How they see us: Confusion over U.S. aims in Middle East
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made a lot of promises during his big foreign policy speech in Cairo last week, said Abdel Aziz Aluwaisheg in Arab News (Saudi Arabia). In a series of “piercing jabs at the Obama administration,” Pompeo lambasted President Donald Trump’s predecessor for failing to “stand up to Iran and its proxies”—specifically Hezbollah in Lebanon and the regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The secretary of state pledged that the U.S. will “expel every last Iranian boot” from Syria and implement ever-tougher sanctions until Iran starts behaving like a normal country. Those tough words were appreciated, but Arabs “are waiting to see how the actions of the U.S. under Trump unfold in reality.” We can’t help but wonder how the U.S. will kick Iranian forces out of Syria and at the same time fulfill Trump’s pledge to quickly withdraw all 2,000 U.S. troops currently stationed in the country.
It’s now clear that Trump has no overarching strategy for the Middle East, said Julian Borger in The Guardian (U.K.). His only goals are to “eliminate the legacy of Obama”—which he partly achieved by pulling the U.S. out of the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran—and to bring U.S. troops home. But Trump’s aims clash with those of his top officials, many of whom think they are on a mission from God. Pompeo, like Vice President Mike Pence, is a hawkish end-times evangelical, a “Christian Zionist” who believes that Iran is the embodiment of evil in the world and that the Rapture will come once all the Jews are gathered “in a greater Israel.”
The best way to purge Syria of Iranian influence is to reintegrate the country “into the Arab fold,” said Dina Ezzat in Al-Ahram Weekly (Egypt). Syria was frozen out of the Arab League eight years ago because of its brutal crackdown on peaceful demonstrators, but everything is different now that the country is overrun with foreigners. “We are talking about an extensive Russian military presence in Syria, an obvious Iranian presence, and a possible Turkish military presence as well,” one Egyptian diplomat said, adding, “This is not in the interest of any Arab country.” Now the impending U.S. pullout from Syria has “given a green light” to Turkey, which wants to invade Syria and wipe out the YPG. This Kurdish militia gave the U.S. vital support against ISIS, but Ankara regards it as an ally of the PKK, a terrorist group fighting for a Kurdish homeland in Turkey.
Trump alarmed Turks this week by threatening to “economically devastate” our country if we strike at U.S.-allied Kurds, said the Daily Sabah (Turkey) in an editorial. But after a friendly phone call with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Trump calmed down, and is now talking about the “great potential” for U.S.-Turkish relations. The two leaders have agreed to establish a 20-mile “terror-free safe zone” in northern Syria—which means Turkey can roll in the tanks.