New balance of power in the Middle East: Behind-the-scenes points of the U.S.` pullout from Syria

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Baku, 9 January 2019 –

Unexpected decisions are common to politics. This time the world has been surprised by Donald Trump who revealed the United States` plans to withdraw troops from Syria. The process has neither started nor ended. But experts are forecasting geopolitical consequences of this decision. Their analysis shows that the geopolitical situation in the region is quite complex. Superpowers do not show their cards. They are maneuvering to learn each other`s stance. Ongoing processes may change the geopolitical situation in the Middle East. Experts wonder about the consequences. Which forces will have their influence grow? What might Washington`s reaction be? In this article we will try to find answers to these questions.

Trump`s surprise: what is the goal?

The U.S. President Donald Trump`s decision to pull the military contingent from Syria has caused global confusion, provoking an immediate reaction from several countries. First of all, America appeared to have strong geopolitical influence in the Middle East. Even superpowers wonder who will fill the gap. In the United States itself, politicians are seriously concerned, with some protesting the decision and others describing it as strategic.

Russia`s and France`s reaction was particularly interesting. Emmanuel Macron has hit out at Donald Trump's decision to withdraw U.S. troops from the conflict in Syria, saying an ally should be dependable. He said France is ready to act alone. The organizations of Syrian tribes protested, and accused France of helping terrorists and, in fact, declared war on it.

Russia has taken a more delicate approach. Moscow said it doubts that Washington will stick to its word. Russian politicians warn about what the U.S.` decision to pull out from Syria will actually mean.

Against this background, Iran`s and Turkey`s reaction to Donald Trump`s announcement was much anticipated. Interestingly, Iran remained silent and did not make any serious statement. This means that Tehran wants Washington to leave Syria, but is not sure that this will happen. Iran is sure that the United States has another plan that will compensate the troops withdrawal from Syria. Moscow seems to share this view.

Turkey`s reaction was more enthusiastic. Media reports initially said that Recep Tayyip Erdogan persuaded Donald Trump into taking this decision. The Turkish President demonstrated resoluteness and strong will to exert a psychological influence on the U.S. leader and give him an actual picture of what is going on in Syria. Erdogan also proved Trump that Turkey can destroy ISIL alone. But soon it turned out that media exaggerated the story because as Trump revealed details the situation became clearer. Unlike other superpowers, Turkey unambiguously commended the United States for this decision. Official Ankara described Washington`s decision as right, and called to withdraw from Syria. Experts wonder why Turkey believed Trump, while other superpowers doubted his statement.

What is most important is that Turkey assesses the situation in Syria in a rational manner. The American troops` withdrawal from Syria will give Ankara a chance. Firstly, it is clear that Washington may turn its back at terrorists under appropriate geopolitical circumstances. Just like it did with Al-Qaida and ISIL. Secondly, this situation is advantageous to Turkey from two perspectives. Most importantly, the situation gives Turkey the opportunity for military intervention in Syria because someone should replace the U.S. And why not Syria`s closest ally? If farther located Russia or France intend, then why should not Turkey intervene? And there is no second country in the Middle East to be capable of doing this. Iran is isolated. Saudi Arabia is losing influence. Egypt is not that powerful.

Toward new leadership: competition getting tougher

Secondly, Turkey`s geopolitical strength is growing in the wake of Washington`s plans to pull out from Syria. Ankara`s role is increasing. This is evidenced by recent statements made by pro-Turkish forces in Syria. Tribes (20 tribes) living in the country`s north united into an organization and invited Turkey to the region.

In addition, Turkey is strongly supported by the Free Syrian Army, which has thousands of members, as well as ordinary Syrian residents.

Russia and Iran seem to recognize Turkey`s leading role. Alliance with Turkey is exceptionally advantageous to Russia as a superpower, which has strong influence in the Middle East, including in Syria. As a NATO member, Turkey is cooperating with Russia to ensure security in Syria. At the same time, the Muslim population can have normal attitude towards the friends of Muslim Turks. Through making an alliance with Turkey, Russia will win sympathy of Turkic nations living in a large geopolitical region.

The situation promises to benefit Iran too. Firstly, Tehran will be pleased if Ankara replaces Washington. Turkey resolutely supported Iran in the face of U.S. sanctions. In addition, the two regional powers get a good chance of acting in tandem. Iran can also use the opportunity to show that it is not hostile towards Sunni states. Finally, if relations between the two countries are developing in all areas, it is a win-win situation.

All these factors encourage Iran to support Turkey`s increasing geopolitical role. Turkey`s growing influence in the region is also advantageous to several Arab countries as they are well aware of Ankara`s fair and adequate behavior. In addition, no other Muslim country has been as active as Turkey on the Palestinian issue in recent years.

The U.S.` plans to withdraw from Syria therefore can indirectly increase Turkey`s geopolitical influence in the region. It is why regardless of when Washington withdraws its troops from Syria, this decision is crucial to Turkey. Having weighed all benefits, Ankara supports Trump`s decision.

In this context, experts point out that the U.S.-Turkey relationship may enter a new stage. It`s not a coincidence that the American media have recently published a series of articles, describing Ankara as Washington`s key ally in the Middle East. Officials on both sides also confirm that problems are being addressed. Trump is even planning to visit Turkey in 2019.

Now let`s take a look at the situation in the context of the geopolitical dynamics in the region and Trump`s moves. After the U.S. President announced his decision to withdraw from Syria he secretly visited Iraq. He said there that the American troops will not pull out from the country, keeping a nearby staging ground should American forces be forced to reenter Syria. This means that in fact the U.S. does not lose anything from military and security points of view. On the contrary, it gains geopolitical advantage as Russia, Turkey and Iran still remain involved in the war. And who will win is a matter of time. It looks like Donald Trump is making far-sighted strategic moves as supposed by U.S. congressmen.

It should be emphasized that regional Arab countries have already started supporting Bashar Al-Assad. The Sudanese President`s visit to Damascus encouraged others and they are preparing to open their embassies in Syria. Is Al-Assad`s regime being legitimized again. Are the Arab countries recognizing him again? These issues are of vital importance.

The most important thing for Washington will be shaping relations with the Kurdish groups in Syria. Washington said it will defend its ''Kurdish allies''. But whether it will or not is still a question. However, what is obvious is that the geopolitical balance of power in the Middle East, including in Syria is changing. In favor of who is a question.

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