With US global leadership in decline, others step in as conflicts grow

With every step the US takes back from various hot spots, its footprints are filled with Iran, Turkey, Russia or others.

US President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, US, June 8, 2020 (photo credit: REUTERS/KEVIN LAMARQUE)
US President Donald Trump speaks during a roundtable discussion with law enforcement in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington, US, June 8, 2020
Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif went to Turkey and Russia to hold important meetings about getting around US sanctions and coordinating policy in Syria and Iraq.
Meanwhile, North Korea blew up a liaison office and has threatened South Korea. On Tuesday, reports also emerged that twenty Indian soldiers were killed in clashes with China. Turkey has sent forces and planes into northern Iraq, coordinated with Iranian artillery, to attack Kurdish groups.
All over the world, particularly in the Middle East and Asia, conflicts are growing as countries push up against each other amid America's changing role in the world. US President Donald Trump has said he wants to get out of the business of policing the world and dealing with far off conflicts in places most Americans are unaware of.
There was a time when US officials and diplomats, as well as media and the president, would have been on the phone to world leaders during a crisis such as the one between China and India.
There was also a time when US global leadership might have prevented such crises because countries felt the US was a stakeholder to various conflicts. But today, America is largely absent from the rooms in which these conflicts are overseen and discussed.
For instance while Turkey is ostensibly a NATO ally, it works closely with Iran to coordinate policy in Syria, Iraq and Libya – and the US is absent. A trade off between Iran and Turkey that sees Ankara oppose US sanctions on Iran – while Tehran agrees to help support a new Turkish invasion of northern Iraq and Turkish policy on Libya – illustrates a growing consensus that the Middle East is increasingly in the hands of Russia, Iran and Turkey on many issues.
At the same time, conflict in Yemen and growing tensions between Egypt and Ethiopia over a dam grow unabated. The absence of the US presence in northern Iraq, an area where Turkish jets are bombing and the US-led coalition had been trying to reduce ISIS, is a signal that Turkey can destabilize one of the stable areas of Iraq, much as it did to northern Syria when the US withdrew last year from areas under Turkish threat.

MOST OF these countries now know they must step up to coordinate policy, which is why Russia’s TASS has articles about a Libyan ceasefire.
Russia has sent warplanes and contractors to Libya to bolster the opposition. It may broker a deal with Turkey, as it did with Idlib in Syria. Libya was a country where the US under the Obama administration intervened in 2011. But when dictator Muammar Gadafi was killed, chaos erupted. US Ambassador Christopher Stevens was murdered in 2012 in Libya’s Benghazi. Since then, Washington has reduced its role.
Similarly, America got involved in Syria supplying Syrian rebels with support in 2014, but then wrapped up that support when Trump came into office. The US walked away from a ceasefire in southern Syria in 2018, enabling the Assad regime to take back areas in Dara’a province and position Hezbollah near the Golan Heights.
Meanwhile, Washington had helped the Syrian Democratic Forces liberate Raqqa from ISIS in 2017, but the Trump administration signaled it would withdraw in 2018. CENTCOM head Gen. Kenneth McKenzie recently said that the US will not stay in Syria forever.
America has no real policy in Syria today. It doesn’t invest in stabilization; it mostly just wants the SDF to contain 10,000 ISIS detainees. With every step the US takes back, its footprints are filled with Iran, Turkey, Russia or others.
While the US has taken an interest in the Yemen conflict, interdicting the flow of Iranian weapons to the Houthi rebels, it hasn’t pressed much for various ceasefires that were discussed. The message is that the local countries need to figure it out for themselves. Similarly, the US has discussed reforming its AFRICOM stance – and even leaving the multi-national forces in Sinai.
US lawmakers want the US to have buy-in for Sinai because America once played a key role in Israel-Egyptian peace. But today, with American withdrawal from Afghanistan and its drawing down of forces in Germany, the appetite is to bring the troops home.

THE END result is that wherever there are bubbling conflicts, often kept in check by thirty years of US power and influence since 1990, there is new growing tensions as countries square off. These countries want to see who is boss and what will happen if they push things. North Korea, once courted by the Trump administration, is also pushing.
Turkey has invaded Libya, Iraq and Syria, and wants new bases in Libya. Iran is in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Russia is all over the Middle East, particularly in Libya and Syria, but with an expanding global footprint. China, under the radar with its increased global clout and economic power, is also moving in. Its drones are in Libya, as well as in the Gulf, Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia.
The reality is a world order that is now changing as the US indicates it is done doing the heavy lifting. While American sanctions still bite on Syria and China, and US aircraft carriers are sent to the Pacific in a show of force to deter Chinese meddling, the overall posture is to reduce the willingness of the US to seek to play a major role in various areas.
There is also a lack of willingness to push for ceasefires or diplomatic solutions. In short, there are no Dayton Accords for Libya, no more Camp David meetings. The era in which various “accords” or agreements will be hammered out by two sides invited to the US appears to be over. That is why Iran’s foreign minister goes directly to Russia and Turkey to broker deals for the Middle East.
Maximum pressure on Iran, which the US administration did attempt to impose, has resulted in maximum diplomatic activity by Tehran and a stroke of wins for the regime. Iranian media today discusses its growing role in Afghanistan as the US leaves and how it has worked with Russia and Turkey to get what it wants. If Iran was supposed to be isolated by US sanctions, the opposite appears to have happened – and that is what's happening globally.