“I say it so often and it’s so sad, but we sunk $ 7 trillion in the Middle East. You can just throw it out the window. Seven trillion dollars.”
Either way, US President Trump has been complaining for years about the expensive and losing wars in the Middle East (NMO), which in the end also brought more harm than good to the US. However, he remained guilty of the change of course promised during the election campaign.
Over the past four decades, US presidents have served with very different ideological orientations and strategic approaches. Some were regarded as foreign policy pigeons and respected internationally, two even received the Nobel Peace Prize. Others were rejected worldwide as belligerent Hawks or ruthless bullies, such as George W. Bush and Donald Trump. Over the years, however, little has changed in the fundamental goals of U.S. policy toward the Persian Gulf Region and the entire Middle East.
Despite the sharp disputes over the fundamental strategic orientation of the USA, from more restrained “Offshore Balancing” to “global dominance”, all major schools are in complete agreement on the central goal: to secure and expand the supremacy of the USA in the world. And despite the major differences, they have identified the Persian Gulf as one of the three regions of central strategic importance, alongside Europe and East Asia.
Supporters of the previously prevailing strategy of “Offshore Balancing”, which relies primarily on indirect control by friendly states and counter-play by regional powers, also see the main objective as ensuring that no other country achieves a position of power in these regions that can challenge the dominance of the USA.
“Grand area planning” and the “Oil of the Middle East”
Already during the Second World War, ambitious plans had been drawn up in Washington in order to secure strategic control of the world economy to the country that had risen to the New supremacy of the capitalist world, and for this purpose a concept was devised that became known as “Grand Area Planning”. It contained, among other things, guidelines on which world regions must be “open”, open to investment and access to resources. The control of the Persian Gulf played a decisive role for the entire conception. This part of the old British Empire was considered absolutely indispensable for economic, military and political control over the entire globe, as it is here that most of the known world oil reserves lie and some of the most important transport routes run. A 1945 US State Department document on “Middle East oil” described the Region as “an enormous source of strategic power and one of the greatest material gains in world history.”
Indeed, the US extended its influence in the Persian Gulf with a series of open and covert interventions. The overthrow of the democratically elected prime minister Mohamed Mossadegh in Iran, after he nationalized foreign oil companies, had particularly far-reaching consequences. The Operation that brought Shah Reza Pahlevi back to power had been carried out with British support, but because of the CIA’s leading role in this, Washington had a decisive influence on the country from now on.
Between 1940 and 1967, US corporations increased their share of Middle East oil reserves from 10 to nearly 60 percent, while British-controlled reserves declined from 72 percent in 1940 to 30 percent in 1967. When Britain withdrew militarily from the Region in 1971, its former supremacy finally passed to the United States.
Still fully occupied with the wars in Indochina, Washington was at that time, however, hardly able to send its own troops to the Gulf. After the defeat in the Vietnam War, there was also a great dislike among the American public, as well as in Congress, against military operations abroad. As early as the late 1960s, then-President Richard Nixon had therefore proclaimed a new doctrine named after him, which was to draw the lesson from Vietnam by excluding direct military intervention in Asia and elsewhere in the future and requiring the allies to take their military defense into their own hands.
In the Gulf, Washington wanted to base its hegemony from now on, within the framework of a so-called “two-pillar policy”, on Iran and Saudi Arabia as strong Representatives, which – massively upgraded – should keep order in the Region in the US sense. Arms deliveries to Iran jumped from 103.6 million dollars in 1970 to 552.7 million dollars in 1972, while those to Saudi Arabia rose from 15.8 million to 312.4 million.
The basis for the close alliance with Saudi Arabia was an agreement that has been effective to this day, which Washington had already concluded with the Saudi monarchs in 1945. Through the so-called Quincy pact, the US guarantees the continuation of its rule and in return received first cheap oil, then Petrodollars as an essential support of its financial system and, of course, political and military support in the Gulf. Washington, however, placed the most trust in the shah, who ultimately assumed the actual guardian role.
The “Carter Doctrine” for safeguarding the vital interests of the Gulf The blow was correspondingly hard for Washington when the Islamic Revolution in Iran in 1979/80 caused the main pillar of the two-pillar policy to collapse. Since, moreover, after the Intervention of the Red Army in neighboring Afghanistan, an expansion of Soviet influence towards the Gulf was feared, Washington took a turn in the politics of the Persian Gulf. In his 1980 state of the Nation Address, President Jimmy Carter proclaimed that any attempt by “an outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf Region” would now be viewed by the United States as “an attack on the vital interests of the United States” and “repulsed by all means, including military force.” This approach, known as the Carter Doctrine, was pursued by the administration of his successor, Ronald Reagan.
The “Carter Doctrine” led to the establishment of a rapid reaction force for the Middle East (NMO), which was upgraded in 1983 under President Ronald Reagan to an independent, unified regional command, the US Central Command (CENTCOM), which has since been responsible for all countries of the NMOs, with the exception of Israel and Turkey, as well as East Africa and Central Asia. The concept of “Offshore Balancing” did not involve permanent deployment of US forces in the Region, but rather the provision of a strong on-call intervention force and the establishment of the basic infrastructure for military operations in the Region through the establishment of military bases on the ground of local allies and advance storage of weapons and equipment. The first Arab states to allow US bases were Bahrain, Oman and Egypt. From 1991 onwards, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait followed suit. However, Israel became the most important ally after the latter had recommended itself with its victory in the Six-Day War of 1967.
