Trump administration Mideast policy is unsettled — beyond a commitment to crushing ISIS. In a recent Wall St. Journal op ed, John Bolton proposes a break from previous U.S. policy: namely, the creation of a new Sunni state in southern Syria and western Iraq and a recalibration of policy toward Iraq, the Kurds, and Russia. Excerpts follow:
“[T]he U.S. ought to abandon or substantially reduce its military support for Iraq’s current government. Despite retaining a tripartite veneer of Kurds, Sunni Arabs and Shiite Arabs, the capital is dominated by Shiites loyal to Iran….Extending Baghdad’s political and military control into areas retaken from ISIS simply advances Tehran’s power. This cannot be in America’s interest.
“Iraq’s Kurds have de facto independence and are on the verge of declaring it de jure. They fight ISIS to facilitate the creation of a greater Kurdistan. Nonetheless, the Kurds, especially in Syria and Turkey, are hardly monolithic. Not all see the U.S. favorably. In Syria, Kurdish forces fighting ISIS are linked to the Marxist PKK in Turkey. They pose a real threat to Turkey’s territorial integrity, even if it may seem less troubling now that President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s plans have turned so profoundly contrary to the secular, Western-oriented vision of Kemal Atatürk….
“The U.S.-led coalition…needs to thwart Iran’s ambitions as ISIS falls. Securing increased forces and financial backing from the regional Arab governments is essential. Their stakes are as high as ours—despite the contretemps between Qatar and Saudi Arabia (and others)—but their participation has lagged. The U.S. has mistakenly filled the gap with Iraqi government forces and Shiite militias.
“Washington is kidding itself to think Sunnis will meekly accept rule by Iraq’s Shiite-dominated government or Syria’s Alawite regime. Simply restoring today’s governments in Baghdad and Damascus to their post-World War I boundaries would guarantee renewed support for terrorism and future conflict. I have previously suggested creating a new, secular, demographically Sunni state from territory in western Iraq and eastern Syria. There may well be other solutions, but pining for borders demarcated by Europeans nearly a century ago is not one of them…. [emphasis added -ed.]
“Russia’s interference, particularly its axis with Mr. Assad and Tehran’s mullahs, critically threatens the interests of the U.S., Israel and our Arab friends. Mr. Assad almost certainly would have fallen by now without Russia’s (and Iran’s) assistance. Further, Moscow’s support for Tehran shatters any claim of its truly being a partner in fighting radical Islamic terrorism, which got its modern start in Iran’s 1979 revolution. Both Iran and the Assad regime remain terror-sponsoring states, only now they are committing their violence under Russia’s protective umbrella. There is no reason for the U.S. to pursue a strategy that enhances Russia’s influence or that of its surrogates….
“[T]he Trump administration should recraft the U.S.-led coalition to ensure that America’s interests, rather than Russia’s or Iran’s, predominate once ISIS is defeated.”
The full Bolton op ed is at https://www.wsj.com/articles/america-needs-a-post-isis-strategy-1498688109 (pay wall).