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What is More Important than Pompeo’s Reassurances

What is More Important than Pompeo’s Reassurances

Wednesday, 23 January, 2019 - 20:15
One understands that there are differences in how two opposing radical wings of America’s two major political parties view its global role. It is obvious also that those two wings have different approaches to challenges and problems with America itself.

Some years ago, Americans, Middle Easterners and, indeed, the peoples of the whole world, were introduced to the principles set out by former US President Barack Obama. These include his Affordable Care Act (ACA) - dubbed Obamacare – that became a law in 2010, and his famous “Cairo Speech” in 2009 just before what became known as “The Arab Spring”. Then, after the political earthquake that handed Donald Trump the keys to the White House in November 2016, new policies and approaches began to emerge at every level and of every kind, towards friends and foes.

There could not have been more contradictions between the new administration and its predecessor; namely, between one that represents the right wing of the Republican Party’s Right and the left wing of the Democratic Party’s Left! Thus, it is both important and worthy of profound study to have two prominent senior figures within the Trump administration embark on a Middle Eastern tour, and make stops in pivotal capitals against a catastrophic regional backdrop caused, to a large extent, by Obama’s policies.

On a positive note, sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – an ex-director of the CIA – and John Bolton, the National Security Advisor and one of the “hawks” in the “neo-cons” era, may reflect a serious commitment from President Trump in dealing with the problems of a very sensitive region, where for several years now, many convictions have hit the ground, and many undoubted “Cold War” givens have collapsed.

I guess many Middle East observers in Washington are today aware of the significant change in the public mood towards the US inside the region. It is a change from the absolute and long-established trust to loud questions, if not outright doubt. This reality is, perhaps, what has alerted the Trump administration to move, and try somehow to deal with a worrying situation.

Obviously, the “Syrian case” has been an extremely important nexus, as we have witnessed in Syria – in particular – unprecedented out bidding, interventions and maneuvers in the history of the Middle East. Consequently, the debacle in Syria has unearthed during the last 7 years a variety of earth-shattering phenomena, including:

- Intensifying the Sunni – Shiite conflict, turning it into an open war, that is now raging outside Syria.

- Redefining the priorities towards Israel; more so when Iran’s henchmen regard fighting “takfiris” – whom they claim are backed by Israel and the West – takes precedence even over fighting Israel itself!

- Redefining Arab identity and Arab patriotism. Bashar Assad claimed a couple of years ago that “the land belongs to those who fight for it not those who live on it!”, in his defense of Iraqi, Lebanese, Iranian and Afghan militias engaged in destroying Syria’s cities and villages and displacing their populations.

- Unleashing secessionist aspirations of all kinds, led by the Kurdish “independence” dream in northern Syria, as well the rise of calls for sectarian and ethnically-based “federalisms”.

- Complicating regional calculations connected to “creative” or “organized” chaos, which various major players sought to impose on Syria, and eventually, the whole region. The Kurdish issue –particularly, Washington’s unreserved support of Kurdish “autonomy” – has been at a certain stage, a major factor in bringing together Iran and Turkey. Another factor has been Russia’s tacit threat to Turkey after the hatter’s shooting down a Russian fighter-bomber in 2015; after which, Ankara changed its position towards Syria, and joined the Astana peace process at the expense of the UN’s Geneva peace process.

During his tour, Pompeo reaffirmed Washington’s commitment to its “friends” in the Middle East. His announcements, as well as Bolton’s well-known stances, have come with calling for an international meeting in the Polish capital Warsaw scheduled on February 13th and 14th to strengthen the future of security and peace in the Middle East. Topping the agenda, is confronting Iran’s influence and destabilizing actions and continuous interference in the affairs of the Gulf Arab states.

No doubt, this is a very encouraging sign.

However, it is worth mentioning that the Atlantic Council, based in Washington DC, would be hosting on February 12 a conference commemoration the Khomeinist Revolution’s 40th anniversary. This event, organized by Barbara Slavin, the well-known pro-Tehran Al Monitor journalist, will be attended by several figures most of whom are supporters of the Tehran regime, headed by Dr. Mohammed Javad Zarif, Iran’s foreign minister and one of the leading founders and sponsors of its US “lobby”.

With this in mind, I feel that confidence building requires less talk and more solid actions; and here lies the greatest regional challenge.

The big picture remains unclear, and interests on all levels seem to be contradictory. Indeed, while there is a candid current with the Trump administration that is actively and sincerely opposed to Iran’s expansionist ambitions, its disregard of other explosive issues that have served Tehran well – namely, in the Palestinian front – has knowingly or unknowingly been serving the Iranian leadership.

Moving the US embassy to Jerusalem, for example, has been an invaluable service to Iran’s regional project, which may have significantly compensated Tehran many of the negative effects of American sanctions. The ambiguity surrounding Washington’s position towards the Kurds of Syria has confused Washington’s relations with Ankara, and has allowed Tehran to win over the Turks in the Syrian arena, and may be the Iraqi arena as well.

So, what is required and expected from Washington is more than promises.

The Middle East expects solid and practical actions that connect the various complicated crises, and recognizes “the cause” and “the effect”.

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