In the spirit of” Offshore Balancing, " the Carter administration also began to pit Iran and Iraq against each other, the two countries regarded as the greatest troublemakers. Since Iran, transformed into an” Islamic Republic, " was considered the main enemy, Washington supported the Iraqi Ba’athist Regime in the war against the neighboring country after Carter’s National Security Adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, openly encouraged Baghdad to attack and recapture the waterway of the shadow Al-Arab. When Iraq threatened to gain the upper hand with Western aid, the CIA also supplied Iran with covert supplies, which became a scandal at the end of 1986 as the “Iran-Contra affair”.
Still, the other superpower – the Soviet Union – set troublesome limits to the US’s development of power. At the same time, Washington was therefore working with the largest secret operation in the history of the CIA to “give the economically already stricken Soviet Union in Afghanistan its Vietnam War,” as Carter’s then security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski, declared in an interview in 1998, openly and proudly.
On July 3, 1979, the president issued the first directive for covert support for the armed, Islamist opponents of the left, the Afghan government that emerged from the April 1978 Revolution. As a result, the Soviet government yielded to Kabul’s request for help and allowed the Red Army to invade Afghanistan, they ran into the “Afghan trap” as hoped.
With the help of building an army of God Warriors, the CIA – funded by Saudi Arabia and supported by most Western countries-organized its jihad against the Soviet forces and forced their withdrawal in 1988-89. The consequences that have persisted to this day have been the destruction of the Afghan nation-state and the massive spread of combat-experienced jihadist fighters in the Middle East and beyond.
Washington’s " New World Order”
With the collapse of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s, imperialist ambitions in Washington grew dramatically. The sections of the US establishment quickly prevailed, demanding that the US should not shy away from using the increased power to lead a unipolar world, establish the rules of the world order and be ready to enforce them. The central objective now became cross-party, to secure the undisputed global supremacy achieved in the long term and to prevent by all means that a new great power or an alliance of powers could endanger this supremacy in the foreseeable future. As the best means to permanently prevent foreign influence or even supremacy in a strategically important Region, the aim was now to directly dominate it politically and militarily. The US " Grand Strategy “went from” Offshore Balancing “to the concept of” global dominance”.
Although United in the goal, there are serious differences among the advocates of “global dominance” about how to achieve the goal most effectively. On one side are the so-called neoconservatives (Neocons). They are convinced that the United States can usually proceed completely unilaterally in the Transformation of the globe according to their ideas, based on their overwhelming, irrefutable military power. The more moderate Liberals, “humanitarian”, interventionists or rather imperialists do not believe that they can achieve the goals by force alone, but are convinced that the leadership of the world can only be accomplished with the help of allies and international institutions.
The strategy of “global dominance” pursued since then is “imperial at its core,” according to the renowned American political scientist John Mearsheimer in his oft-quoted article on Obama’s policy, “Imperial by Design.” “Their supporters believe that the United States has the right and responsibility to interfere in the policies of other countries. One would think that such arrogance could offend other states, but most American politicians of the early 1990s and beyond were confident that this would not happen, but instead believed that other countries – except the so – called rogue states such as Iran and North Korea-would see the United States as a benign Hegemon serving their own interests.”
First US war against Iraq
In the face of Iran and Iraq, which continued to be seen as the greatest threat to US interests in the Region, Washington now moved to a policy of “Dual Containment”, which aimed to weaken both states in parallel by its own measures. First, Iraq was targeted. With the first campaign against the Mesopotamia in 1990/1991, the USA ushered in a “new world order” according to the words of the then US President George Bush Senior. The occasion was indeed the invasion of Kuwait by Iraqi troops in violation of international law, to which Washington had literally provoked Baghdad together with the sheikhs. The aim, however, was not only to force Iraq to retreat again, but to bring the regional power strengthened by the rearmament with Western weapons against Iran to an insignificant degree. Consequently, all negotiation Solutions had been blocked. The brutal disarmament campaign of a highly unilateral war, which cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis and destroyed the country’s infrastructure, was supplemented by a comprehensive Embargo, which was maintained after the war with the aim of keeping the country economically and politically permanently on the ground.
“Dual Containment” under Clinton, the military occupation of the Gulf region After the end of the campaign against Iraq in April 1991, most of the US troops had to leave the Gulf region again. The neoconservative Republicans Dick Cheney and Paul Wolfowitz under Bush Senior already had the first steps for direct military control of the Gulf with the “defense guidelines” they wrote in 1992. The Democrats continued it under Bill Clinton. Now began the construction of a massive permanent military presence, which, according to the US Central Command in 1997, could better deter conflicts and enable a “seamless transition to war.” Following agreements with Kuwait on the stationing of 5,000 troops, the upgrading of the Naval Base in Bahrain to a naval base, access to airfields and ports in Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Oman, the United States had permanently stationed a force of 18,500 to 25,000 soldiers in its area of responsibility, most of them in the Gulf.
In July 1995, a Fifth Fleet was set up specifically for the Region, which has since been responsible for controlling some of the world’s most important waterways: alongside the Persian Gulf itself, the Gulf of Oman, the North Arabian Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Red Sea. It has been present here almost continuously since its foundation.
Although Clinton’s foreign policy Team consisted of “liberal imperialists” who, like his secretary of State Madeleine Albright and other members of the administration, left no doubt that they were determined to rule the entire world, the United States under him was still relatively reluctant to use military force. That changed with the election of George W. Bush, through which the Neocons came to the helm. During the election campaign, he had tried to capitalize on the strong aversion of the US population to any military Intervention by criticizing Clinton for meddling too massively in other countries and “Nation Building”. After the attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, he and his entire Administration switched to the radical neoconservative approach of “Global Dominance”.
