US National Security Strategy fails to stop Iran’s expansion

Neglecting such an important region can have consequences for the rivalry among the major powers, and a regional issue could become a strategic issue.

WASHINGTON DC, United States (Kurdistan24) – The Trump administration rolled out its National Security Strategy (NSS) on Monday. The 68-page document outlines the administration’s basic objectives while providing a broad account of how it intends to achieve them.

Every US administration is required by congressional mandate to produce an NSS, and the Trump administration’s document is, in many respects, unusually frank and thoughtful.

It dismisses, for example, the notion that the collapse of the Soviet Union ended challenges to the US from other major powers—a notion that animated US president from 1991 onwards.

“A central continuity in history is the contest for power,” Trump’s NSS affirms. “The present time period is no different.”

That seemingly incontrovertible statement is a novelty in post-Cold War America.

However, in one part of the world, the highly strategic territory at the heart of the Middle East—Iran, Iraq, and Syria, the Trump administration’s policy seems pretty much a warmed-over version of its predecessors’ policies, even as it claims that its policy is significantly different.

Former CIA and NSA Director, Gen. Michael Hayden, anticipated that last week when he spoke at a Jamestown Foundation conference and described this aspect of Trump’s policy as “Obama plus.”

As Hayden explained, the Trump administration pursued the defeat of the Islamic State [IS] with more vigor and energy than the Obama administration, but “there aren’t any hard turns.”

Notably, the NSS fails to explain how the US will address the threat posed by Tehran’s land-bridge to Beirut.

Challenged on that point just before the roll-out of the NSS, a senior administration official replied that IS’ defeat had made the land bridge to the Mediterranean “a lot more complicated to establish.”

“It’s not so easy to walk through northern Iraq anymore,” he said, “since our partner forces with the US and coalition support defeated [IS], liberated Mosul, and have most of that territory under control again.”

That territory is controlled by the Iraqi Army and Iranian-backed Shia militias, and some part of it was seized from Kurdish control in October in a military operation, engineered by Qassim Soleimani, head of the Quds Force of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps—which the Trump administration had designated a terrorist organization just days before.

Referring to the statement of the senior official, Paul Davis, a former Pentagon analyst of Kurdish affairs, remarked, “That has got to be one of the stupidest things I’ve ever heard.”

“It doesn’t make sense,” Col. Norvell DeAtkine (US Army, Ret.), who long taught the Middle East to Special Forces at Ft. Bragg, responded, echoing Davis.

“That language was never used in terms of something that [IS] was doing,” DeAtkine explained. “It was always meant in terms of the Iranians using the land bridge to supply their people in Lebanon and Syria.”

Michael Pregent, an Iraq scholar at the Hudson Institute, called it “laughable.”

Hayden explained to the Jamestown audience why he did not believe that Iraq and Syria would re-emerge as the unitary states they once were.

But Trump’s NSS is predicated on precisely that, at least with regards to Iraq.

“We will strengthen our long-term strategic partnership with Iraq as an independent state,”— a sentence that might have been written during the Bush administration, but which is dubious a decade later.

As Davis remarked, “They, or at least the State Department, refuse to acknowledge Iran’s role in Iraq.”

The NSS’ sole sentence on US policy toward Iraq is followed by one sentence on policy toward Syria: “We will seek a settlement to the Syrian civil war that sets the conditions for refugees to return home and rebuild their lives in safety.”

Hayden anticipated these problems last week. “I’m looking forward to the [NSS] coming out on Monday,” he said. “Maybe, I’ll actually see a sentence or two on what it is we intend to do after we’ve defeated [IS], but I haven’t seen that to date.”

Neglecting such an important region can have consequences for the rivalry among the major powers, and a regional issue could become a strategic issue.

The NSS marks a tougher US stance toward Russia than that taken by any US president for the past 26 years. However, Russia is aligned with both Iran and Syria, and it has brought Turkey into its own series of talks on Syria.

As Hayden warned, “I fear that we have quietly allowed ourselves to outsource the political solution to post-[IS] Iraq and Syria to the Russian Federation.”

Editing by Nadia Riva