Will an increase in militant attacks on US forces in Iraq and Syria force Biden to pursue a policy similar to leaving Afghanistan? Will the United States increase its diplomatic capability and diplomatic movements in the Middle East by maintaining troops in Iraq and Syria? Britain can help the United States get out of the mire of the Iraq-Syria war. Excessive US military spending in Iraq and Syria and heavy anti-war sentiments in the Middle East have tied the Biden administration‘s hands in pursuing aggressive or confrontational policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.
Generally speaking, the foreign policy of governments is defined by the goals set out in each country’s roadmap. These short-term, medium-term and long-term goals will be a function of political, economic, geographical, cultural and ideological variables.
Governments may adopt different strategies to achieve these goals. These differences in strategy may be due to changes in the overall situation of countries or the rotation of elites, but the goals remain unchanged.
The United States has allowed itself to interfere in the affairs of all regions of the world, so it has various foreign policy goals that are mentioned in various US national security documents. Therefore, the political elites of this country in the form of Republican and Democratic parties use different methods to achieve these goals. During the presidency of Donald Trump in particular, these methods underwent fundamental changes. These include the following:
- A look at the international structure
In general, Democrats view the international structure as pluralistic and based on the creation of security through joint cooperation. Republicans also believe in creating security through joint cooperation, but their priority is to provide security by increasing national power.
Democrats need to work with international organizations and world powers to achieve their goals through global consensus. Republicans, on the other hand, do not pay much attention to cooperating with international organizations and look more instrumentally at other means, ie the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, despite opposition from international organizations and most other powers, as well as the US withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement in the Trump era.
- Use of military force
In this respect, the practice of the two major American parties is completely different. Republicans who advocate increasing US military spending have made the most use of military force in recent decades to counter enemies of US interests. Republicans also use concepts such as preemptive action to legitimise their military actions. Democrats, on the other hand, prioritise economic and political means and believe that any action based on the use of military force must have global consensus.
With a brief look at some policy differences in the United States, and given the victory of Democratic nominee Joe Biden in the 2020 presidential election, a brief analysis of the Biden administration’s future foreign policy in the ME will be given next.
Biden’s Middle East Policy
One of the reasons for Donald Trump’s defeat in the last US presidential election was his misguided policies in international relations, which led to his widespread criticism, both by Republicans and Democrats.
In foreign policy, Trump’s actions were unprecedented, even by his Republican predecessors. In a way, the United States was isolated on some issues in the United Nations and even the Security Council. Initiating political and economic tensions with China, withdrawing from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), numerous political tensions with the European Union (EU), recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, misguided immigration policies for Muslims, inhumane treatment of immigrants on its borders, especially on the Mexican border, and adopting the wrong policies in Latin America, such as supporting the coup in Venezuela, were among Trump’s most important foreign policy mistakes, which were met with outright opposition by the country’s political elite.
But the Middle East has always been of particular importance to the United States. During Trump’s time in office, the region saw a rise in extremism and violence. Trump’s era was a golden age for the Zionist regime, ranging from the relocation of the US embassy to Jerusalem to the Deal of the Century and the signing of a peace treaty with some countries in the Middle East.
Now the question arises as to whether the situation will remain the same during the presidency of Joe Biden? To answer this question, it is better to divide this region into three main axes of US relations with Israel and the Arabs.
- Israel: As mentioned above, the Trump era was a golden age for Israel and led to an increase in the regime’s power over the Arab states in the region. The situation will remain the same during Biden’s time, but will move at a slower pace. During this period, the United States will try to impart a neutral image and advocate human rights by appearing to criticise some issues, including Israeli settlements, but its support will continue. It is interesting to note that according to some polls, 77% of American Jews voted for Joe Biden, indicating that he may only be unpleasant for some of the Zionist regime’s political figures, but there is not much difference for the most part.
