US Needs to Assert Some Form of Control Over The Middle East, Instead of Acting As The Dumb Muscle For Others
US foreign policy under the Trump Administration, much like the Obama Administration, has centered on the Middle East and Asia. Where the Obama Administration struggled to pivot away from the Middle East, as well as the Ukraine Crisis, to focus on trade with Asia, the Trump Administration has attempted to tackle a number of ambitious issues. Although the foreign policy agenda of the Trump Administration has yet to bear any fruit, it is clear the US continues to lack any significant control over the events or geopolitics unfolding in the Middle East. The US is, of course, present in the Middle East, but the US is largely being used as a pawn in pursuit of other agendas. The Trump Administration has, however, been able to exert an odd form of control over the geopolitics of Asia.
Although the Trump Administration faces strong criticism for its decision to strengthen ties with Taiwan while confronting China economically, it has actually forced Beijing to cater to US interests. President Trump’s controversial plan to meet with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un may go against conventional wisdom and has the potential to cost the US dearly, but it also places the US in control of Asian geopolitics. The US has needed China to help contain and address the nuclear threat posed by North Korea. In the wake of Trump’s overtures, China is now scrambling to deal with growing US influence over its allies. North Korea and the rest of Asia, including US allies, are now scrambling to set policy based on Trump’s lack of predictability. Because the only means of doing that is to cater to US interests, Trump’s erratic behavior has given him a degree of control over Asian geopolitics.
In contrast, the US continues to scramble to catch up to the interests of others in the Middle East. When it comes to the faltering attempt to settle the prolonged Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, the Trump Administration loyalty to Israel and Israeli interests has made the US the dumb muscle of Israel. In Syria, the US is caught between all factions. Saudi Arabia and the rest of America’s partners in the Middle East continue to use US dollars and military might to achieve their goals in conflicts like the Syrian Civil War. The US is involved in the Syrian Civil War, even though the US lacks an objective that serves a vital national interest. Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, and all other Middle Eastern nations need the US to help stabilize the regional security situation while they pit warring factions against each other. The goal is to use the United States to prevent situations from spiraling out of control.
Iran and Russia also wants deeper US involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts in order to neutralize the US threat to them and ease the burden of ensuring regional security. Where Trump’s rejection of the Iranian Nuclear Deal, among other moves, leaves Middle Eastern powers searching for the support of a world power, Trump’s support of Russia’s ill-democratic Presidential Election and apparent effort to mend fences with Moscow means the US is catering to Russian interests. Recognizing the gains the Russian-backed Assad regime has made in the Syrian Civil and the rising tensions over the troop buildup near US positions, the Trump Administration is clearly scrambling to address Russian interests. Under the Trump Administration, Moscow does not appear to fear a potential conflict with the United States.
Although it is simply tempting to interpret Trump’s policies toward Russia based on suspected collusion or Trump’s oppositional tendencies, it is important to recognize much of Donald Trump’s thinking was forged during the Cold War. From the eyes of someone still living in the Cold War, Russia is seen as a fierce contender and China is seen as a secondary threat. It is likely why Trump is willing to confront China, which is more powerful than Russia, yet more hesitant to confront Russia. It is also important to recognize the emerging dichotomy inside Syria. Russia-allied forces, allegedly working on behalf of the Assad regime and Turkish forces have been steadily asserting control over Syria. While Moscow and Ankara were at odds over the downing of a Russian fighter jet in 2015, they have since reconciled and appear to be working in cooperation.
As a NATO nation, the US and Turkey are supposed to be allies. Tensions between the two have, however, been on the rise as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has steadily dismantled democracy inside Turkey, escalated a war against the Kurds, and attacked US-backed rebel forces. Despite the divisions between Washington and Ankara, the two are still allies. As such, Turkey does not see the United States as a threat, so it acts with impunity against US interests. With that in mind, the developments between Moscow and Ankara suggest the Erdogan government has assured Moscow that the US is a paper tiger. Just as Winston Churchill and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin tentatively carved up post-WWII Europe with the Percentages Agreement, it seems Erdogan and Putin have done the same in Syria. Like then, the US is simply being used as the dumb muscle, unless the Trump Administration chooses to take some form of control over the situation like it did in Asia.
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