much so, that it is now no longer even following the most basic forensic investigation protocols. I cannot imagine any accused in the U.S. being convicted based on an investigative report where the investigators never visited or secured the crime scene, or where qualified investigators did not take samples or adopt measures to ensure their reliability, including protecting their chain of custody. Yet that is what is happening with Khan Shaykhun and Shayrat. It is an outrage, embarrassment (and unhappy joke) engineered by the U.S. and its British companions in crime- and it is sad that the former governor of South Carolina- and a woman, to boot- should be a mouthpiece at the UN for its public dissemination. But then again we had the odious Samantha Power before her.

    I’ve directed my comments with regard to the Khan Shaykun incident, since that was what was apparently what inspired the comments of the Georgians that the author reported.

    Regardless, I think Mr. Kucera would do better to visit and speak with Georgians all over the country before extrapolating from a few.

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