كلمة شينكر في مؤتمر “التداعيات الاستراتيجية للاتفاق النووي الإيراني”

لفت مدير برنامج السياسة العربية في معهد واشنطن دايفيد شينكر David Schenker الى أن “سياسة الولايات المتحدة في الشرق الأوسط شهدت تحولاً عميقاً أثناء إدارة الرئيس باراك أوباما، على الأقل جزئياً. فالإدارة الأميركية عرفت عن نفسها خلافاً لإدارة الرئيس السابق جورج بوش بحيث كان هدف هذه الإدارة تقليص دور الولايات المتحدة العسكري في المنطقة وتحويله نحو القارة الآسيوية”.

والآتي يعرض كلمته الكاملة التي تمحورت حول “سياسة الولايات المتحدة في الشرق الأوسط في أعقاب الاتفاق النووي مع ايران”:

“US Policy in the Middle East has undergone a profound transformation during the Obama Administration.

At least in part, the Administration has defined itself in opposition to its predecessor, the George W. Bush Administration  The articulated goal of this Administration was to downsize the US military role in the region, and pivot to Asia.

As promised, we have seen a dramatic withdrawal of US troops from the Middle East and in Iraq in particular.  But also most significantly, a new approach to the traditional US leadership role in the region.

The Administration would call this “leading from behind,” with a focus on building international coalitions in the United Nations.  I think Washington’s traditional regional friends would describe US policy as “following,” as opposed to leading.

In practice, the result has been a more reactive, passive US policy, one of seeming indifference to traditional US allies in the Middle East.

The one notable exception to this pattern has been Iran, where the Administration has broken with a 35 year policy to reach out to Tehran, forging a nuclear agreement with the state, that promises to release billions in frozen assets and end the policy of containment.

Leaving the actual details of the agreement–which I believe are weak–aside, the agreement is transformational. A year prior to the agreement, in an interview with the New Yorker, President Obama spoke of a new regional “equilibrium,” with Iran taking its rightful place as a Gulf power.

This agreement accommodates this new Iranian role.

Even before the agreement, Iran essentially controlled four Arab capitals, with little if any pushback from Washington.

Even more damaging, even though the agreement contains no provisions to limit Iran’s regionally destabilizing behavior, the Administration seems to be hoping that Iran can somehow be a force for stability in the region.

Instead, what we have seen, is that in the absence of a US leadership role in the region, Iran has filled the vacuum.

From Iraq, to Yemen, to Syria, Iran is the key actor.

One hesitates to think what Tehran will do with the windfall of $50-$100 billion dollars.

Back in 2006, the so-called “Axis of Resistance” was led by Nasrallah, Assad, and Khamenei.  The new, revitalized Axis–judging from the latest posters in Damascus–includes Nasrallah, Assad, Khamenei, and Vladimir Putin, men who “bow to no one but Allah.”

Unbelievably, the Administration is seemingly ambivalent not only about the trajectory of Syria, but about the new Russian role in Syria.

Keeping the Russians out of the Middle East, was, as you know, a second pillar of longstanding US policy in the region.  That too has gone by the wayside under the Obama Administration.

The Administration believes that its policy of “strategic patience” will get Russia and Iran stuck in a quagmire, another Afghanistan in Syria.

Perhaps.  But in the meantime, Washington’s friends–Lebanon and Jordan in particular–are increasingly under pressure.

Of course, Assad likes the refugee crisis.  He is emptying the country of Sunni Muslims, something the US Holocaust Museum has likened to a genocide.  But this policy is in intentional, benefitting both Assad and Putin.

Putin views the EU with distain, and has no problem with forcing the Europeans to deal with the social and economic problems associated with absorbing millions of Syrians.  For Assad, the refugees are a weapon to wield against Washington’s friends in Amman–and helps improve the demographics for his embattled Alawite minority.

Regrettably, the refugee crisis is probably going to get worse with the Russian presence. And most of the millions of Syrian refugees, by the way, are not likely to ever return home.

Four years into the war, it’s clear the Obama Administration doesn’t have a Syria policy, save for the abiding desire to avoid involvement.

The fight against ISIS, which at one point was the articulated Administration goal in Syria, has been, like train and equip program for Syrian rebels, pursued in a less than serious manner.

This is a policy problem that hasn’t aged well, and will only get worse.  The Administration’s aversion to involvement has until now only narrowed US options.

In the past year and a half, less than 50 “moderate” Syrian rebels were trained to fight ISIS, and only 5 remain on the battlefield today, for a cost of $500 million.  Meanwhile, ISIS controls more territory today then it did when the coalition bombing started.

Faced with a Russian fait accompli in Syria, what is emerging is a de facto division of labor on Syria, where the US is targeting ISIS in the East and the Russians are targeting the rebels in the West.  The result:  together, Washington and Moscow are cooperating now to keep Assad in power.

The worst part, perhaps, is that the Administration still doesn’t understand that ISIS is here today because of Assad, or more specifically, because of Assad and Malaki.  The vicious sectarian policies of Malaki in Baghdad and Assad in Damascus are what has fueled support for ISIS. To be sure, as long as Assad is in power, ISIS will also be a factor.

While US may make some policy changes at the margins, the last six years suggest that this Administration will not reverse course.

We may see some increases in the amount of TOW anti-tank missiles provided to rebels in Syria, and some additional sanctions, to raise the cost for Russian military involvement.

No doubt, the Administration will continue to spend billions on its “reassurance” policy, selling weapons and prepositioning equipment to assuage our traditional allies that we will help protect them.

Regrettably, however, the overall policy of disengagement is not going to change. The bright side, if there is one, is that the next Administration in Washington, either Republican or Democratic, is going to make changes–to distance itself from a foreign policy that has clearly not advanced US interests in the Middle East”.

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