The change of US strategy in the Middle East

Originally published in the Arab daily newspaper “Al-Quds Al-Arabi”, issue 9028, p. 21, on Feb. 1, 2018

It is important for us as researchers in political affairs to re-read the American scene, especially its strategy. This strategy has always been prepared by the State Department, the Department of Defense and the CIA to reach the White House table, which in turn gave approval on the principle of full confidence in the plans of these sections. However, this concept has changed and things have gone out of consistency on behalf of the White House. It is within the administration of Barack Obama that moved towards absurdity and randomness in the current situation led by Trump.

The Middle East has been and continues to be a source of great importance for successive US administrations, which in turn have set up offices and research centers to read the developments of this region and determine the best strategies to deal with them. If you want to determine the power of the American administrations and the mentality of each one, you should put not other region than the Middle East under the microscope.

In 1982, former Lebanese president Camille Chamoun was asked about the possibility of dividing Lebanon after the Israeli invasion. “Look at Iraq, if the plan is to divide the region, it will start from there,” he said. It is well known that the concept of the “New Middle East” presented by leading American figures, led by Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, served as a compass for the administration of the Middle East in order to generally reorder it in the 1990s.

The strategy began to apply when the George W. Bush administration formed a no-fly zone over the territory of Iraqi Kurdistan during his war against the regime of former Iraqi President Saddam Hussein and developed with the US invasion of Iraq and the overthrow of the Baath regime at the turn of the century. Iraq’s Kurdistan has become an important intelligence and trade center in the Middle East. The region has also been able to build confidence and cooperation with the leaders of the surrounding countries. This region is the cornerstone of the new Middle East map, which is based on dividing ιτσ peoples in a calm and elegant way. The success of this endeavour would prompt many people, minorities and the tribes of the Middle East and North Africa to rush to the same step, but the Kurdish administration, which rushed towards secession at the end of last year, did not notice that the US strategy for the region has changed, and that the change began with the second presidential term of Obama.

In the midst of the instability of the Iraqi central government in Baghdad, the disappearance of the effective role of the Assad regime in Syria which became a tool in the hand of the Iranians and Russians, and the deterioration of relations between Turkey and the West in general, Kurdish leaders who were administratively organized, economically and militarily refreshed, found the best moment to declare their intention to secede. These ideal regional conditions surrounding Kurdistan, which may not be repeated, led the region’s administration to risk, but it ended sooner than expected by the most pessimistic Kurds.

This failure, which did not come as a result of Iran’s deep influence in Iraq, neither was caused by the threat and intimidation of Erdoğan and his government officials. The real reason is that the US administration that laid the foundation for this division has changed its strategy in the region in general. The plan of the “new Middle East” is based on the division of countries into smaller states by the so-called “hidden fingers strategy” that has caused and is still causing the death, displacement and destruction of the peoples of the region. This strategy is based on the principle of supporting all parties to conflicts and transforming the region into a quagmire of fire. Furthermore, it opened the doors of the region to the Russian bear to present itself as a superpower through the ruins and blood of the Syrian people suffering. It can be said that what is happening now in Afrin is  an integral part of this strategy. The Al-Mu’tasim Brigade of the Syrian armed opposition was trained by the Pentagon and is fighting on the front line of the Afrin front, side by side with the Turkish army against the Kurdish People’s Protection Units who are also armed and trained by the US Pentagon.

After Trump taking office in the White House and the arrival of the Republicans warlords to Congress, they were surprised by the size of the flame in the Middle East. But the internal crises of this administration, starting with the Russian role in the presidential election results which is still going, pushed them to accept the reality and work randomly to get out with the least damage.

For example, in the Syrian case, the Trump administration announced on 11 September its vision, which was based on two essential points:

The first is to accept Moscow’s survival in Syria as a fait accompli and to try to reach a compromise with it. The second is to appease the Israeli lobby in Washington by weakening Iranian influence in the Syrian arena, but on the ground it contradicted itself. It stopped supporting the Syrian armed opposition which was a pressure card on Moscow and the best tool to end the Iranian influence in Syria, while relying unilaterally on the Kurdish militias being aware of their association to the PKK which is classified as a terrorist by the same administration, and now it pays the price through what is happening in Afrin and what will happen later in Manbej and after it.

Trump supported quadruple movement against Qatar, while the US State Department worked to resolve this dispute through Tillerson’s shuttle movements in the region, and the Pentagon considered that if this crisis continues and develops, threatened national security. This is the American reality and their perception and strategy of the region. If the governments of the Middle East and their peoples want to get out from the bottleneck, they need to rebuild their movements and strategies right now, away from the US administration, which itself does not know where to turn.