Category Archives: US Foreign Policy

The Road after Mosul

Mosul post- DAESH risks becoming the new vortex of instability in the Middle East with Iranian, U.S. and Kurdish forces vying for control of the area. It will be interesting to see how Gen. Mattis can hope shape a new strategy in his visit to Baghdad. Likely as not, the U.S. will seek to use the marginalisation of the Sunni sector to increase its profile.

So far the Iraqi government has deliberately avoided agreeing to a formula which will empower the Sunni Arabs in Mosul in the post-DAESH era and it intends to restore the regime which was in place before the DAESH takeover in 2014. Iran will use its influence with Iraqi groups, especially with the followers of former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, to restore Mosul’s pre-DAESH administrative regime. This will give Iran safe land access to Syria so as to complete its Shiite Crescent design for the Middle East. However, this plan will eventually clash with the Kurdistan Regional Government’s (KRG) desire to maintain its control in the newly gained territories in Mosul’s predominantly Kurdish districts. This Iranian-inspired policy in Mosul is also contrary to the Sunni Arabs’ plan for self-rule in the province, especially with the plan of the Mutahidoun bloc of Osama al-Nujaifi.

The issue of the participation of the Hashd al-Shabi (Popular Mobilization Units or PMU) was a serious complicating factor in the preparations for the battle for Mosul. While the U.S. and non-Shiite groups wanted to exclude the PMU from the Mosul operation, Iran and Iraqi Shiite groups within the government insisted on their participation. The PMUs maintain between 60,000 and 90,000 men under arms on a rotating basis. Indeed, the concept of al-Hashd al-Shaabi was launched not by the state but by a so-called al-wajib al-kifai fatwa issued in June 2014 by Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, Iraq’s most influential Shiite leader. The Popular Mobilization Committee was headed by Jamal Jaafar Mohammad, better known by his nom de guerre Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, a former Badr commander. Mohandis is now the right-hand man of Qasem Soleimani, head of the Quds Force, which is highly influential in shaping Iraq’s regional future.

The reaction to U.S. involvement in the Mosul operation by forces outside the Iraqi government has already made itself felt even under Obama. As soon as al-Abadi had agreed terms with Obama, al-Maliki launched the Islah (Reform) bloc to exert pressure not just on al-Abadi, but also on Kurds, and Sunni Arabs. In addition, Iranian backed militias made numerous threats against the U.S.. Qais Khazali, the leader of Asaeb Ahlul Haq, and Muqtada Sadr, the head of Sarayah Selam militias, stated that U.S. troops in Iraq are legitimate targets for attack. Militia commanders, including Hadi al- Ameri, who is the leader of the powerful Badr group, issued many statements openly defying the views shared by al-Abadi and the U.S. on the participation of the Hashd al-Shaabi in the Mosul operation.

It is very likely that there will also be further confrontations between the central government and the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) over the control of the disputed territories in the northern and eastern parts of the province. On July 30, 2016, Barzani had staked his claim: “Liberating Mosul is impossible without the Peshmerga”. He added that although the Peshmerga will take part in the operation, they would not enter the city of Mosul. It was then that he proposed that 50,000 Peshmerga would participate in the battle. Ultimately though only 10,000 Peshmerga turned up . Almost immediately (by August 25), there were acrimonious exchanges between al-Abadi and Kurdish leaders. Karim Nouri, a top commander of the Badr forces, demanded the total withdrawal of Kurds after the battle, while Shaikh Jafar, a political bureau member of the Patriotic Union of Kurdistan (PUK) and top military commander, responded by categorically refusing to bow to this pressure.

It is expected that the Iraqi central government will emerge from the battle against DAESH victorious, thus gaining much military and political power on the ground in and around Mosul. If the past is any guide, the centralising character of this régime will determine events, with all the negative consequences that can be expected to ensue from this. The only factor that could possibly help this situation is the complex multi-level Turkish-Iranian relationship. This could bring a balance of interests between the Sunnis, Kurds and the Iraqi government. In fact, only in the context of a broad give-and-take between the two regional powers could the looming disputes over the control of Kirkuk’s oil resources be resolved without naked conflict.

However, the way the cards will fall will partly depend on whether the US (Gen Mattis) will seek to implement a palliative (strictly anti-ISIS/DAESH) or disruptive (anti-Russian) strategy. Judging from the navel-gazing going on in Washington, although the Pentagon will try to secure a ‘Sunnistan’ base for itself in the region, it will not be expansionist. Also, if the factors that are uniting regional players around the Astana process continue, despite its presence on the ground, the US will be marginalised.

