DUAL CON­TAIN­MENT WON’T WORK IN SYRIA

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Front Page - BURHANETTiN DURAN

IS­RAEL and the Gulf are heav­ily in­vested in the dual con­tain­ment pol­icy and they will do ev­ery­thing in their power to pre­vent Trump from co­or­di­nat­ing the U.S. with­drawal from Syria with Turkey

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion re­mains con­fused and di­vided over Washington’s im­mi­nent with­drawal from Syria. Most re­cently, Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pom­peo vis­ited the Mid­dle East in an at­tempt to re­as­sure U.S. allies, who are con­cerned that the U.S. with­drawal will serve Turk­ish and Ira­nian in­ter­ests.

In his ad­dress at the Amer­i­can Univer­sity in Cairo, Pom­peo pledged to “ex­pel ev­ery last Ira­nian boot” from Syria through closer co­op­er­a­tion with U.S. allies, harsher eco­nomic sanc­tions and diplo­macy. “There will be no U.S. re­con­struc­tion as­sis­tance for ar­eas in Syria held by [Bashar] As­sad un­til Iran and its proxy forces with­draw,” he added.

Here’s the prob­lem with Pom­peo’s ap­proach: How ex­actly is Washington sup­posed to kick the Ira­ni­ans out of Syria, pro­vided that Trump wants to pull out and his ad­min­is­tra­tion can’t seem to agree on a road map with Turkey? The As­sad regime and Iran are strate­gic part­ners and their co­op­er­a­tion rests on the Shi­ite mili­tias. Threat­en­ing not to help with re­con­struc­tion ef­forts won’t end As­sad’s al­liance with Tehran. Harsher U.S. eco­nomic sanc­tions will prob­a­bly hurt the Ira­nian econ­omy in 2019, but it would be a mis­take to un­der­es­ti­mate the stub­born­ness of Ira­nian na­tion­al­ists and the coun­try’s abil­ity to tar­get U.S. in­ter­ests di­rectly if nec­es­sary.

Pom­peo’s choice of venue for that for­eign pol­icy ad­dress had vast sym­bolic sig­nif­i­cance. A decade ago, the then-Pres­i­dent Barack Obama had de­liv­ered a his­toric ad­dress in Cairo that marked the be­gin­ning of a new di­rec­tion in U.S. for­eign pol­icy. Amer­ica’s top diplo­mat de­scribed the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s Iran pol­icy as a mis­take that fu­eled re­gion-wide chaos over the past decade. Pom­peo added that the nu­clear deal achieved noth­ing but strength­ened Tehran’s hand and fa­cil­i­tate Iran’s un­con­trol­lable sup­port for Hezbol­lah and Shi­ite mili­tias in Syria. His pro­posed so­lu­tion was to mount more pres­sure on the Ira­ni­ans.

For the record, Pom­peo was right to blame Obama for clear­ing Iran’s path and un­leash­ing chaos in the Mid­dle East as a re­sult. It is true that the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion en­abled Shi­ite ex­pan­sion­ism for the sake of con­tain­ing Sunni rad­i­cal­ism. Yet it is im­por­tant to keep in mind the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion fu­eled chaos as well – by pro­mot­ing Sunni-Shi­ite po­lar­iza­tion.

Washington’s mis­guided de­ci­sion to serve the nar­rowly-de­fined in­ter­ests of Is­rael and the Gulf states in the name of con­tain­ing Iran wasn’t a great idea ei­ther. That choice will en­tail vi­o­lence and de­struc­tion as op­posed to law and or­der. Iron­i­cally enough, Pom­peo fails to un­der­stand the re­gion and re­peats Obama’s mis­takes.

At the heart of Trump’s anti-Iran team’s mis­con­cep­tion lies their per­spec­tive on Turkey. The U.S. can­not im­ple­ment its Mid­dle East pol­icy by re­ly­ing ex­clu­sively on Is­rael, Egypt and the Gulf, and re­fus­ing to co­or­di­nate its ac­tions with Turkey. Judg­ing by Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser John Bolton’s re­marks in Tel Aviv, where he said Turkey not tar­get­ing the PKKaf­fil­i­ated Peo­ple’s Pro­tec­tion Units (YPG) was a pre­con­di­tion of the U.S. with­drawal, Washington’s Turkey pol­icy re­mains un­der Is­raeli and Gulf in­flu­ence. Lend­ing an ear to ob­servers that iden­tify Turkey, not Iran, as the real threat, leads Washington down the wrong path – a mis­take that an­other U.S. diplo­mat might have to crit­i­cize in two years in Cairo.

The Washington-backed bloc, com­prised of Is­rael, the Gulf and Egypt, calls for dual con­tain­ment. They want the U.S. to di­rectly and ag­gres­sively con­tain Iran’s in­flu­ence. At the same time, they de­mand an in­di­rect and un­of­fi­cial con­tain­ment on the Turks. It’s not that they are less un­happy with Turkey’s grow­ing re­gional clout, quite the con­trary. Ankara stands to be­come the most pow­er­ful re­gional player in the long run, thanks to its ac­tive for­eign pol­icy, demo­cratic cre­den­tials, a strong econ­omy and Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan’s credit on the Arab street.

Iran’s regime, by con­trast, can­not in­spire the peo­ple of the Mid­dle East. Yet Washington needs the Turks within the NATO frame­work and European gov­ern­ments rely on Turkey as part of the EU. Hence, the call for in­di­rect con­tain­ment. As a mat­ter of fact, the Turks have faced some type of in­di­rect con­tain­ment since 2013. There is no rea­son to be­lieve that Trump fol­lowed in the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion’s foot­steps in this area. Yet that idea isn’t en­tirely un­pop­u­lar in Washington. To be clear, Is­rael and the Gulf are heav­ily in­vested in the dual con­tain­ment pol­icy and they will do ev­ery­thing in their power to pre­vent Trump from co­or­di­nat­ing the U.S. with­drawal from Syria with Turkey.

The Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion must find a way to avoid the trap of dual con­tain­ment.

Burhanettin Duran

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