The Bush Doctrine
The new quality of foreign and military policy was already made clear by the “2001 Quadrennial Defensive Review Report” (QDR), one of the central Pentagon documents, presented on 30 September 2001. The report presented by Pentagon chief Donald Rumsfeld emphasized not only the need to force “regime change in an enemy state,” but also the ability for a subsequent “occupation of foreign territory until the strategic goals of the United States are met.”
Although the QDR was completed by the Nine-Eleven after the attacks, most of it had already been worked out beforehand. But he also put a strong focus on” threats “that would emanate from” weak and failing states " by providing fertile ground for terrorist organizations or drug gangs.
This was also the justification for the attack on Afghanistan, which had been planned for some time, but was now to be seen as a reaction to the attacks of 9/11. These were not treated and persecuted as criminal acts of violence but presented as military attacks, as a “war against the USA and all democratic countries”, as for example the then US Secretary of State Colin Powell. This required not only a punishment of those responsible and comprehensive retaliation, but the danger posed by terrorist groups in a global “war on Terror” must now be eliminated in principle. Al Qaeda was blamed for the attacks, and its leader, Osama bin Laden, was suspected of being the mastermind of the attacks. Evidence for this could not be presented until today, nor for a direct involvement of the Taliban regime. According to the new doctrine, however, the proof was not necessary either, it was enough that US opponents could move freely in Afghanistan under him.
In the” National Security Strategy " (NSS) of September 2002, the dissemination of democratic structures was highlighted as an essential means against the spread of terrorism.this meant, in addition to the introduction of elements of a formal bourgeois democracy, above all the establishment of a liberal market economy: “free markets and free trade are key priorities of our national security strategy”. The situation in the Middle East in particular is a danger. Since the lack of modernization on the part of the local governments is the main cause of “extremism”, a new beginning in these regions is “unavoidable”.
It also emphasized the alleged danger posed by the pursuit or even possession of weapons of mass destruction and far-reaching ballistic missiles by “rogue states” in the Region. These included Iraq, Iran and North Korea, which President Bush had already declared the “axis of evil” in his state of the Nation address in January 2002. The focus of such threat scenarios is not on the fear of arbitrary attacks on the USA or allies, but on the fear of a limitation of own military power through effective defense options or retaliatory attacks by the opponent.
The strategic guidelines known as the Bush Doctrine also provided for preventive strikes against such” threats.” In the confrontation with” America’s adversaries, “the paper says,“we will not hesitate to act alone and, if necessary, to exercise our right to self-defense by a first strike.” In order to be able to intervene simultaneously on several fronts, the National Security Strategy also set a massive increase in arms spending, as well as the general transformation of the armed forces into a dominant and mobile, rapidly deployable power factor.
These guidelines also made no secret of the true objective by warning all states that “strive for power” in order to “rival the United States” that they would enter into a war with the United States.
The new strategic direction was not a reaction to September 11. However, it can already be found in a study written in September 2000 by the leading neoconservatives entitled “Rebuilding Americas Defenses”. The study was written by the then most influential Think-Tank in the USA, the “Project for the new American Century” (PNAC), which was founded in 1997. Among the collaborators are the “WHO’s who” of the neoconservative right in the US Establishment-former government members such as Dick Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld, Paul Wolfowitz or the brother of President Jeb Bush and also intellectuals such as Francis Fukuyama. According to the programmatic paper, the outstanding position as the sole superpower after the Fall of the Soviet Union made the construction of a “Pax Americana” possible. In order to create a” new American Century”, it had to be ensured by all means that no other power and no coalition of powers would be able to scratch US supremacy in the future. The entire US foreign policy has to subordinate itself to this goal. In order to maintain “American peace” and spread “democracy”, they would have to be able to wage “several major wars at the same time” in order to subdue the countries that could stand in the way of a global domination of the United States.
The Neocons were also vehement supporters of right-wing Zionist Israeli forces for a “greater Israel”. From her circle came a strategy paper written in 1996 for the then newly elected Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu entitled “A Clean Break: a new Strategy for Securing the Realm”. Instead of a reconciliation through the slogan “Land for peace”, the Palestinians should be persuaded by “peace through strength” to accept the positions of Israel “unconditionally.”
On page 51 of the PNAC study there is a remarkable sentence against the background of the later events of September 11, 2001:“moreover, the transformation process, even if it brings revolutionary changes with it, will probably be a protracted one, apart from any catalysing event, similar to a new Pearl Harbor.” In fact, the 9/11 attacks gave them a unique opportunity to implement their ideas by declaring, according to John Mearsheimer, terrorism an “existential threat” to the entire country and its allies.
The Bush administration was thus able to pursue an ambitious and aggressive strategy that has no parallel in American history: it envisaged, throughout the so-called. “Greater Middle East”, which extends from North Africa to Pakistan, to enforce a wide – ranging economic and military control over raw material reserves and transport routes-if necessary also by means of regime change through the use of direct military force. The former NATO commander-in-chief and US General Wesley Clark was presented with a list at the Pentagon after the attack on Afghanistan began at the end of 2001, which contained a further seven countries against which war was to be waged in the following years. In addition to Iraq, these included Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.
