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The Middle East in the Post-Trump Era

Last September, the Brookings Institution published the book, “Reengaging in the Middle East: A New Vision for US Policy,” and the importance of the book stems from several considerations, the most important of which are; It was issued on the eve of the American elections. It is directed to the next administration within a strategic framework that takes into account the different differences and situations in the region. In this volume, the most enthusiastic and thoughtful emerging voices are collected. These authors have worked for the past 15 years with policymakers across the Clinton, Bush, Obama and Trump administrations. For years they have devoted themselves to the political trade-offs and challenges in the Middle East.

The book is distinguished by its possession of a holistic vision that deals with the interests of the United States as a single package that affects and influences each other. It was also able to deal with the American policy dilemma, which ranges from withdrawal or hegemony. One of the book’s many features is that it presented realistic goals for American policy in the region, in recognition of its limitations, and was able to combine realism and idealism at the same time by integrating American interests and values ​​in its proposals. Finally, the book – influenced by the era of the Arab Spring – realized the importance of the peoples of the region aspiration for good governance. And he tried to reflect this aspiration in the proposed policies of the United States in the region.

Between domination and withdrawal

The American policy dilemma – as presented by the book – began with the policies of Bush Jr., and extended with successive administrations until Trump:

“The approach of the George W. Bush administration – based on hegemony – towards the Middle East and North Africa left the United States overly extended, which led to a regional backlash against American policy. President Barack Obama’s efforts to implement a cautious and managed (rebalancing) proved, Slowly and cautiously divestment in the region, it is not working. The Trump era has turned both of these approaches upside down. While President Donald Trump’s predecessor and a growing number of current political leaders from both parties share his goals of re-withdrawing from the region, harsh means The anarchy through which he chose to do so has eroded the leadership and interests of the United States and undermined global alliances. “

The book discusses the arguments of the two theses of withdrawal and hegemony in preparation for a proposal that goes beyond the opposing dichotomy between them. “The call for a new axis (of American policy) away from the Middle East ignores the fact that long-term American interests continue in the region, and is likely to continue at least during the next decade, and at the same time. The (known unknown) includes the permanent unpredictability of politics and security crises in the Middle East, and even the likely occurrence, in addition to the devastating effects of the Covid-19 epidemic, and the complete withdrawal of US power and investments in the region will call for more regional and global competition, This generates new types of internal security. “

In contrast; Gone are the days when 180,000 American soldiers fought in Iraq or when high oil prices kept the US economy on top of a barrel of powder.

Reducing the US presence in the Middle East will require striking a difficult balance in reducing the US military footprint. Outdated without creating new insecurity, while maintaining deterrence and influence when needed to address those key remaining US interests, the combination of military activity and diplomatic passivity that gives regional partners a blank check for destabilizing behavior and keeps the region on the brink of a broader conflict is no longer acceptable.

US policymakers – as stated in Chapter 1 – should think about how to set expectations with the American public, not detonate the threat disproportionately.

5 interests and realistic targets

The advantage of the book – as I presented – is that the authors recognized the interconnectedness of American interests and dealt with them on the one hand that influences each other: every regional interest of the United States, from ensuring Israel’s security to preserving energy supplies to combating terrorism, is more difficult in light of the ongoing conflicts in the region. These conflicts are mixed with the rule of authoritarian rule and the power vacuum generated by it.

The numerous ongoing civil conflicts throughout the region threaten US interests in the Middle East, as terrorists exploit the security vacuum resulting from the ongoing fighting in Yemen, Syria and elsewhere to establish training shelters and plot attacks, and Iran absorbs divisions, which have expanded. Because of these struggles to form new proxies, which further weaken national governments and expand their influence. “These conflicts have destroyed the economic life of the region, halted political development, and tore apart the social fabric of countries, precipitating a self-reinforcing cycle of instability that may take generations to overcome.”

The authors believe that a strategy that reduces costs and contains risks while advancing core American interests in the Middle East is possible, and the best way they see it to overcome the two main dilemmas mentioned above is to ensure that this strategy adheres to a number of fundamental principles.

The second feature is the realism of the objectives that it can achieve within the framework of its five interests:

1. In the fight against terrorism and its spread; The United States will never succeed in defeating all terrorist groups, preventing the use of terrorism as a political tactic, or eliminating all nuclear, chemical, or biological weapons in the region; But if we are vigilant and focused, we cannot just prevent the vast majority of terrorist attacks on American targets; But also weakening the capacity of those groups, which can try to carry out such attacks, as we can prevent other countries from developing nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capabilities, and prevent such weapons from falling into the hands of terrorist groups.

2. As for promoting Israeli-Palestinian peace and protecting Israel’s security; Given the facts on the ground, the incoming administration should not expect to be in a position to negotiate a final settlement of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, however, “United States leaders can do a decisive service by protecting the two-state solution from measures that undermine its process; Like settlement expansion and terrorism, “they mean resistance.

3. De-escalating regional conflicts, which have led to widespread insecurity, empower terrorist groups, weaken economic growth, and create opportunities for malicious actors to intervene, while the United States will not be able to provide a quick solution to the many conflicts raging in the Middle East through its own diplomacy. overnight, where they can at least help mitigate the costs, and reduce the escalation of fighting levels in the short term, while maintaining the chances of ending the conflict in the medium term.

4. Given the current sovereignty in the region of authoritarian rule mixed with conflicts and power vacuum; Democracy appears to be an ambitious goal.

