As the two main contenders for the Oval Office faced off in the last debate for the presidential run of 2016, Russia's role in the Middle East was a topic on which former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and businessman Donald Trump fired some of their bitterest shots at one another. In response to Trump’s statement that he “would enjoy Putin’s respect” — something the flamboyant billionaire sees as a necessary and helpful tool in fixing the badly broken relationship with Russia — Clinton noted that a reason for Moscow to want to have it would be Kremlin’s desire to have a “puppet as president of the United States.”
Trump’s further claim about Russian President Vladimir Putin “outsmarting” Clinton and President Barack Obama “every step of the way” reflects a broader grievance that exists in the United States and in some places across the Middle East that Moscow is winning everywhere, with America in retreat. The narrative is quite appealing to Trump’s supporters but is rather shallow on the merits. Indeed, since the very beginning of the Arab Spring, Russia and the United States have had diametrically opposing views of the nature of the protests and their implications for the broader region. In fact, situations in Libya, Egypt and Syria are frequently brought up by the Russian media and decision-makers as a manifestation of badly conceived and unskillfully managed US policies in the region that started with the invasion of Iraq. In other words, the Russian narrative doesn’t package this as a “win for Moscow-lose for Washington,” but rather a “lose-lose” for everyone — the people in the region above all — and as a series of blunders that should serve as caveats for future regional uprisings and crises.