No consideration was given to territorial integrity and social consequences, but rather to “creative destruction”, as one of its spokesmen, Michael Ledeen, explained: “stability is a mission that is not worthy of America … we do not want stability in Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and even in Saudi Arabia we do not want stability; we want change. … Creative destruction is our second nature, whether it affects our society or abroad””
The particular recklessness of the “neoconservatives” arose from the striving of the radical wing of an imperial power that has long since passed its zenith to assert its dominant position by increasingly aggressive means. Their economic superiority and political dominance were dwindling. Thus, only the still superior military power remained to be able to further expand and secure the worldwide supremacy.
Second Iraq War
Faced with the overwhelming military power of the United States, the Neocons, who dominated Washington, were convinced that it would be easy to reshape the Arab and Muslim world according to their ideas. The invasion of Afghanistan seemed to prove them right. In December 2001, US forces had already won a quick victory over the Taliban and installed a puppet Regime in Kabul to govern the country. And with the hubris thus strengthened, they implemented a project that they had been pursuing stubbornly since the 1990 years: on June 20, 1990, they launched a new project. In March 2003, a US-led coalition of the willing attacked Iraq without the slightest legitimacy under international law. The Bush administration took advantage of the favorable mood in its own country, where the vast majority could be made to believe that Saddam Hussein was also behind the attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.
The raid on Iraq – as is well known under extremely flimsy pretexts that were soon disproved – was the Bush Administration’s most momentous step. This campaign and the subsequent occupation set the course for the development of today’s disastrous Situation in the entire Region. When we talk about the devastating consequences of the occupation policy, which among other things led to today’s deep divisions in the population and also laid the foundations for the rise of ISIS, we talk today of serious mistakes that Washington would have started in Iraq.
Although the boundless ignorance and arrogance of the Neocons certainly played a serious role, the measures taken by the occupying power resulted in large part simply from their ambitious goals. A stable and intact Iraq was not one of them. It was also by no means a question of simply replacing the regime of Saddam Hussein with us-obedient puppets. The main objective was the permanent elimination of Iraq as a regional power and the permanent stationing of its own troops – as a starting point for the transformation or subjugation of the entire Region.
Last but not least, it was also about the direct access of US corporations to Iraqi oil. The” Middle East, with two-thirds of the world’s oil reserves and the lowest cost, “remains” the place where the ultimate price " is, Dick Cheney, Bush’s vice president and the war’s chief architect, announced in 1999, when he was still head of Halliburton, the world’s largest service provider to the oil industry.
Failed in Iraq-targeting Iran and Syria In the end, the neoconservative Warriors achieved most of their ambitious goals in Iraq as little as they did in Afghanistan. The elimination as a regional power they had succeeded excellently. The destruction of the Iraqi state and the devastation of Iraqi society are so extensive that Iraq will certainly no longer play a greater role in power politics in the long run. Otherwise they had failed magnificently. By installing a sectarian Regime dominated by pro-Iranian Shiite parties during the occupation, Tehran soon had more influence in Iraq than Washington. In the face of continued widespread resistance among the Iraqi population and growing resentment at home over the losing war, they were finally unable to keep their troops in the country and were forced to withdraw at the end of 2011.
This shifted the weight even further in favor of Iran, which had already become the strongest regional power by eliminating its strongest rival. Accordingly, of course, the pressure of the Hawks in Washington to take the logical second step after the invasion of Iraq and to attack Iran increased. After the debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan, however, this was – for the time being – unenforceable.
Obama: return to liberal imperialism
In 2009, Barack Obama, another Democrat, entered the White House with the intention of radically breaking with the policies of his predecessors and “rebuilding America at home.” Obama, who opposed the Iraq war in 2002, had been widely seen as an anti-war candidate who would drastically reduce U.S. military involvement. In the primaries, he had won over his rival Hillary Clinton, not least by promising to end the Iraq War.
Both outwardly and rhetorically, the brilliant speaker sets a clear counterpoint to Bush Junior, raising high hopes for fundamental change. With his charm Offensive, he quickly succeeded in improving the mood internationally on a political-diplomatic level in favor of the United States. In his famous speech to the Islamic world on June 4, 2009 at the University of Cairo, to which he gave the title “a New Beginning”, he also promised a new phase in relations between the United States and the Islamic states. The hope of a turn away from war policy was also reflected in the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, which, as quickly became apparent, had been awarded prematurely.
Change in tone-continuity in politics Although Obama tended towards a much more restrained foreign policy based on Multilateralism in the style of Brzezinski, he referred to Bush Senior and Kennedy as role models. On the other hand, he also adhered to the core goals of US foreign policy to secure and expand US dominance in the world. In 2008, he campaigned with a foreign policy paper entitled"Renewing America’s leadership”. However, according to the Motto “Leading from behind”, the US should act as inconspicuously as possible in international relations after the years of open imperialism of the Bush era.
He is also by no means against wars in principle, Obama has often asserted, but only, like his successor Trump, against “stupid wars”, which do not serve the interests of the United States and have a negative cost-benefit balance. Under his presidency, instead of massive and costly deployments of his own troops, the use of killer drones against actual and supposed opponents was drastically expanded and combat operations on the ground were again left to local auxiliary troops, such as the Islamist militias in Libya and Syria – supported by manageable contingents of Special Forces.
His scope for recourse to civilian, diplomatic approaches was generally quite limited due to the strong influence of the establishment of his own party and the ruling circles of the country. His government, Mearsheimer said, was “populated from top to bottom with liberal imperialists who continue to try to rule the world” and wanted to return to Bill Clinton’s overall strategy. Since Obama took over as the first secretary of defense from Robert Gates of the Bush Team, serious changes in US policy in the Middle East were not to be expected anyway.