While the United States cannot change this reality on its own, we can still hope for more incremental progress in terms of regional leaders’ respect for global human rights standards, economic reform, and accountable, representative governance.

The realistic goal is to release political prisoners, increase the transparency and inclusiveness of central and local governments, increase integrity and electoral freedom, and a wider space for civil society and the media, among other things, it should not be a bridge too far.

Here is a point the book highlights its importance, which is the role of local actors in bringing about the democratic transition and “the pursuit of these relatively modest governance goals. The United States must remain modest about their impact and take into account the risk that our actions, no matter how well intentioned, may backfire.” Nevertheless, US diplomacy and programming can be carefully tuned to empower local actors who are pushing for change, with the understanding that – not outside forces – must be the central players in the drama unfolding in the Middle East.

5. And finally; Enabling the free flow of oil and natural gas to / through the Middle East and North Africa; It was reworded again, “There is no danger of an oil supply embargo, as was the case in 73rd; rather, the danger is that the decrease in oil supplies, due to internal turmoil in the Middle East or the seizure of regional oil fields by a hostile power, could generate a huge rise in prices.” Global oil, so ensuring reliable supplies of oil from the Middle East will remain a primary national security priority.

Principles of the new strategy

Chapter one concludes, “While the region’s relative importance to the United States has declined, through thick and thin, the United States has no luxury in ignoring the countries and peoples of the Middle East. On the other hand, the strategy that continues to give the Middle East an indisputable priority is. In US foreign policy, it will be unwise, costly, and unpopular domestically. ”If the United States is to achieve the five goals outlined above, the next administration will have to formulate a strategy that can deal with two major dilemmas. First, there is a tension between the growing fatigue of the American public from the Middle East (exacerbated by the emergence of other global challenges) and the inescapable reality that this region remains important. Second, pushing forward US relations; But the experimentation in the Middle East must be done in a way that avoids the potential risks of over-compliance.

The authors believe that a strategy that reduces costs and contains risks while advancing core American interests in the Middle East is possible, and the best way they see it to overcome the two main dilemmas mentioned above is to ensure that this strategy adheres to a number of fundamental principles.

5 principles

Through a combination of skilled state craftsmanship, robust diplomacy, and the responsible use of military force, the United States can lower costs and remain a major regional player without the burden of domination; Especially if it is based on the following principles:

1- It should be primarily directed to US interests and values, rather than shaping them uncritically on the basis of the interests and agendas of traditional regional partners.

2- A mixture of values ​​and interests; While easing regional tensions, focusing on conflict prevention, prioritizing human rights and governance reforms are morally sound approaches, and reflect the universal values ​​that drive US foreign policy, they are also often the most direct way to achieve US interests, and through focus. Renewed conflict prevention and management in the Middle East, the new administration could reassert American influence, better contain destabilizing regional dynamics, and economize resources.

3- The United States should adopt a new approach to security partnerships with regional actors, based on which we begin by defining clear conditions and specifying what we expect from our support, including transparency about how recipient countries use support and assistance.

Most importantly, we will need to impose consequences when our partners violate these expectations, something the United States has been loath to do in the Middle East, in an effort to preserve the “relationship” with supposedly friendly countries, and the United States must not hesitate to make changes to partners. When this is not the case.

4- The United States should assess more critically its military posture in the region, and wherever possible, increase civilian power instead, as American military strength enhances our diplomatic strength; But it is not a substitute for it.

5- There will still be circumstances in which the United States needs to use military force in the Middle East (or at least the threat to do so), especially in the Gulf. However, we must avoid a binary choice between withdrawing all forces and the status quo. Understanding the set of arrangements between them could give us greater flexibility to advance American interests at a cost that is more acceptable to the American public.

5 restrictions

In the first chapter of the book, Miller and Rand discuss the limitations of US foreign policy in the post-Trump Middle East, namely:

The first limitation: Is that US foreign policy-makers in a post-Trump world will not be able to start from a clean slate, they will have to balance Trump’s legacy with new measures; To neutralize much of the damage inflicted on US interests.

The second limitation: For any new US strategy involves the continuing turmoil in the Middle East.

The third limitation: The fact that the American public has little desire for more military adventures in the Middle East after nearly two decades of war, of course the use of force will remain part of the next administration’s toolkit; But the new president should not be expected to enjoy the same freedom that his predecessors enjoyed.

Fourth limitation: The so-called resumption of competition between the great powers will also constrain US policy in the Middle East. China and Russia are likely to replace the Middle East as the central axis of US foreign policy, and as priorities change, the distribution of resources will also change. The greater the number of manpower, money, and devoted attention For peer competition, say so available for the Middle East.

Fifth limitation: The volatile position of the United States among the peoples of the Middle East limits what the United States can achieve there, as regional distrust of the US government – if not the Americans – is not new. But it remains an obstacle for policymakers, whether it is US support for Israel and oppressive dictatorships, or anti-colonial sensitivities, there is fierce opposition to US policy in the Middle East.

The conclusion that the authors of the first chapter conclude is that “Based on the previous analysis, it is clear that the next administration will face a very difficult political environment in the Middle East. The region is likely to remain mired in turmoil, leaving few opportunities for major political victories, and the administration will not be El Jadida is in a position to solve many of the region’s problems in its first four years, and perhaps not within 8 years. Simply put, the United States should view the Middle East as a region that should be managed over time, not a region waiting to survive.

Note: This article is mainly limited to discussing the first chapter of the book by Daphna Rand and Andrew Miller; Because it is like the proposed new strategic vision for US policy in the Middle East.




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