Ignore the tough talk – Trump’s Iran policy will be much like Obama’s

 

Gareth Porter writes

The first public pronouncements by President Donald Trump’s administration on Iran have created the widespread impression that the US will adopt a much more aggressive posture towards the Islamic Republic than under Barack Obama’s presidency.

But despite the rather crude warnings to Tehran by now ex-national security adviser Michael Flynn and by Trump himself, the Iran policy that has begun to take shape in the administration’s first weeks looks quite similar to Obama’s.

The reason is that the Obama administration’s policy on Iran reflected the views of a national security team that adhered to an equally hardline stance as those of the Trump administration.

Flynn declared on 1 February that the Obama administration had “failed to respond adequately to Tehran’s malign actions” and suggested that things would be different under Trump. But that rhetoric was misleading, both with regard to the Obama administration’s policy toward Iran and on the options available to Trump going beyond that policy.  Read full article here

Rand Paul Vows to Block John Bolton as Deputy Secretary of State

Jason Ditz writes

President-elect Donald Trump is facing criticism for other nominations, but none may be so impactful as Sen. Rand Paul’s (R – KY) promise to oppose John Bolton’s nomination as Deputy Secretary of State, saying the ultrahawkish Bolton is “an automatic no.”

Paul expressed openness at Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State, saying he’s going to reserve judgement on him, but that Bolton “should get nowhere close to the State Department.” Read full article here.

Perhaps the Bolton proposal is a ploy by Trump to manoeuvre the Senate into endorsing Tillerson, while giving them a decoy to shoot down.

Trump wants to stop US régime change policies

Trump has laid out a US military policy which will avoid foreign interventions and instead focus purely on defeating DAESH/IS.

“We will stop racing to topple foreign regimes that we know nothing about, that we shouldn’t be involved with,” he said on Tuesday night in Fayetteville, North Carolina.

“Instead our focus must be on defeating terrorism and destroying Isis, and we will.”

Trump’s remarks came a few hours after Barack Obama delivered his final national security address of his presidency. Obama warned Trump to avoid overheated rhetoric in favour of a nuanced approach to the war on terror, and to avoid actions that could give false legitimacy to Isis as the “vanguard of a new world order”.

This from a president who sold more arms to the world than any previous US president, whose war of choice was Afghanistan, and whose avowed policy and that of his party since 2009 was to pursue régime change in Syria by proxy, only to pull back half-way, thus landing the country in an unfinished conflict which destroyed it completely.

Good riddance to the Nobel Peace Laureate Drone King and to the liberal internationalist imperialism of the Democratic party’s Progressive Policy Institute that spawned his policies.

Trump’s punch line: more generals and corporate CEOs

A retired general comes back to run Defense, if he gets the waiver from Congress to allow a military man into the post, which he probably will. Mattis believes Iran is dangerous. He also believes that Israeli policies are turning it into an apartheid state. He also said that he has never found torture to be useful, and that his preferred tools for getting answers are “a pack of cigarettes and a couple of beers.”

Another retired general, John Kelley, is picked to run the Department of Homeland Security. Kelly is apparently a liberal voice on the matter of undocumented immigration. So there seems to be some hope from the generals.

Luckily Oklahoma governor ‘drill-baby-drill’ Mary Fallin has been passed over for Interior secretary. Instead ex-Navy Seal Montana republican congressman Ryan Zinke has been chosen.

But Trump is also surrounding himself with CEOs to run the US, and its foreign policy. The appointment of Rex Tillerson, CEO of Exxon, confirms his insistence on a pro-Russian foreign policy stance.

If Trump’s cabinet is so far worth $14.5bn that’s largely because Wilbur Ross becomes secretary of commerce, Rod Rickets deputy secretary of commerce, Betsy De Vos secretary of education, and Linda MacMahon secretary of education.

The main worry is Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt who is going to run the Environmental Protection Agency. He threatens to erase much of President Barack Obama’s environmental agenda.

However, Zinke as a representative of the hunting and fishing lobby, holds out hope for protection of America’s wild spaces.

The Neocons are fighting hard to come back and control Trump’s foreign policy

There is a battle between the GOP foreign policy establishment and outsiders over who will sit on Trump’s national security team.

The fight pits hawks and neoconservatives who served in the former Bush administrations against those on the GOP foreign policy edges, who favour US retrenchment.