If Obama had promised at the beginning to close the most important construction sites – Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantanamo – quickly, Little was done in all these fields at first. On the contrary, under pressure from his generals, he increased the troops in Afghanistan by 30,000 soldiers to 100,000. The withdrawal from Iraq was slow and incomplete, the prison camp at the US naval base Guantanamo Bay in Cuba still exists today. After a slight decline in the first year from 2010, US military spending also rose above that of its predecessor.
New wars-humanitarian and multilateral
Ultimately, Obama continued Bush’s” war on Terror.” The list, which had been shown to General Clark in 2001, was obviously further processed under Obama. During his tenure, he added three more to the four wars he took over in 2009, against Libya, Syria and Yemen, after the protest movements and uprisings in the so-called “Arab Spring” opened up new scope. While his government in Egypt and Tunisia, from where the protest movements originated, supported a stabilization of the Old conditions, it set in Libya and Syria from the beginning on to overthrow.
However, these interventions were carried out in a multilateral framework, with the greatest possible involvement of international institutions. In contrast to its predecessor, the Obama administration again made great efforts to give the impression that this was all about democracy, human rights or the protection of the population. For the Libyan War, NATO was harnessed, the support of the Arab League was obtained and finally a Resolution of the UN Security Council was enforced.
Although Resolution 1973 did not include a mandate for an attack, it provided a legal cloak for the war that was sufficient for the Western public. However, the Initiative for the violent overthrow of Muammar al-Ghaddafi, who did not rule the oil-rich country willingly enough, came primarily from France and Great Britain. The participation of the liberal imperialists around secretary of State Hillary Clinton sailing under the humanitarian flag had prevailed against the hesitant to negative attitude of the president and the Pentagon. However, Obama insisted on a limited deployment, which specifically excluded his own ground troops. The country was thus left to the spreading Chaos after the celebrated lynching of Ghaddafi.
The sharp course against Iran was initially maintained. At the Moment, the place could be where the Islamic Republic “blocked”, no more Iraq, “where Iran already has the upper hand, but Syria,” the Tenor of the strategists in Washington as the withdrawal of most U.S. troops from Iraq was foreseeable. Initially, U.S. policy, together with European allies, aimed to weaken Iran through comprehensive economic blockades, destabilize it internally, and isolate it internationally. Syria was thus increasingly targeted as its most important ally.
The end of the Assad regime would mark Iran’s biggest setback in the Region, said Obama’s national security adviser, Tom Donilon, in the fall of 2011, for example-when armed attacks on Syrian security forces and facilities in Syria began to spread rapidly. It was a strategic blow that would massively shift the balance in the Region to the detriment of Iran.
But it didn’t start from scratch. As the US Journalist Seymour Hersh discovered, the US already carried out a strategic reorientation of its policy in the Region in 2006. Instead of al-Qaida & co., Iran and the so-called “Shiite arc” over Syria to the Lebanese Hezbollah were already elevated to the most strategic threat to the USA under Bush Junior. In close cooperation with the Sunni-fundamentalist Ruling House of Saudi Arabia, secret operations against Iran and Syria were initiated and millions of dollars and logistical resources were made available to anti-government, mostly Sunni-Islamist groups in order to weaken the Assad government. The embassy officials published by Wikileaks confirm Hersh’s research. Under Obama, politics continued seamlessly.
As in the case of Libya, the driving forces behind an armed uprising in Syria and its escalation into war were the State Department and the CIA. Although Obama supported the effort to overthrow Syrian President Assad and agreed to a drastic tightening of trade and financial blockades against the country, he did not want a renewed direct military Intervention after the Chaos in Libya. In general, it was primarily the allies, who also had a strong interest in overthrowing Assad, that should get involved, first and foremost the Anti-Iran Front from Israel, Saudi Arabia and Turkey. Since Russia and China were warned by the Libya Resolution, the UN Security Council could no longer be used for the overthrow policy in the case of Syria. The allied states were therefore united in an Anti-Assad coalition outside the UN under the cynical name “Friends of Syria”.
However, the arms deliveries to the Islamist opponents of the regime, which assumed a massive scale from January 2012 at the latest, were controversial in Washington. According to US newspaper reports, they were initially threaded by Clinton’s Department and the CIA past Obama. The current military leadership actively opposed it. In the summer of 2013, military intelligence, the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and the United General Staff warned the White House in a joint secret assessment that the fall of Assad, as in Libya, would lead to Chaos and the takeover of Syria by jihadists, and advised it to support him instead.
As early as 2012, the DIA had pointed out that the support of the “rebels” would ultimately promote Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups and give them the opportunity to establish a “Salafist caliphate” in eastern Syria and western Iraq, “which would exactly meet the wishes of the powers that support the Opposition in Syria, thereby putting pressure on the Syrian Regime and curbing Iran’s Shiite influence on Iraq and Syria.”
After failing to be heard, the military began passing information from its intelligence services to the Syrian army to fight their common enemies – Jabhat al-Nusra, Islamic State and other al-Qaeda-affiliated gangs.
Détente towards Iran, participation in war against Yemen
After Obama’s re-election, Hillary Clinton was replaced by John Kerry, who was seen as much more skeptical of military force. With Republican Chuck Hagel also became an opponent of the Iraq war chief of the Pentagon. Among them, most of the troops were actually brought back from Afghanistan, but 8,400 soldiers were still deployed there at the end of Obama’s term. The most significant shift towards détente was made by the second Obama Administration in its policy towards Iran. Together with the other UN veto powers and Germany, the so-called P5+1 group, they concluded the “Vienna nuclear agreement” (JCPOA) with Iran, which Tehran promised to lift international sanctions and unilateral blockade measures in exchange for ending its nuclear program.
