After three months into Trump’s administration, the US administration has failed to reach a comprehensive strategy in its foreign policy.
In spite of the transparency and the discipline, which Trump had promised in his election campaign, there is a confusion and bewilderment in his foreign policy about important regions in the world such as the Middle East, Eastern Asia and the Korean Peninsula. On the one hand, by conducting a missile attack against Syria, using the biggest nonnuclear bomb in Afghanistan and threatening North Korea resort to use military force, the US administration tried to show its military might as a unique and unprecedented might to its rivals. On the other hand, it has emphasized a diplomatic solution in Syria and is pressuring China to intervene in the diplomatic settlement of North Korean crisis. The US policy about Russia, China and Israeli-Palestinian issue is still confused. Trump’s current foreign policy is different from “Donald Trump’s” policy a few months ago. One of the most important and determining reasons in this confusion is the change in the position of advisor of national security. Flynn was seriously defending American engagement with Russia to counter ISIS and was against increased US military presence in Middle East troubles. However, McMaster, the current adviser to the American president in issues of national security, as some other military advisers, is not against increased US military presence in Syria. Nor is he willing to engage with this issue.
Within this context of confusion and bewilderment, Trump’s contentious Tweets, sending US aircraft-carrier warship to the Korean Peninsula, and joined military exercises by the US, South Korea, and Japan have escalated unprecedented tension between the US and North Korea. Trump has warned China that if it does not stop North Korea’s nuclear adventurism, the US will directly take action against North Korea and North Korea has announced that against US threats, this country will retaliate and will severely react to Trump’s likely actions. At the time being, the military deployments of the US and North Korea have become ever more aggressive. Of course, it is possible to say that the main culprit in the tension in Eastern Asia is the US attempts to spread its influence in that region. Delivering antiballistic missile system to South Korea has been done for the purpose of monitoring China’s missile activities. Given this, it is possible that the tension in this region would pave the way for regional US presence to restrict China’s military might. Tension in this region can help develop the US military infrastructure in this part of the world.
In spite of Trump’s promises in his campaign, the US policies in the Middle East have become more interventionist. On the one hand, the US is trying to pressure Lebanese president, who announced that he would back Hezbollah, to withdraw his comments. On the other hand, it is trying to increase its military forces in Syria and increase its presence in Syrian Kurdish region so that it would make some progress on the ground. It is possible to interpret the US attack against Syria by launching 60 Cruise Missiles in this vein. In a report, Rand Institute has suggested to the US administration that it should refrain from using military force in Syria and instead opt for diplomatic solution to ending war and settling the current crisis. In this report, the recommendation is that in the current situation, one should not insist on ousting Assad from power; rather it is necessary to create a stable situation in Syria and then seek the other objectives in mind. The suggestion made by this institute is that Syria should be disintegrated into three regions: the Western region to be controlled by the current Syrian regime and its supporters, the southern region to be controlled by the Syrian Opposition and the Eastern region, bordering Iraq and Turkey, to be controlled internationally and the US be in charge of creating the institutions. It seems that the real intention behind the long-term objective of the US in trying to gain the control of Eastern Syria is containing the relationships between Syria and Iran through Iraq. The discussion about establishing five air bases in these areas, which was raised earlier, is consistent with containing Iran not to help Syria and preventing Iran from sending forces and weaponry to Syria and Hezbollah. In fact, in this plan, the objective is closing in on Syria on the ground first and then from the sea.
The US missile attack against Syria was not prompted by internal pressure and public demand; rather this was more due to easing criticism of the Trump administration and creating unity in the US. Trump was in a situation where he had to carry out a missile attack against Syria. In opinion polls, Trump’s approval rate had hit an all-time low; Trump had experienced a number of failures in his executive orders and opposition of his own political party and of democrats for his support for Russia had turned into a serious challenge and crisis for Trump’s administration, which resulted in the resignation of his former national security advisor. When the approval rating of a US president is lower than 50%, it is the time to create a crisis outside the US to ease the internal pressure. US missile attack against Syria helped with preserving Trump’s image within the United States.
This action eased criticisms leveled against him within the US and directed the attention to the foreign enemy. This was because since the very first days in his office, he had been the target of most serious criticisms and had failed to gain the support of Republicans. However, this action won the support of even Democrats in the Congress for Trump.
