What do new changes in US of­fi­cial­dom mean?

Arab News - - OPINION - Talmiz ah­mad | Spe­cial To arab NewS

US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump now has a team that re­flects his po­lit­i­cal in­stincts and the pri­or­ity he at­taches to putting “Amer­ica First.” This will al­most cer­tainly mean US with­drawal from the nu­clear agree­ment with Iran, an ar­ti­cle of faith with both Mike Pom­peo and John Bolton.

ON March 13, US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump an­nounced the re­moval of Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son and his re­place­ment by CIA Di­rec­tor Mike Pom­peo, with CIA veteran Gina Haspel suc­ceed­ing the lat­ter as the agency’s head. Nine days later, Trump sacked Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser (NSA) H.R. McMaster and ap­pointed John Bolton in his place. All these ap­point­ments are con­tro­ver­sial, and have made the Mid­dle East even more un­sta­ble and inse­cure.

Tiller­son had not cov­ered him­self with much glory in his short ten­ure. He was seen as low-key, non-com­mu­nica­tive and in­ef­fec­tive. But his fa­tal flaw was that he was not close to his pres­i­dent. In fact, last Oc­to­ber he re­ferred to Trump as a “mo­ron.”

But Pom­peo scarcely seems a bet­ter choice. A strict born-again Chris­tian, he has an es­tab­lished record of Is­lam­o­pho­bia, close­ness to anti-Mus­lim ex­trem­ists, and af­fil­i­a­tion with pro-Is­rael right-wing groups in Wash­ing­ton.

He prefers con­fronta­tion to di­a­logue, an ob­server has noted — hardly the best qual­i­fi­ca­tion for the chief US diplo­mat. Amer­i­can com­men­ta­tor Ja­son Reza­ian wrote that Pom­peo’s rap­port with the pres­i­dent could “help to en­able Trump’s worst in­stincts.”

Pom­peo is said to be ob­sessed with Rus­sia. In his view, the US po­si­tion visa-vis its Cold War ri­val is still a zero-sum sce­nario. His present con­cerns re­late to Rus­sia’s and Iran’s ex­pand­ing roles in the Mid­dle East.

Haspel has been closely as­so­ci­ated with ex­treme tor­ture used by the CIA against al­leged ex­trem­ists in its cus­tody af­ter 9/11, us­ing meth­ods that even then were viewed within the agency and its over­sight bod­ies as not only morally re­pug­nant but also largely in­ef­fec­tive.

But it is Bolton who has caused the most dis­quiet among com­men­ta­tors, who re­call his hawk­ish po­si­tions dur­ing the pres­i­dency of Ge­orge W. Bush and his close as­so­ci­a­tion with the neo­con­ser­va­tives. This ca­bal pushed the US to war against Iraq in 2003, seen widely as the coun­try’s great­est for­eign pol­icy dis­as­ter and the har­bin­ger of the acute in­se­cu­rity the re­gion is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing to­day.

Ob­servers have pointed out that in the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion, Bolton has pro­moted con­flict with Iran. His con­tact with the pres­i­dent was fa­cil­i­tated by his close ties with Trump’s ma­jor donor and pro-Is­rael hawk Shel­don Adel­son. Robert Hunter, for­mer Amer­i­can am­bas­sador to NATO, has de­scribed Bolton’s ap­point­ment as NSA as “an in­sult to the en­tire US na­tional se­cu­rity pro­fes­sion.”

Trump now has a team that re­flects his po­lit­i­cal in­stincts and the pri­or­ity he at­taches to putting “Amer­ica First.” This will al­most cer­tainly mean US with­drawal from the nu­clear agree­ment with Iran, an ar­ti­cle of faith with both Pom­peo and Bolton. While there are valid con­cerns over Iran’s hege­monic in­ten­tions that threaten the in­ter­ests of its neigh­bors, hardly any of them want to see the col­lapse of the deal, which would bol­ster the hawks in Tehran and make the re­gion more dan­ger­ous.

Linked with this is the sit­u­a­tion in Syria, where Rus­sia is lead­ing a peace process — with Iran and Turkey as part­ners — that is try­ing to put in place a post-con­flict po­lit­i­cal or­der based on con­sen­sus among the ri­val groups. The hos­til­ity of Pom­peo and Bolton to Rus­sia and Iran will cer­tainly re­move any prospect of such a set­tle­ment.

But the US could cause even greater dam­age to re­gional se­cu­rity. Its de­ci­sion to plant it­self firmly in Syria to roll back Rus­sian and Ira­nian in­flu­ence is founded on pro­mot­ing Syr­ian-Kur­dish as­pi­ra­tions for in­de­pen­dence.

This plan has up­set Turkey, which has moved troops into Syria, cap­tured the Kur­dish strong­hold of Afrin, and is de­mand­ing con­trol of a 100-km-long “safe zone” from Afrin to Manbij to stop the Kurds from con­sol­i­dat­ing their home­land. This sce­nario has placed the US in the un­ten­able po­si­tion of ei­ther be­tray­ing its Kur­dish pro­teges or alien­at­ing its NATO ally, amid the pos­si­bil­ity of se­ri­ous con­flict be­tween the two.

But the most se­ri­ous prospect for the re­gion is the close affin­ity of Trump and his hawk­ish of­fi­cials with right-wing ex­trem­ists in Is­rael. US recog­ni­tion of Jerusalem as Is­rael’s cap­i­tal will al­most cer­tainly lead to ag­i­ta­tion by the be­lea­guered Pales­tini­ans and the use of dis­pro­por­tion­ate force by Is­rael, which will spread dis­quiet across the Mid­dle East.

Linked with this is the pos­si­bil­ity of Is­rael at­tack­ing Le­banon and Syria to erad­i­cate the in­flu­ence of Hezbol­lah and Iran at its bor­ders. This could lead to a re­gional con­flict and sig­nif­i­cant Is­raeli ca­su­al­ties. Bolton and Pom­peo could even ad­vo­cate a di­rect at­tack on Iran to end its nu­clear pro­gram and ef­fect regime change, both of which Bolton has been pro­mot­ing for sev­eral years. The out­look for the Mid­dle East has rarely been so hor­ren­dous.

Talmiz Ah­mad is a for­mer In­dian diplo­mat who holds the Ram Sathe Chair for In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies, Sym­bio­sis In­ter­na­tional Univer­sity, Pune, In­dia.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Saudi Arabia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.