Despite all the criticism against the current US administration’s policy in the Middle East, we must admit that it’s actually clearer and more committed than previous policies. The US has chosen Syria to test its new strategy to confront ISIS, Russia and Iran but we do not know whether it will be able to resume this path which it recently announced taking.
The Cold War ended when the Soviet Union collapsed at the beginning of the 1990’. The only US foreign policy left was confronting terrorism. Policies were mainly about reactions to the September 11, 2001 terror attacks to respond to terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya. That phase lasted for a decade and a half.
We can see the features of confrontations between Washington and Moscow in Syria, Ukraine and Iran and in the Korean Peninsula though at a lesser degree. This conflict between the Russian and American powers brings to mind the Cold War. This was asserted last week when the US Secretary of State spoke about the US’ new strategy and said it mainly relies on confronting competitive forces, mainly Russia and China to a lesser degree.
Washington’s policy in the Middle East in general and in Syria and Iraq in particular has been different under the Trump administration as it decided to stand against Russia’s presence there and against the latter’s Iranian ally and to confront ISIS. The US has also chosen Syria as a field for the battle that has become very complicated after several parties became involved in it.
Now that Washington has adopted a clear policy for the first time, I expect it to produce new problems. For instance, Washington will expect its allies to support its policies and go back to the policy of old alliances. Stances on the Syrian crisis will be categorized and eventually this approach will apply to major regional issues such as how to deal with Iran. Turkey, which is a NATO member, and which is historically part of the US alliance system, has been trying to exploit the crisis to serve its own interests until the Afrin battle erupted and put it in a confrontation with Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime. Therefore, Turkey, and the rest of the region’s countries, will realize that their options are decreasing with time. So will they ally with Washington or with Russia in Syria?
The Americans gave up on their policy of cooperating with the Russians in Syria and adopted a new policy that is based on confronting them via proxies and regional alliances. Moscow adopted this policy before Washington did as it has used the Iranians and their agents, such as Lebanese, Iraqi and other militias, to fight their battles for them. Meanwhile, the Americans are using Syrian-Kurdish militias and remnants of Free Syrian Army factions in East Euphrates. The new American orientation is based on thwarting the Iranian-Russian project in Syria and thwarting ISIS’ attempt to make a comeback after toppling the “State of the Caliphate” in ar-Raqqah.
Luckily for us in the region, decision-makers in Washington have finally woken up and realized the threats posed by new transformations in Syria. They also oppose what Iran is doing in Iraq. Even if they don’t like it to the extent of engaging in a military confrontation there, adopting a hostile policy is enough to increase the cost of war on Iran. This will make Tehran’s ability to dominate the region unlikely for now.
This article is also available in Arabic.
Abdulrahman al-Rashed is the former General Manager of Al Arabiya News Channel. A veteran and internationally acclaimed journalist, he is a former editor-in-chief of the London-based leading Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat, where he still regularly writes a political column. He has also served as the editor of Asharq al-Awsat’s sister publication, al-Majalla. Throughout his career, Rashed has interviewed several world leaders, with his articles garnering worldwide recognition, and he has successfully led Al Arabiya to the highly regarded, thriving and influential position it is in today. He tweets @aalrashed.
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