The sudden return of some Neocons into the fray (John Bolton in particular) is largely due to the influence that Robert and Rebekah Mercer seem to be wielding over Trump’s campaign.

Britain seems now to have more invested in imperialism than the US

Just like NATO, fearful of losing US support for their desire to return to a Cold War-era, began beating the anti-war drums after the US election, Britain’s government is upset about Trump’s peaceful outlook on Russia in Syria.

In what seems like a significant foreign policy split, officials in Britain admitted that they will have some “very difficult” conversations with the President-elect in coming months over his approach to Russia.

This comes after Mr Trump used his first interviews since winning the US election to indicate that he will withdraw support for rebels in Syria and thank Vladimir Putin for sending him a “beautiful” letter.

Mr Trump said that he will instead join forces with Russia and focus on defeating DAESH/ISIL. He has previously said it would be “nice” if the US and Russia could work together to “knock the hell out of ISIL”.

His views are in stark contrast with those of Theresa May, who has accused President Assad’s regime of perpetrating “atrocious violence” and said that the long-term future of Syria must be “without Assad”.

Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, has accused Russia of perpetrating war crimes over the deaths of hundreds of civilians.

The dramatic shift in US policy has prompted significant concern in the Foreign Office, and Britain will use the next three months before Mr Trump enters the White House to try to convince him of the importance of removing President Assad.

The Telegraph tells us that Mr Johnson is expected to fly to the US within weeks to meet with senior figures in Mr Trump’s administration and make clear that Britain believes that Mr Assad must go.

The diplomatic tensions emerged as a flotilla of Russian warships which passed through the English Channel has now arrived off the coast of Syria ahead of a major offensive against ISIL.

In other developments:

  • Sir Michael Fallon, the Defence Secretary, warned that European members of NATO have become “too dependent” on the support of the US after Mr Trump accused them of failing to pull their weight.
  • Mrs May will on Monday highlight the importance of globalisation to international security in an ever-changing World. She will also compare the US election to Brexit and say that that the West must recognise the concerns of people who have “seen their communities changed” by migration.
  • Nigel Farage, the Ukip leader, met with members of Donald Trump’s inner circle at Trump Tower in New York after saying Theresa May must “mend fences” with the President Elect.
  • Marie Le Pen, the leader of France’s far-right Front National, praised President Putin for “defending the interests of his own country” as she criticised US and European aggression towards Russia.
  • Mr Johnson boycotted a “crisis” meeting of foreign ministers in Brussels to discuss how Europe will deal with the aftermath of the US election.
  • Mr Trump said on Twitter yesterday: “This will prove to be a great time in the lives of all Americans. We will unite and we will win, win, win!”

In his very first interview Mr Trump told the Wall Street Journal that his administration will prioritise defeating DAESH/ISIL in Syria rather than removing President Assad.

He told the Wall Street Journal: “I’ve had an opposite view of many people regarding Syria. My attitude was you’re fighting Syria, Syria is fighting ISIS, and you have to get rid of ISIS.

“Russia is now totally aligned with Syria, and now you have Iran, which is becoming powerful, because of us, is aligned with Syria. Now we’re backing rebels against Syria, and we have no idea who these people are.”

He added that if the US attacks President Assad’s regime “we end up fighting Russia”.

Trump likely to alter US policy on Turkey

Anadolu reports: Turkey should be a top priority in U.S. foreign policy, a top adviser to President-elect Donald Trump said Wednesday in an article that slammed Barack Obama for failing to understand Ankara’s geopolitical position.

“We must begin with understanding that Turkey is vital to U.S. interests,” retired Gen. Michael Flynn wrote for the Hill newspaper. He also called Turkey “a source of stability in the region”.

Flynn was a key national security adviser to Trump during his presidential campaign and is expected by many to be appointed to a Cabinet position, possibly as defense secretary.

The veteran general wrote that it was “an unwise policy” for the Obama administration to keep Ankara at arm’s length,

“We need to adjust our foreign policy to recognize Turkey as a priority. We need to see the world from Turkey’s perspective,” he wrote.

Noting the extradition request by Turkey of Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ) leader, Fetullah Gülen, as one of the key points of contention between Washington and Ankara, Flynn suggested the U.S. handover Gülen.

Ankara has asked Washington to extradite Gulen for his role in infiltrating state instutitons in Turkey and carrying out a failed bloody coup July 15.

“What would we have done if right after 9/11 we heard the news that Osama bin Laden lives in a nice villa at a Turkish resort while running 160 charter schools funded by the Turkish taxpayers?” Flynn asked.

