International Affairs

Will Trump’s Putin alliance help in fight against ISIS?


Two contradictory foreign policy concepts were raised during President Trump’s first week as leader of the free world. The first is dangerously inaccurate, if understandable. The second holds historic promise, but it’s best we not count our Russian bears before they’re trumped.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, in her speech to congressional Republicans’ retreat on Thursday, made a sad assertion: “The days of Britain and America intervening in sovereign countries in an attempt to remake the world in our own image are over.”  

{mosads}This, unfortunately, is what too many believe the U.S. Iraq invasion was all about, and why ISIS ultimately emerged.


Several breaths later, May told the assembled GOP senators and congressmen, “I join you in your determination to take on and defeat Daesh and the ideology of Islamist extremism that inspires them and many others terrorist groups in the world today.” That, she said, “will require the use of military might. But it also demands a wider effort … to defeat this evil ideology.”

Is America or Britain going to defeat ISIS without intervening – likely with boots on the ground – upon territory over which that diabolical entity has exercised sovereign rule for more than two years? We’ve already, in fact, been intervening under Obama, if incompetently.  

Furthermore, ISIS’s evil ideology has to be replaced with something. If we’re successful, won’t that be along the lines of President George W. Bush’s much-maligned project in Iraq, i.e. a Western-friendly moderate Islamic polity or polities?

Neither Bush, nor his supposed svengali, Vice President Dick Cheney, sought to remake Iraq in our own image by invading in 2003. Douglas Feith, Bush Administration undersecretary of defense for policy for from 2001 to 2005 and now director of the Hudson Institute’s Center for National Security Strategies, has noted: “The link between terrorist organizations and state sponsors became the ‘principle strategic thought underlying our strategy in the war on terrorism.’”

For all the talk about Saddam’s elusive nukes – something of which European intelligence agencies were convinced as much as the Bush White House – the U.S. overthrew a leading terrorist-sponsor state primarily to show Islamic terrorist groups that we were fighting back against their jihad, and fighting to win. If Iraq ended up becoming the first long-term functioning representative government in the Muslim Middle East afterwards, so much the better. It’s certainly not fair to call such an effort “an attempt to remake the world in our own image” – especially during the successful Bush Iraq surge, when moderate Sunnis enthusiastically worked with the U.S.

An anonymous recently-retired British general who fought in both Iraq and Afghanistan, writing in Britain’s Spectator in 2015, blamed the emergence of ISIS on … Obama and his premature exit of our forces: “The U.S. departure from Iraq in 2010 allowed the Shiite [prime minister] Nuri Al Maliki a free rein to threaten Sunni interests and explains the Iraqi half of today’s tragedy in the Middle East.”  The other half – the Syrian dimension – is explained, he argued, by the ill-considered obsession to remove the brutal terrorism sponsor Bashar al-Assad when there was “no credible alternative” to him available.

Underlying it all, he wrote, is “the crisis of confidence experienced by both the U.S. and UK as a result of Iraq and Afghanistan. The prevailing judgment is that all interventions are ill-advised, especially those involving boots on the ground.” 

The same general – writing when no one thought Trump would be president – then raised the second foreign policy concept that came to prominence in Trump’s first week: “Russia and NATO should work in co-operation … to degrade ISIS through the use of air and special forces.”  He also warned: “But bombing on its own will not be enough … NATO’s Allied Rapid Reaction Corps should command a significant ground force, consisting of U.S., UK and French divisions. In parallel, a powerful training mission should be created to allow a coherent exit strategy in which NATO forces would rapidly reduce in numbers and be replaced by Sunni Arab forces.”

May noted during her joint press conference with Trump on Friday that the new President assured her he is “100 percent behind NATO,” despite earlier in the month telling Germany’s Bild newspaper that NATO was “obsolete.”

At the same press conference, Trump expressed a wish that the U.S. and Russia under Vladimir Putin “go after ISIS together.”  After an hour-long phone conversation between the two on Saturday, the Kremlin said “real coordination” against ISIS was discussed, and the White House said the two agreed there must be “mutual cooperation in defeating ISIS.”

Earlier in the week, Trump told Fox’s Sean Hannity that he hoped the two major world powers would “go out together and knock the hell out of ISIS.”

That is a confirmation of what was suspected in Trump’s nomination of Putin-friendly Exxon/Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson as secretary of state: that President Trump seeks a U.S.-Russia geopolitical alliance in a new “Great Cause” not unlike Franklin Roosevelt and Josef Stalin allying against Hitler to win the Second World War. Except that defeating Islamic terrorist “is harder” than winning against the Nazis, Trump told Fox News, “because the people that we’re going against, they don’t wear uniforms.”

For NATO and Russia to ally and successfully defeat ISIS would mark a truly historic shift in global affairs. No doubt it would boost Putin’s prestige, but a real alliance could also trigger an osmosis of capitalism and democratic values that might bring Russia the real change that had been hoped for after the collapse of the Soviet Union more than a quarter century ago.

Alongside May, Trump promised, “we’re no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing.” If he can tame the Russian bear and get it to help us maul to death the Islamist terrorist monster, it would mean an America that knows what it’s doing like never before. 

Thomas McArdle (@Macardghail) was a White House speechwriter for President George W. Bush and a senior writer for Investor’s Business Daily. He is the humorist for the new app “ElectionWarz.”

The views expressed by contributors are their own and are not the views of The Hill.

Tags Donald Trump ISIS Thomas McArdle Vladimir Putin

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