Exclusive Alahednews:US National Security Strategy 2017: Impacts on the Middle East

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US National Security Strategy 2017: Impacts on the Middle East

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Hosam Matar

In December 2017, [US President] Donald Trump delivered a new 56-paged "National Security Strategy of the United States of America", outlining the foundation and priorities that will drive US foreign policy during his time in office.

US President Donald Trump

The document makes clear that "America First" is more than just a campaign slogan but now a guiding force in the US's foreign policy making.

The strategy reflects the profound conflict between "The White House" and "The National Security Institute" as well the state of balance between them.

This announced strategy combines between the national populism and right wing position in the foreign policy and the position of the "national security" institutions.

After comparing Trump's speech to the announced strategy with the strategy document itself, it revealed contradictions in a number of issues which indicates that it reflected the balance of professionals, politicians, and ideologues within his administration.

And after shedding light on these contradictions in the document, the strategy has been criticized, in which: it fails in changing Trump's slogan "America is First" to ideology in foreign policy, linking the ambitious goals by means and methods, and setting the priorities among targets. In general, this strategy lacks precision in setting goals, and it doesn't indicate the costs and the resources needed nor a clear plan of action.

Former US National Security Council official Steve Simon said that the strategy doesn't include any ideas that can be considered as Trump's special approach, and he added, "We recognized in George Bush's policy putting up an idea ‘Proactive Strikes' which turned into a management approach, or in Ronald Reagan's policy the phrase ‘Peace through Strength' leading to the collapse of the Soviet Union". Moreover, Mika Zenko wrote in "Foreign Policy" that the document failed to deal with any internal threats and risks the American's might face on a daily basis especially diseases.

On the other hand, the supporters of the strategy say that it has succeeded in reconciling the avoidance of falling into isolationism and not being dragged into international alliances where Untied States is not the leader, and the allies don't share the burden as they supposed to. In Anthony Cordesman's words, the strategy has not only provided a conservative role for the US, but also it is a global vision that clearly links the president's local priorities to the role and leadership of the US overseas.

The strategy reflects a deep clear concern in Washington of the transformation in the international system, which is no longer a consensus in Washington. The document also speaks about this system without enthusiasm and even criticizes it because it allows US adversaries to exploit it to acquire different advantages.

In addition, the context shows a state in unrest position, retreat, and threat facing emerging powers and changing world. The document shows an unprecedented national tendency to adopt opportunistic dealings with multilateral institutions, and it makes the US direct gains in security and economy the basis of US policy instead of talking about leadership of the international system and the dissemination of liberalism and democracy. The United States appears in this document as a player trying to advance from a late position in the international race, a player trying to recover the initiative after a deep belief that history alone would push America to the fore.

Furthermore, the strategy refers to a clear displacement from liberal speech to a realistic comparison since the end of the cold war. This is what drives, according to the document, to re-invest in modernizing its military forces and engage in new areas of war such as Cyber space, information and data that have changed the traditional concept of deterrence. The clear realistic rhetoric of the document, mainly regarding China and Russia, raised the question if the new strategy reflects a "Return to the Nineteenth Century?"

The economy is the main lever of the document and everything else revolves are around it. Therefore, the global role of the United States will be a continuation of economic successes that will require again America's strong image without the use of force but only reviewed, in contrast to the comparison that sees American well-being starting from Washington's role outside and producing inside.

In conclusion, we refer to a number of possible effects of this strategy in the Middle East in case Trump's administration has committed to its contents:

1. The cautious approach to military interventions around the world will continue to impose pressures and restrictions on a boarder role for the United States within the region, which means that US initiative in the Middle East will remain largely disciplined within the ceiling of existing balances.

2. The conditional and opportunistic relationship with the allies will increase the sense of Washington's regional allies for the need to continue and develop their own roles and to open up to more international powers, which means deepening the perception that the alliance with America is no longer sufficient in itself to ensure their national interests. This opportunism can reinforce divisions within US regional traditional axis while deepening Saudi-Emirati/ Qatari-Turkish tension. The American administration doesn't seem to have a clear approach nor political will and maybe the ability to reunite these components. In this context, it notes that the absence of any mentioning for Turkey and Qatar in the document while referring Egypt and Saudi-Arabia as allies.