However, as the Pentagon’s 2014 Quadrennial Defense Review pointed out, the Gulf region should continue to have a strong military presence, with around 35,000 military personnel deployed to the gulf in 2014, according to the document. Although the troop strength had thus been brought back to the level of the 1990s, Washington obviously had no intention of withdrawing to an “Offshore Balancing” à la Brzezinski under Obama, but continued to rely on direct military control of the Region. After the spread of the Islamic State in the summer of 2014, several thousand US soldiers were gradually sent back to Iraq. The campaign against the jihadists also served as part of a US-led Anti-IS alliance to justify an air war against Syria that violated international law and the successive occupation of Syrian territory.
In spring 2015, the Obama Administration finally entered its third war. In Yemen, a broad alliance led by the Ansarollah militias, mostly known as “Houthi”, deposed the interim President Abed Rabbo Mansur Hadi, appointed by the West and the Gulf monarchs, and formed a counter-government. Yemen is poor in beggars, but due to its location it is of great strategic importance. From its west coast, one can control the Bab al-Mandeb strait between Yemen and Africa, which connects the Red Sea with the Gulf of Aden and thus Europe with the Indian Ocean. Since this Route handles a significant part of the world’s maritime transport, especially oil, the rule of a pro-Western regime in Yemen has always been of vital interest to Washington.
Even if the” Houthis “are by no means Iranian” auxiliary troops”, as Saudi and Western Propaganda claims, but an independent Yemeni force, whose allies also include parts of the army, their attitude against the existing order in the Gulf makes a government led by them absolutely unacceptable to Washington. Since then, the US has therefore supported the military intervention led by Saudi Arabia and has also participated militarily in the war.
Trump and his " America First”
Trump made a radical departure from Obama’s positions in dealing with international organizations, agreements and allies. Here, with his nationalist-chauvinist approach, he ties in with the policies of the Neocons under the presidency of Bush Junior. From the very beginning, he made it unmistakably clear that for him in international relations only what he believed would benefit the United States is relevant.
“Dismantling liberal internationalism” The foreign policy of US President Donald Trump appears to be extremely unpredictable. This unpredictability stems partly from his tactics, but in relation to the Gulf region even more from the conflict between him and the majority in the political Establishment, which fights his positions as a dangerous dismantling of their strategy of “liberal internationalism”. For example, if Trump hesitated or was unable to change military policy in the Middle East while denouncing it at the same time, this shows the strong bipartisan anchoring of previous policies.
Continuity was particularly evident where Obama also felt compelled to continue his predecessor’s policy. Thus, Trump largely withdrew his criticism of the “war on Terror” and no longer described the Afghan war as a “terrible mistake”, but as a necessity. Instead of a further troop withdrawal followed – in association with the NATO partners-an intensification of the war by increasing the troop contingents. During the election campaign, Trump called the Iraq war possibly the worst decision in the history of the US, but after taking office he declared the withdrawal of US troops from Iraq, which was agreed upon by Bush Junior and carried out under Obama, to be just as great a mistake.
“If we had kept the Iraqi oil, the IS would not have existed so well, because above all they made money with it, “he explained his crude view and his bet on"a second Chance”. He tried to use this by expanding the use of the US Armed Forces. In the end, around 6,000 ground troops had already been active in Iraq under Obama. A year later, their number had risen to almost 9,000. Contrary to his earlier sharp criticism of the deployment of large troop contingents for the “nation Building” stabilization of crisis countries, he wants to keep the troops in Iraq even after the defeat of ISIS.
Syria: divide and rule
The clashes over the foreign policy orientation became particularly clear with the further action in Syria. For years, Trump had spoken out against U.S. Intervention there, with the exception of the direct fight against ISIS. And also in an Interview with the Wall Street Journal, shortly after his election in November 2016, he had stated that Syria was about keeping the fight against ISIS in focus, and not about overthrowing Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
After an alleged Syrian poison gas attack on Khan Sheikhoun on 4 April 2017, the president fired a volley of 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at the Syrian airbase Al-Shairat, but two days later his then Secretary of State Rex Tillerson stressed that the fight against ISIS was a priority and warned that a forced departure of Assad would have disastrous consequences similar to the fall of Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. U.S. ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley, on the other hand, almost simultaneously asserted that there was “no Option for Washington for a political solution with Assad as head of the regime.” The US is ready to” do more " to bring about his downfall.
In practice, however, the US government finally showed a certain willingness to support the pacification processes initiated by Russia. After the great territorial gains of the Syrian army and the successes of Russian diplomacy, this can certainly be seen as a concession to the changed reality. In July 2017, Trump stopped the CIA’s covert arms shipments.
At the same time, however, the “Syrian Democratic Forces” (SDF), consisting mainly of units of the Syrian Kurdish “people’s Defense Units” (YPG), were further upgraded. With their help, the northeast of Syria could be brought under control. After several futile attempts, Trump was only able to order a withdrawal of his own troops from the area in early October 2019. Shortly afterwards, however, he had to agree to the whereabouts of at least 500 soldiers around the most important oil fields east of the Euphrates – with the clear aim of preventing Damascus from entering this area with the help of the SDF.