The former chair of the Defense Intelligence Agency suggested that although Gülen presents himself as a moderate Islamic scholar, he is a radical who “has publicly boasted about his ‘soldiers’ waiting for his orders to do whatever he directs them to do.”

Flynn compared Gülen to Ayatollah Khomeini — the leader of the Iranian revolution-urging the U.S. government not to repeat its mistake by supporting Gülen as it did Khomeini.

“Washington’s silence on this explosive topic speaks volumes when we hear the incredulous claim that the democratically elected president of Turkey staged a military coup, bombed his own parliament and undermined the confidence in Turkey’s strong economy, just so that he could purge his political opponents,” he added.

Flynn also cited allegation of corruption against the Gülen network in the U.S., saying the terror leader has brought more people than Google into the country to teach English but they are not fluent in the language.

Meanwhile, the Vice President-elect Mike Pence told Turkish daily Hürriyet on Wednesday that Turkey is the most important U.S. ally in the region and added that the new U.S. administration will restore relations back to its glory and further strengthen ties.
FETÖ leader Fetullah Gülen has lived in self-imposed exile on a 400-acre property in the foothills of the Pocono Mountains in Pennsylvania since 1999. In the July 15 coup attempt that he masterminded, a military junta tried to stage a coup to topple the democratically elected president and government in Turkey and impose martial law. The attempt was prevented by troops loyal to the government, along with police units and millions of Turkish citizens in favor of democracy. In total, 246 people, mostly civilians, were killed by pro-coup soldiers while over 2,000 were injured.

Turkish authorities issued an official request for Gülen’s extradition on Sept. 13, under a 1979 treaty between Turkey and the U.S. Bozdağ held a meeting with his U.S. counterpart Attorney General Loretta Lynch in late October, regarding the provisional arrest of the U.S.-based fugitive

The belated US attempt to get back into the Great Game through Mosul

So far the most notable aspect of the new Mosul campaign, apart from the suddenness of its announcement, is an explicit display of anti-Turkism. Why is this the case? If we answer this question, we can understand the immediate causes of this new campaign.

It is clear that the US is coordinating the various elements taking part in the Mosul operation against Daesh/ISIL, including the Pershmerga, the various militias and the Iraqi army, such as it is, explains Yahya al-Qubeissi in an al-Jazeera interview. The Pentagon may only have 500 people involved, but they are running the show. It is clear that any announcements about military deployments in Northern Iraq at the moment would come from the Pentagon.

So if the Pentagon is dead against Turkish involvement, and is clearly behind the Iraqi government’s demand that Turkey withdraw from the Ba’shiqa camp where it also has some 600 personnel, mostly trainers for Pershmerga forces and a local militia, why is this the case? It is excluding Turkey from the air war against Deash, although this is being coordinated from Incirlik.

The Pentagon is smarting from the failure of the 15 July coup in Turkey, which was run from Incirlik airbase by some accounts. It is also aggrieved by  Turkey’s collaboration with Russia and the establishment without US knowledge of a safe zone in Northern Syria for the Free Syrian Army (FSA) by the post-coup Turkish military to the detriment of the advance of the US allies amongst the Syrian Kurds. So the Pentagon is deliberately sidelining Turkey from the Mosul operation.

As a result of poor policy-making, the Pentagon is now excluded now from any settlement in Northern Syria, and has essentially lost the battle for Aleppo. This is why it is trying to gain a foothold in Mosul, and this requires distancing Turkey, because Turkey opposes the use of Shi’a militias in Sunni regions, while these very militias have now become the weapon of choice for the Pentagon.

In fact, given that its policy under the Obama doctrine is proxy warfare, this doesn’t bode well for future events in Northern Iraq once Daesh/ISIL is defeated and the Shi’a militias get a free rein over the area. On no occasion whether at Fajulla, Ramadi, Samarraa, or Tikrit did the US raise any complaints about atrocities and human rights abuses committed by the Shi’a militias, against Sunnis. They wouldn’t, because the Shi’a militias have become US proxies, just like the PYD in Northern Syria.

As an aside, we can also say that the ‘switch’ of the US military strategy away from backing Sunni jihadi militants and towards Shi’a militias to effect its goals is the very contradiction in foreign policy, which has defeated it in Syria. This meant they were pursuing a pro-Assad and an anti-Assad policy at the same time. There never has been much joined-up thinking in the US Middle East strategy.