That's A Long Time In Geopolitics
By now, that famous Harold Wilson quip "A week is a long time in politics' can also just as well be applied to geopolitics. Last Monday, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi was enjoying the diplomatic courtesies and photo ops of a White House meeting with Donald Trump, as the world's attention was mostly focused on other hot spots on the map. The big question as last week began was how the apparent coziness of Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin was bound to play out in Washington and beyond.
Now, just seven days later, al-Sisi is back at home calling for a state of emergency in Egypt after at least 49 Coptic Christians were killed in the bombing of two churches on Palm Sunday. That attack, which ISIS claimed, followed a terrorist strike Friday in Stockholm when a man drove a truck into a crowd of shoppers that killed at least four. A 39-year-old arrested reportedly expressed sympathy for ISIS.
But Middle East watchers know that both the causes and effects of international terrorism, in geopolitical terms, is often hard to keep up with. A week ago, al-Sisi, Trump and Putin were in a similar place concerning the war in Syria. But that changed suddenly with Friday's U.S. missile attack aimed at a military base of the regime of President Bashar al-Assad, accused of using chemical weapons against his own people. While most observers are still trying to analyze the ins and outs of Trump's change of heart, the coming week should bring the first diplomatic consequences of his swift reaction.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson landed in Italy this morning for a meeting with other G7 Foreign Ministers, with Syria high on the agenda. This two-day summit will be followed by Tillerson's highly anticipated visit to Moscow, and according to The Daily Telegraph, he will present Russian leaders "with an ultimatum from the G7 demanding that Putin withdraws his armed forces and ends his support" for Assad. If he complies, Putin will reportedly be allowed to rejoin the G7, from which Russia was banned at the height of the Ukraine crisis. If he refuses, new sanctions could be imposed on Russia.
There is also, of course, one risk that can and should never be overlooked: An escalation between Moscow, which has vowed to "respond with force,"and Washington and its allies. What seems clear in any case, as the Moscow correspondent for French daily Les Échos Benjamin Quénelle noted, it's that the would-be Trump-Putin love affair has given way to a new U.S.-Russia power struggle. And one week from now? That's a long time away.