While Trump may see the continued occupation of Syrian territory as a pawn in negotiations over the future of Syria, the plans of the driving imperialist forces in Washington continue. Even if the goal of establishing a pro-Western Regime in Syria in line with its own interests was unenforceable, it is obvious that a divide-and-rule approach also practiced in Iraq is intended to prevent the country from stabilizing and to bind opposing forces, especially those of Russia and Iran, in the long term.
In the Syria conflict, however, the limits of imperial US foreign policy are also becoming clear. This is where Moscow has long since taken the Initiative; and since the United States has been forced to rely on PKK-affiliated Kurdish organizations for lack of other appropriate local forces, it has come into sharp conflict with Ankara.
Campaign against the “Iranian axis”
From the beginning, there was no doubt that Trump would once again take an aggressive course against Iran, which he had already declared the biggest threat in the Region during the election campaign. Since the relaxation phase initiated by Obama in 2013 did not have much support in Washington, he could count on broad support here in both the neocons camp and the liberal imperialists. After all, Tehran has been able to expand its influence in recent years in Iraq, in the fight against ISIS, as well as in Syria through the support of Assad.
First, Trump and his people tried to close the ranks against the “Iranian axis” again and, after Obama had distanced himself from the right-wing Israeli government and the Wahhabi Saudi monarchy, especially to intensify the alliances with the two. A few months after taking office, Trump announced the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and assured the Saudis of $ 110 billion worth of arms during a pompous visit to Riyadh. Under Saudi leadership, a military alliance of Sunni Arab states, a kind of “Arab NATO”, is to be forged against the Islamic Republic.
In May 2018, as has long been threatened, Trump arbitrarily terminated the Vienna nuclear agreement. Since then, the US Administration has continued to intensify the conflict. Step by step, embargo measures against Iran were reintroduced and tightened. While well-known neoconservative hawks are stirring the war drum louder and louder, the US president is sending contradictory signals. In mid-May 2019, the White House repeatedly assured Trump that there is no way he wants a war with Iran.
However, following reports of a threat to the US Navy by the Iranian Revolutionary Guards in the Gulf and attacks by pro-Iranian militias on US facilities in Iraq, he threatened his destruction on Twitter on 19 May 2019. A little later, Fox News Again published an Interview with him, in which he blamed Iran for all the conflicts in the Middle East, but at the same time assured that he did not want to “fight”. But there would be a “military-industrial complex” and these people would love war.
In fact, the protagonists working towards military action, such as John Bolton, whom Trump made national security adviser in April 2018, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, belong to this circle. They had already drawn up plans to send up to 120,000 US soldiers to the Region. They tirelessly stress that in the event of attacks by Iranian forces or allied militias, the US will strike back at US interests with all its might. When saudi Arabian oil tankers caught fire in a port in the United Arab Emirates, experts warned of fabricated events that could serve as a pretext for military strikes, such as the “Tonkin incident” off the coast of North Vietnam in August 1964.
Apparently, the majority in Washington did not aim for a military confrontation with the Islamic Republic in 2019. For this purpose, it is far too well equipped and has effective means with which it can defend itself or can drive up the price for the attackers sensitively. Tens of thousands of US soldiers are within range of their missiles and a blockade of the Strait of Hormuz would bring 25% of the world’s oil supply to a standstill. After the Iranian Revolutionary Guards shot down a US drone in June 2019, which they claimed had entered Iranian airspace, the president blew off the retaliatory strike requested by the Hawks in his Cabinet shortly before takeoff. At the G7 summit in Biarritz, France, at the end of August 2019, he reiterates his commitment not to seek regime change in Iran. Even after on 14. September 2019 drone strikes by the Yemeni Ansarollah the largest oil refinery in Saudi Arabia destroyed, for which the Hawks wanted Iran punished, Trump did not allow himself to be moved to military strikes. Regardless of whether Tehran has anything to do with it or not, the attack also demonstrated how vulnerable the anti-Iranian side is even to relatively simple weapons.
The removal of the hawk John Bolton from his war cabinet also gave Trump more room for diplomacy in the short term. However, as long as it does not move away from its maximum demand on Iran and pave the way for negotiations with certain loosening of the coercive measures, there is little chance of resolving the conflict.
Because at its core, Trump’s goals do not differ significantly from the sharpeners in Washington. Although he always stresses that he is ready to make a “Deal” with the Iranians, he “just doesn’t want them to have nuclear weapons.” However, the twelve demands presented as the basis of negotiations go far beyond the dispute over Iran’s nuclear energy program. They include not only the permanent abandonment of uranium enrichment, but also the unrestricted access of inspectors to every building in Iran, the cessation of missile development, the end of support for Lebanese Hezbollah and Palestinian Hamas, the disbandment of Shiite militias in Iraq, the withdrawal of all Iranian-commanded military forces from Syria and the “cessation of threatening behaviour towards its neighbours”, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. In other words, if Iran wants to be left alone, it should abandon its independent foreign policy and no longer stand in the way of the dominance of US imperialism.
The aggressive course against the “Iranian axis” also fuels conflicts in other places. Thus, his demonstrative support encouraged the Saudi monarchy, led by its adventurous Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, to pursue an aggressive policy against its neighbours. The US-backed war against the Houthis-led alliance in Yemen was intensified and the hunger blockade against the country continued. Due to Qatar’s – from the Saudi point of view-too close relations with Iran, Saudi Arabia severed diplomatic relations with the sheikhdom at the beginning of June 2017, closing its borders and thus the only land connection to the neighboring country. While Trump not only welcomed the decision, but praised it as a result of his talks in Riyadh, the Pentagon and State Department tried to limit the damage. Finally, Qatar hosts the most important US military base in the Region. The fight against Hezbollah, which plays an important role in Lebanon, intensified by the US together with the Saudis, also massively intensifies the conflicts in the Cedar State.
