Iranian people attend the funeral procession and burial of four Iranian victims of the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, in Hamadan, Iran, on January 16. File picture: Abdolrahman Rafati/Tasnim News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters
Iranian people attend the funeral procession and burial of four Iranian victims of the Ukrainian plane crash in Iran, in Hamadan, Iran, on January 16. File picture: Abdolrahman Rafati/Tasnim News Agency/WANA (West Asia News Agency) via Reuters

America’s failing strategy in the Middle East

By Shannon Ebrahim Time of article published Jan 19, 2020

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Assuming that the US Congress does not impeach President Donald Trump, he has little to show for the past three years in office as he heads into elections, but has a string of failures in the Middle East that will haunt him. The assassination of the leader of Iran’s Qud’s Force, General Qassam Soleimani, was likely meant to detract from those failures, and signal a new US strategy in the Middle East.

In Iran, Trump has wanted a “Trump deal” not an “Obama deal”, but he has failed to set the stage for any negotiations with Iran.

By ordering the assassination of the second or third most important and influential figure in the Iranian nation, whose popularity according to some polls stood at 70%, Trump has heightened anti-US sentiment and boosted the political fortunes of the current Iranian leadership.

In Syria, Trump made one of the biggest mistakes of his presidency by giving Turkish President Recip Tayyip Erdogan the green light to launch an attack into Northern Syria. Trump agreed to remove US troops from the border area, in effect giving Turkey carte blanche to attack the Kurds.

Trump’s strongest Republican backers in the US Congress were vociferous in their disapproval at his unilateral action, taken without consultation within the US security structures or with Nato allies.

But Trump’s Republican allies were, above all, angry that Trump had sold a solid and loyal US ally down the river, most importantly the very forces that had worked to successfully to destroy the Islamic State in Syria. Kurdish forces did the dirty work for the Americans in Northern Syria, only for Trump to sign off on their massacre.

The result of Trump’s strategic error was that the US lost any influence it had in Syria, and will likely be forced to remove its remaining troops from the country.

After the US spent approximately $1billion in trying to bring down the Syrian government of President Bashar al-Assad since 2012, the government is stronger than ever and moving to liberate the remaining towns that have been strongholds of jihadist fighters.

In Yemen, Trump has failed in the US-Saudi project to destroy the Houthi rebels and reinstate the former president.

The devastating Saudi-led air campaign would not have been possible without US military equipment and intelligence, and ultimately decimated one of the poorest countries in the world, leaving tens of thousands of children dead from bombing and widespread starvation. As these war crimes were being commited, the US gave political cover to the Saudis who blockaded Yemeni ports, denying the civilian population of desperately needed food and medicine.

At the end of the day, the Houthis succeeded in exposing Saudi vulnerability by successfully striking at the heart of Saudi Arabia’s key oil infrastructure and disrupting production. The US achieved none of its strategic objectives.

In Lebanon, the Trump administration and its allies have failed to weaken or disarm the resistance, and have watched as battle hardened and highly motivated Hezbollah forces return from successful battles in Syria and elsewhere with extensive fighting experience.

Hezbollah has also procured a sizeable arsenal of weapons and missiles that they claim can flatten Israeli cities if a new conflict breaks out.

The US has been unable to turn the organic street protests against corruption and a failing Lebanense government to the advantage of the West, and Hezbollah remains the power behind the throne both in political and military terms.

In Afghanistan, the US continues to spend significant resources on its protracted troop presence in a war it knows it can never win. Afghanistan has seen a resurgence of the Taliban which the US vowed to destroy, and now the US has to negotiate with the Taliban if it is to withdraw its troops from the country.

The recent US negotiations with the Taliban over the pulling out of US troops from five bases have failed, and Trump has not been able to deliver on his promise to end US involvement in such senseless wars. The US has been fighting in Afghanistan for more than 18years, which has cost the lives of 2300 US troops and tens of thousands of Afghans.

In Iraq, the US is arguably in its weakest position since its occupation of the country began in 2003.

Following Trump’s order for the assassination of Soleimani on Iraqi soil as he landed in the country to allegedly deliver a message from Saudi Arabia to the Iraqi government, anger among Iraqis at the continued US military presence exploded. It culminated in the recent non-binding resolution in parliament calling for the removal of US troops from Iraq. Iran will consider it a major victory if US troops leave Iraq. Trump’s move to eliminate Soleimani has only served to reduce US influence in Iraq and lay the grounds for its forced exit from the country.

In Israel/Palestine, Trump’s bullying approach and unilateral manoeuvres have rung hollow. No one talks about the US’s grand “Deal of the Century” anymore as it was dead in the water from the outset.

Trump may have tried to placate his Zionist allies by moving the US embassy to Jerusalem in flagrant disregard for the need to negotiate final status issues, but it has only served to expand anti-Israel lobby groups and spur the international boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign.

Trump has not proved to be the great deal-maker he purported to be, and has not moved the region in the direction of peace, but rather greater violence and oppression.

Given the Trump administration’s list of failures in the Middle East, their new approach appears to be to destroy the “resistance,” and Soleimani was considered to be the glue which held the resistance together.

It was not only Soleimani who was targested, but the US failed in its attempted assassination of the main Quds force commander in Yemen. While the killing of Soleimani was considered a devastating loss for Iran, it does not diminish the strength or resolve of the fighting forces of “the resistance” in the region.

Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah is intent on “sweeping American occupation away”, and across the political leadership of Iran there is one collective message coming through - US troops must leave the region. From the perspective of the Iranian leadership, there needs to be a just punishment for Soleimani’s assassination, although they see no equal to Soleimani in the US.

Therefore, punishment will mean dealing with the US military presence in the region, all of whom are considered targets.

It is likely that Iran’s strategy will be a medium to long-term one, to be implemented over the next five years. It will attempt to keep the US overextended through low level attacks on the US and its allies.

That may come in the form of assassination of US officials, soldiers, attacks on US bases in the Gulf, attacks on oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz, and cyberattacks on electrical companies or US government departments.

While Trump’s stated intention has been to withdraw US troops from the region in order to save resources and focus on other emerging threats to US interests, the US security apparatus will want to maintain a troop presence in the region for strategic geo-political purposes.

As Noam Chomsky recently argued, while the US is now self-sufficient in oil and no longer needs the oil of the Middle East, it does, however, want to control the oil in the Middle East.

* Ebrahim is Independent Media's Group Foreign Editor.

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