There were different reactions to the US missile attack against Shayrat Air Base in Syria. Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel were the happies with this action. The EU also supported the action. However, Russia vehemently opposed this action and condemned it. Russia announced that the diplomatic relations between the US and Russia plummeted to the time of Cold War and Trump also announced that the relationship between the two countries reached an all time low. Following the US missile attack against Syria, Tillerson travelled to Russia. However, Russia announced that this trip was not fruitful and announced its condemnation of US hostile actions. In addition, the Russian minister for foreign affairs said that the US and its allies in the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons intend to change the Syrian government. In reaction to the US action, he said, “We hope that in June the process of Iran’s membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization would start”, which means that Russian’s strategy is closer relationship between Iran and Russia and countering America. Michael Fallon, the British Defense Minister said in a statement that, “Trump’s position about Russia has changed and now looks upon Moscow as a rival”.
In addition to the fact that Syria is on the top of the list of political and security concerns of the US administration, the Congress is also very keen on the issue. The House of Representatives has signed a draft, allowing the US administration to deliver Man-Portable Antiaircraft Missiles (MANPOD) to the so-called opposition groups. This move by the House of Representatives is at odds with international rules and agreements which the US supports because the US has opposed transferring man-portable weaponry to groups other than governments and imposes sanctions on them.
Another action by the US in the region, which has brought about serous criticism, is the testing of a bomb, nicknamed ‘the mother of all bombs’, as the largest non-nuclear bomb in Afghanistan. The US claims that this 11-tonne bomb which set on fire the surrounding area as far as 3 kilometers was used to destroy the tunnels dug by ISIS in that region. The Afghan government announced that 90 people were killed in the explosion, and that all of them were ISIS members.
As regards Iraq, James Mattis, the US Secretary of Defense and General Joseph Dunford, the head of US Joined Military Forces held that after freeing Mosul, the American forces must stay in Iraq so that Iran cannot spread its influence in this country.
The establishment of the Trump administration and the designation of the new team of the Department of State could be considered as one of the factors contributing to the rapid pace of the US-related developments on the ground in different parts of the world including Western Asia. The increase in US activities could be regarded as consistent with US sending signals to the main power challenging the interests of the US, i.e., Islamic Republic of Iran. Mattis’s claims in Saudi Arabia about Iran’s support for Houthis and the attack against the radar base near Hadideh could be regarded as the green light by the US to its allies in the region, suggesting that the US remains committed to protecting its allies against Iran.
In addition, this month, very important Senate hearings were held about such issues as cyber deterrence, general US policies in the Pacific, US policies about the European Union, and US foreign policy about Russia and Iran. Kurt Welker (former NATO Deputy Secretary General) in the session about the investigation of US policies about the European Union, indicated that Russia is the biggest challenge for NATO and that Russian media propaganda in Eastern Europe is the main barrier to capture the hearts and minds of the people in this region. Likewise, Daniel Bor (the former US ambassador to The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) pointed out that integral to countering Russia is maintaining the tradition of US leadership in the world and that without this, it is impossible to counter Russia and safeguard US allies.
In another session about US cyber deterrence, Matthew Waxman, the Professor of International Law and a former advisor to the US administration at the time of George W. Bush, said that using the potentials of international law is one of the trump cards to be used by the US against its enemies and against cyber attacks. Dr. Craig. Field (Head of Defense Sciences Office) reiterated that the US cyber deterrence power is very fragile and claimed that Iran and North Korea are able to incur heavy damage to US infrastructure and called for coordination between the public and the private sector to counter such threats. Holding hearings about cyber issues and regional policies are indicative of the fact that the US is now involved in redefining its policies in these areas. The US is busy updating its policies in different areas, given the increased international developments.
In the area of foreign policy, the Trump administration has taken an aggressive stance. This indicates that in spite of Trump’s own preferences (given the promises made in the presidential campaign), he has to come to terms with security policies adopted by the US intelligence community. Military presence in Syria and Eastern Asia, disintegration of Syria, and fight against Resistance Front, form the fundamental policies of the US intelligence community. Given the aggressive deployment of the US military forces in the region, the expectation is that the US attacks against Syria will continue. This is more so given that the US and the world came to know that in providing all-out support for one of its allies in the region, Russia is not ready to target US Cruise missiles. Reportedly, the US plan for Syria and the region includes using full potentials of ISIS, closing in on Iran and striking a deal with Russia.