3. The strategy is devoid of traditional hostility against the Syrian regime and speaks only about the return of refugees to their countries without mentioning the Syrian opposition. This caution may reflect a lack of consensus within the US administration on the Syrian crisis after "ISIS"; or it is an intended ambiguity, so that the US administration doesn't commit itself to any options under the multiple constraints within the Syrian field by a number of contradictions, such as the position toward the Kurds which may irritate Turkey, or the position toward the regime which may provokes the concerns of Russia.

In the Syrian case, however, the US administration doesn't appear to be about to change its current approach which aims to have a "Veto" power over the Syrian government from recovering some key areas either east of the Euphrates or in the southern region near Jordan. Besides, it seeks to keep the regime weak by preventing large-scale reconstruction and maintaining a direct military presence as a message to Iran and its allies that it is capable of imposing some red lines, while trying to maintain minimum agreement with Russia and to prevent an open Kurdish-Turkish confrontation in northern Syria.

4. The strategy focuses on that even the defeats that ISIS and the groups associated with Al Qaeda were exposed to it, these groups still exist and have the power to spread terrorism around the world. Therefore, the "long war" against them must be continued to strike it in their sources and especially the ideological and funding and recruitment levels. This indicates that the US administration will continue to legitimize its current interventions in the region under the headline of fighting "Jihadist Terrorism", a title that is at the same time a pretext for strengthening the confrontation against Iran which became practically the absolute priority after the end of "ISIS".

5. The overall context of the document doesn't highlight the Middle East as the primary source of challenges and threats, but rather the Asia-Pacific region including china, Russia and North Korea. This is linked to the fact that the United States has begun to consider that the "strategic competition between states, and not terrorism, is currently the main concern of US national security" according to the recent published American National Defense Strategy. These states which have the ability to strategically compete the US are mostly located outside the Middle East. This suggests that Obama's pivot toward Asia still has its effects as it was not an option for the American administration but rather a necessity imposed by the imbalances of power in the international system over Trump administration. But the difference is that Obama tried to manage the region through arrangements of a nature of reconciliation with Iran and preoccupied the wars through agents to enable Washington to transfer its focus to depth of Asia.

6. The aggressive rhetoric toward China and Russia could provoke both states to increase their interventions within the Middle East in order to rebalance the US. China cannot accept to limit its competition with the US within East Asia only, which is its near vital sphere, but will prefer to balance the American power in Washington's vital regions and here comes the Middle East in the first rank.

7. Regarding "Israel", it was only mentioned three times within a single paragraph regarding the "‘Israeli' - Palestinian conflict". While, in comparison with Obama's last strategy (2015), Trump's current strategy seems less enthusiastic toward "Israel", rhetorically at least. Obama's strategy emphasized that the strategic and security partnership with "Israel" and the mutual links between the two people are necessary to promote the American interests. It also confirmed the US's strong commitment toward "‘Israel's' security". Obama's strategy maybe was deliberately trying to present strong positive attitude toward "Israel" in order to contain the tensions between Obama and Netanyahu government at that time. Trump's strategy seems aimed to keep "Israel" away from the light while continuing the efforts to declare the "deal of the century".

In general, the strategy returns to present the regional conflict to be between two axes, one leaded by Iran and presenting "Jihadist terrorism" and the other includes traditional Arab regimes in addition to "Israel" and leaded by the US. So, while Obama considered the regional conflict is basically a sectarian one among regional powers and the US is on its margin, Trump returns to the traditional American approach that presents the US at the core of the regional conflict in order to be able to rebalance Iran and its allies after the defeat of "ISIS" and the Syrian opposition military groups. However, Trump administration will stay committed to "lead from behind", as Obama, which means that America will try to avoid engaging directly in massive ground military actions.

Translated by Fatima Abbas

Source: Al-Ahed News