Are Trump’s policies leading to the formation of an eastern bloc?

Few expected the unlikely alliance of historical rivals to be more than a sideshow to the UN’s Geneva process.

U.S. PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2018 (photo credit: REUTERS)
U.S. PRESIDENT Donald Trump speaks with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in July 2018
(photo credit: REUTERS)
When the leaders of Russia, Turkey and Iran launched the Astana peace talks in January 2017 in an attempt to end violence and improve the humanitarian situation in Syria, few expected the unlikely alliance of historical rivals to be more than a sideshow to the UN’s Geneva process.
Almost two years after their inaugural meeting in the Kazakh capital, the trio of Russian President Vladimir Putin, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani have made meaningful progress in Syria and developed strong personal relationships, despite their divergent national interests.
The recent summit in Tehran held on September 7 gave us a glimpse into the diplomacy between these three countries. The meeting, marred by disagreements at first, ended with all three leaders seeing eye to eye on one issue. They all agreed that American presence east of the Euphrates is detrimental to their respective goals. Russia and Iran’s main objective is to protect the territorial integrity of Syria and keep its leader Bashar Assad in power.
They view Washington’s position in the northeast of the country as a huge obstacle. Turkey on the other hand supports the opposition but is greatly disturbed by US support for the YPG, a Kurdish militia group Ankara views as a terrorist organization and direct threat to its national security. While the US has failed to produce a comprehensive Syria strategy over the past seven years, Washington’s foreign policy miscalculations are pushing Moscow, Ankara and Tehran closer together. Now, with US sanctions threatening the economies of the Astana Three, there may be even more common ground to expand the scope of the coalition.
What seems like an improbable partnership on paper, especially with NATO member Turkey joining the ranks of US rivals Russia and Iran, has been made possible by Washington’s own hand. US President Donald Trump’s unilateral style of diplomacy has not only escalated tensions with adversaries but it has also alienated allies.
As the ripple effects of Trump’s “America First” policies resonate throughout the eastern hemisphere, they are having a serious polarizing effect and leaving many countries searching for alternative partners. The White House’s implementation of sanctions and tariffs as economic weapons have led many eastern nations like China, Russia and Iran to seek a substitute to the US dollar. These policies may seem effective in the short term, but they are deteriorating confidence in the greenback and could seriously backfire in the long run if a viable alternative is established.
Long-time US allies Turkey and Pakistan have also felt the pinch of sanctions and have had the sale of strategic military hardware blocked as well. This has led both countries to meet their needs elsewhere. With America continuing to look inwards and isolating itself, the power vacuum Washington will leave behind will not be vacant for long.
We are at a very critical moment in our modern history. Since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991, the United States has enjoyed nearly two decades of dominance in the international arena in what could be called a unipolar world. But, with the rise of China and Russia as dominant international actors, we can begin to see an evolution towards a multipolar global design.
As the axis of influence shifts eastward, more countries will begin to look to Moscow and Beijing for guidance in the absence of American leadership. Projects like China’s One Belt One Road economic program and joint military exercises like Russia’s Vostok are already testing the waters for further cooperation on a multilateral basis.
If Trump continues to alienate allies and act aggressively toward rivals with unorthodox foreign policy doctrines, it will lead to the inevitable formation of a powerful eastern bloc that will serve as a check and balance on the US.
I believe the seeds of this alignment have already been sowed in Astana. The mission of the platform has already begun creeping to include containment of American presence in Syria and solutions to US sanctions. The east, most namely China and Pakistan, are closely watching as this partnership of convenience and pragmatism tests its boundaries. Russia, Turkey and Iran can set an important precedent if they can prove to be successful in countering Washington and demonstrate the ability to implement major foreign policy decisions while sidelining the US.
The White House and US State Department need to seriously rethink and revamp their game plan. Trump’s short sighted confrontational brand of politics could lead to a decades long foreign policy nightmare for Washington. Winning back allies and creating functional relationships with rivals must become a priority.
America is not as dominant as it used to be and the rest of the world is quickly catching up. Nobody wins with trade wars and it’s only a matter of time before the east comes to the realization that life without the US is possible.
Yusuf Erim is a Turkish affairs analyst for TRT World.