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Trump’s Glaring Omission of Russia - the Bear in the Mideast Room

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Russian nesting dolls depict U.S. President Donald Trump next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a souvenir street shop in Saint Petersburg, Russia, February 2017.
Russian nesting dolls depict U.S. President Donald Trump next to Russian President Vladimir Putin in a souvenir street shop in Saint Petersburg, Russia, February 2017.Credit: Dmitri Lovetsky/AP

The focus of much of Donald Trump’s swing though Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Palestinian territories has been on heroes and villains.

The American president has made it clear who the heroes are. On Sunday in Riyadh, he singled out for special praise Jordan, Turkey, Lebanon, Kurds, Qatar, Kuwait, Bahrain, Afghans and in particular his Saudi hosts.

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The next day, with Trump's arrival in Ben-Gurion International Airport outside Tel Aviv, the Israel that was missing from his speech in Saudi Arabia made the heroes list.

Nor has Trump made any secret of his enemies. Iran, mentioned no fewer than 11 times in the Riyadh speech to Arab and Muslim leaders, clearly heads that list. But the Islamic State is not far behind. And Al-Qaida, Hezbollah and Hamas also made the villains cut.

In Trump’s taxonomy of good and evil, meantime, there is one particularly glaring omission.

It is the link that dare not speak its name. It is the bear in the room. It is the motherland of Sergey and Sergey and Vladimir Vladimirovich.

It is everywhere in the life of this administration, and also nowhere.

Of particular interest in the Riyadh speech was the way in which Trump framed the Syrian genocide: “Among Iran’s most tragic and destabilizing interventions have been in Syria. Bolstered by Iran, Assad has committed unspeakable crimes, and the United States has taken firm action in response to the use of banned chemical weapons by the Assad Regime – launching 59 Tomahawk missiles at the Syrian air base from where that murderous attack originated.”

At this point, one might have expected a mention of Russia’s role as lord protector of Assad and all which remains his. But no.

“Responsible nations,” Trump declared, naming no names, “must work together to end the humanitarian crisis in Syria, eradicate ISIS, and restore stability to the region.”

On Monday, meeting with Reuven Rivlin at the Israeli president’s official residence, Trump emphasized the threats posed by Iran by its sponsorship of terrorism and militias. He spoke of the importance of denying Tehran the potential of producing nuclear weaponry.

But of Iran’s ally and trading partner Russia, not a word.

Late on Monday, just befoe a closed-door meeting with Netanyahu, Trump motioned to reporters and, calling for quiet, told them, "Just so you'll understand, I never mentioned the word or the name 'Israel' - never mentioned that during that conversation." Turning to Netanyahu, he added, "They're all saying I did. So you [reporters] had another story wrong."

It’s only natural, one assumes, if you’ve gone abroad to see the world, to give the Russia issue a rest. Especially if you’ll be back in the thick of it the minute you come home.

But if one considers that Russia and its ally Iran are critical pillars holding up the regime of Bashar Assad, perhaps the worst of the world’s villains, a man who rules just a few hours to the north of where Trump will be resting his head tonight, it might just be time to turn directly to the bear in the room and begin, at long last, to deal with it.

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