Every so often the question is raised: What is the American strategy in the Middle East? This question assumes that the strategy varies with changing circumstances and developments. Therefore, it is necessary to differentiate the American strategy, which is constant, from the tactics and allegiances, which change with the circumstances.
The constant part of the American strategy is that it maintains the security of Israel and its military superiority over the Arab states, ensures the flow of oil at favorable rates, and retains American influence in the region. This is accomplished through direct military presence, by arming allied regimes, by weakening the intellectual, ideological and political trends that are antagonistic to the United States, and by preventing the establishment of ideological regimes that could provide an alternative to the Western system, as the socialist system did. As for the policies, they are decided by circumstance.
The agreement to be signed between the Western nations and Iran will not change that constant strategy, even in the event of reconciliation between Washington and Tehran. Relations between them have resumed, restoring ties that were severed in the 1979 revolution; however, the overarching strategic policies enumerated above will remain in place. While it appears that in general, American policies do not change much, this is because there is no real threat to that strategy. In the current context, there does not appear to be a major threat to this strategy, except for the spread of the influence of the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq.
The first part of the threat is the exponential rise of terrorism after 14 years of war following the events of 9/11. At the time, former U.S. President George W. Bush said in his famous speech, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.” The second part of the threat is the approach of terrorist groups to Europe, whether in Syria or Libya, and its effect on European security if these groups decide to shift their focus from Muslim countries.
The third part of the threat involves the situation with regard to the undertaking which these groups represent and which began with the enforcement of Quranic punishments (“hudud”), carried out with unprecedented severity. The fourth part of the threat involves American policy on democratic values, human rights and public freedom in the Arab world, if the policy has the significance they give it. The fifth part of the threat is the deterioration of the situation and the mounting possibility of fundamental change in the Arab world against these groups and whoever supports them.
It is clear that there are two possible situations in Washington: Either it is flip-flopping and lacks an opinion, as a number of observers indicated recently; or it believes that in the current context, terrorist groups play a pivotal role in its policies — or at least are not detrimental to them — or they are accomplices of these groups, whether by providing logistical support, training, funding or media coverage. It is possible to say that the ambiguity of the U.S. position in modern times is unprecedented for a majority of parties, including the Arab regimes, Iran, Turkey and Russia, in addition to Western countries including the United States itself.
There are certain phenomena which add to the ambiguity of U.S. policy. Firstly, the United States leads the coalition against the Islamic State group while its planes bomb positions of militant resistance groups in Syria and Iraq. Secondly, the coalition has been accused of not seriously combating the Islamic State group. This is because the coalition possesses monitoring equipment and satellites which would make it possible to know the position and plans of groups like the Islamic State group, but does not make pre-emptive strikes to prevent their spread or their attacks in Syria or Iraq. In early May, the Islamic State group organized a military parade in the heart of Mosul which lasted two hours but was not mentioned by the American forces. How were they not able to learn about this?
Thirdly, a quarter of a century ago, the United States led the international coalition which took up arms against Saddam Hussein’s troops when he attacked Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990. Keep in mind that Kuwait is far from Europe, and that intervention did not have a real effect on Western interests. However, armed groups now move freely in Libya, control its oil fields and hundreds of kilometers of Mediterranean coastline directly across from Europe, and have never been targeted by America or its allies. Large quantities of U.S. arms have also been seized from Iraqi forces. Reportedly, these armed groups have put their hands on weapons of mass destruction in Libya, and they are rumored to have obtained nuclear weapons from Pakistan and Ukraine. This could be an overstatement or exaggeration, although the lack of seriousness of America and its allies in addressing that danger raises questions.
There are not many explanations for the enigmatic American policies with regard to the spread of violence on a larger scale in recent years. The most reasonable explanation, given what we know, is that the West accepts the existence of internal violence in the Arab and Islamic world. Also, conspiracy cannot completely be ruled out, as the Obama administration continues to train what are referred to as “moderate groups” in Syria. Protecting the Israelis also cannot be excluded from Western motives. For while Israeli forces target Hamas amid the silence of the Arabs and the whole world, there is no explanation for the violence in Arab and Islamic capitals except Israel. Last week, Israeli forces launched three attacks, bombing Hamas positions in Gaza, and it justified that by saying a group affiliated with the Islamic State group fired two rockets into the Zionist territory from inside Gaza. Israel stated that it considers Hamas culpable, even if it is not directly responsible. Doesn’t that indicate the presence of a deliberate plan to eliminate any trace of resistance to Israeli occupation? Hamas does not benefit from its quest to keep itself separate from the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, whose daily aims are military and security operations and judgments of death and prison. The Egyptian regime calls for the U.S. ambassador to protest against the alleged meeting with supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo. Why even have such a meeting? The Americans meet whom they want, but they don’t take steps afterward to defend those who meet them. For example, U.S. officials in Bahrain met with members from political opposition groups, but they did not take any meaningful action when the authorities arrested some of those individuals. It is difficult to believe that rulers from the Gulf countries completely rebelled against the wishes of the Americans or that they are looking for other alliances with powers like Russia and China. This is simply not logical. The most likely explanation is that the Americans use, as they usually do, two contradictory diplomatic policies: They are always with the regimes, but they also seek to appease the opposition by meeting with them as well.
Whatever can be said about American strategy in the Middle East, the truth is clear: America feels that it is necessary to add military bases specifically in oil producing countries. General Martin Dempsey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, commented that the United States is looking to open more military bases in Iraq to counter the Islamic State group, a move that may require the deployment of more U.S. troops, confirming the trend of American expansionism and Washington’s fears that America’s influence may decline if it does not expand its military presence in the region. The U.S. general’s remarks revealed a part of American preparations for what may follow after the signing of a nuclear agreement with Iran. That is the price of expanding influence in Iraq, and for that to happen, it is vitally necessary that the Islamic State group seize more Iraqi territory. That would put the government in Baghdad in a new situation, forcing it to request aid from the Americans and to consider building military bases a necessity due to the presence of armed groups. This is because Washington was not satisfied leaving Iraq after the signing of the U.S.-Iraq Status of Forces Agreement, and the refusal to grant immunity to Americans from Iraqi prosecution. There are big questions about the links between Western and regional intelligence agencies and militant groups, and whether there was an “understanding” about the roles required. Otherwise, what is the meaning of allowing the influence of these groups to spread, while clamping down specifically on groups who resist Israel? General Dempsey promised to send troops to Iraq, and those forces will establish a military base named "Taqaddum" (a word that means "progress" in Arabic) only 25 km (approximately 15.5 miles) from the city of Ramadi, the capital of the Anbar province which fell to the Islamic State group last month. Now there are 3,100 U.S. soldiers in Iraq, and they have done nothing to address the militant groups.
The author is a Bahraini writer and journalist living in London.