Iraq’s First Battlefield ?
Iraq is particularly affected by the action against Iran. It heats up the intra-Iraqi conflicts between pro-Iranian and iran-hostile forces further, while the economic war against the neighboring country threatens to worsen the supply situation even further. Given the presence of more than 5,000 US soldiers not far from the battle-hardened pro-Iranian Shiite militias, there is a constant danger that clashes between them could trigger a larger conflict. Since the summer of 2019, there have been at least ten rocket attacks on U.S. military bases attributed to such militias. At the same time, there were deadly attacks on militia positions believed to have been carried out by Israel with Washington’s approval.
At the turn of the year, the Situation worsened dramatically. After a 30-missile attack on December 27, 2019, killed a US mercenary and injured four US military personnel, the US Air Force launched retaliatory attacks against the Iraqi Hezbollah Brigades. The airstrikes, which killed at least 25 fighters and civilians and wounded more than 50, led to a broad wave of outrage. On December 31, angry demonstrators stormed the US embassy in Baghdad.
Washington’s response sent shockwaves across the Region. On January 3, 2020, the US Air Force launched a missile attack on a convoy of vehicles at Baghdad airport, killing senior Iranian general Ghassem Soleimani, on Trump’s explicit orders. The influential General, who was extremely popular in Iran, had been commander of the Iranian Al-Quds Brigades, the elite Revolutionary Guard unit responsible for foreign operations, since 1998, and as such was the leading figure in Iran’s military strategy, foreign and geopolitics in the Region. He maintained close contacts with the Lebanese Hezbollah, played a leading role in Iraq in building up the Shiite militias and their fight against ISIS, and coordinated Iranian support for the Syrian army in Syria. He was therefore considered one of the most important opponents of US policy in the Region, as the architect of an “axis of resistance”.
With Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Mohandis, head of the Kataib Hezbollah militias and deputy commander of the Iraqi “Popular Mobilization Forces”, the umbrella organization of the predominantly Shiite militias, was killed, as well as a number of high-ranking members of other Iraqi, Iranian and Lebanese groups.
The serious decision of Trump came as a surprise to most observers, even the Pentagon was “perplexed”. US media reported considerable pressure from the Hawks in his government and pointed to the impeachment proceedings as a possible motive that had just been initiated against him.
The attack on such a high-ranking leader of Iran was not only an act of state terrorism, it could be seen as a declaration of war. Since he could not remain without retribution on the part of Tehran, worldwide concern grew about the start of a new war. However, the Iranian leadership avoided further escalation. She left in the night of may 7. 8. However, the US and NATO forces in Iraq warned Baghdad-and thus indirectly the US and NATO forces in Iraq – in time to carry out massive attacks on two US military bases on January 22. the 22 ballistic missiles fired reportedly also hit precisely isolated technical buildings, leaving only a few soldiers wounded but no one killed.
US President Trump surprisingly gave the all-clear a short time later, announcing his renunciation of further military escalation: “the fact that we have this great military and equipment does not mean that we have to use it.”
In the early morning of 8 January, however, a terrible accident occurred due to the extremely tense Situation: the Iranian air defense, which was on high alert in anticipation of a counterattack by the United States, shot down a Ukrainian airliner. All 176 people on board were killed in the crash and thus became victims of the aggressive US policy.
The immediate danger of war was banished by Trump’s intervention, but the Situation can escalate again at any time. For the Shiite militias, the murder of al-Mohandis has not yet been atoned for. The Iraqi Parliament has passed a resolution calling for the immediate withdrawal of all foreign troops. Washington, however, has brusquely rejected any negotiations for a withdrawal and in turn threatens the Iraqi government with harsh economic sanctions if it insists on it. The danger of Iraq becoming the first battlefield of a new war remains great.
Even under Donald Trump, there can be no talk of a dismantling of military involvement in the Persian Gulf. On the contrary, as shown by his actions against Iran in particular, the United States, even under his presidency, remains committed to the ruthless struggle for supremacy in the Middle East, which has plunged the Region into increasing Chaos and devastated more and more countries over the past three decades. The” humanitarian costs " of the wars and interventions waged by the US and its allies are appalling. They are mainly responsible for the huge increase in the number of refugees and displaced persons from about 40 million in 1990 to over 70 million in 2018. According to Neta Crawford of the"Costs of War” Project at Brown University, the wars that began after September 11, 2001, claimed more than 500,000 lives in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq alone by October 2018. The IPPNW study” Body Count – Casualty Figures After ten years of the war on Terror " comes to more than 1.5 million deaths by 2011 by taking representative studies in Iraq into account.
Nevertheless, the US has lost a good part of its former influence in the Region. Trump has pushed this development further. It is not only in Syria that Moscow is now pulling the decisive strings. By maintaining good contacts with all countries with skilful diplomacy, the Russian government has increasingly become the preferred point of contact. But while their political and economic influence is waning, the United States, through its gigantic military apparatus and its control of the international banking and financial system, still has considerable power to force other states to submit and - as the example of Iran once again shows dramatically – to take drastic coercive measures against unbothered States.
The ruling circles in the US will certainly try to delay a further loss of power by all means, supported by their NATO partners, who have quite similar interests. Even if, as has become apparent in recent years, they increasingly rely on economic wars, which, while reducing their own costs and risks, also cause considerable devastation in the affected countries and societies, further military interventions are also to be feared.
All sources can be found here.