- The Arabs: Arab-American relations were particularly complex during the Trump The United States supported the Arabs verbally on the one hand, but believed that the Arabs should pay the cost of their protection by the US on the other. Payments made by some Arab states in the region were so good that the United States turned a blind eye to many of the crimes of some Arab rulers and did not take a stand, including the support of some Arab leaders for Takfiri terrorists, imprisoning and killing dissidents, and war in the Yemen. In his campaign, Biden criticised the sale of weapons to some Arab countries, such as Saudi Arabia, and called for an end to arms sales to these countries. But if this is looked at realistically, stopping the sale of weapons to Arab countries is tantamount to bankruptcy for US arms factories, which control a significant part of the economy. Biden’s foreign policy towards the Arabs will be challenged in areas such as human rights, but not in the economic and political sectors!
In general, Biden’s foreign policy in the Middle East will not be much different from Trump’s; the only difference is that Biden is likely to use diplomatic and human rights tools as a means to an end. The Middle East is not the place to look to for a major difference in Biden’s performance. These behavioral changes are more apparent in relations with East Asia, the European Union and international organisations rather than the Middle East.
From War to Withdrawal
Britain has officially returned the last of its troops from Afghanistan, ending its role after two decades of war in the country as the Taliban regain power. According to the Guardian, British defence sources said that the withdrawal of the last group of 750 British troops is expected to be completed in the coming days; the group is part of a NATO training and stabilisation team in Afghanistan.
Although British officials are reluctant to confirm the exact timing of the withdrawal, two military sources said that British troops were due to leave Afghanistan in July 2021 and that the British Army was scheduling flights to complete the withdrawal.
Meanwhile, US President Joe Biden has rejected the complete withdrawal of his troops from Afghanistan until US Independence Day, but it is estimated that less than 1,000 US troops are still in Afghanistan, mostly for security purposes in and around Kabul. A group of 650 US troops is expected to remain in Afghanistan in the coming months to provide security for the US Embassy in Kabul.
Biden had promised to withdraw all US troops from Afghanistan by September this year, but the withdrawal process has accelerated despite advances by the Taliban in various parts of Afghanistan and warnings of a civil war.
“The withdrawal of US troops from Bagram Air Base shows that the United States is moving faster out of Afghanistan, even though it is in danger of collapsing,” said Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the House of Commons Defence Review Committee. The Prime Minister Boris Johnson made a statement to Parliament on changes and policies for the future of the British diplomatic presence and the military situation in Afghanistan.
This could include the long-term presence of the British Special Air Service and other forces to help Afghan forces fight the Taliban. The United States currently provides air support for overseas aircrafts and drones. It has also promised financial assistance to security forces and is reportedly considering contractors’ costs to maintain Afghanistan’s vital air force. Final decisions will also be made at a meeting of the British National Security Council, although the plans are already well developed. Like the United States, a small number of British troops may remain in Kabul to assist British embassy guards, although the site is currently guarded by contractors.
Britain played a key role in the strike operation in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2014 and played a key and leading role in countering the Taliban in Helmand province. A total of 545 British soldiers and civilians were killed during this period.
Since then, Britain has participated in a NATO-led training mission called “Resolute Support“. The British generals say they sought to maintain troops in Afghanistan in the form of training forces, but concluded that this would not be possible without a US military presence. A spokesman for the British Ministry of Defence said the delegation would complete its work in the coming months.
Britain, like other NATO members which have ended their mission in Afghanistan in recent weeks, has announced that it is leaving the country. A number of British politicians have suggested that a military project to eliminate the Taliban comes to an end as the militant group resumes operations across Afghanistan. Germany, Italy and Poland are among the countries which have issued statements confirming the withdrawal of their troops from Afghanistan.
Vain Participation in Iraq and Afghanistan Wars
Former British Prime Minister Gordon Brown (2007-2017), in his recently published memoir, My Life, Our Era, says his country was misled into believing that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction. Brown refers to the invasion of Iraq by the US-led coalition in 2003 which toppled Saddam Hussein. The justification for this attack was the possession of weapons of mass destruction by Saddam’s government, which were never found. Mr Brown, who served as Treasury Secretary during the Iraq war, wrote in his book that US intelligence agencies had not provided accurate information to British officials before Britain joined the Iraq war. “Not only have we been misinformed, we have been misled,” the former British prime minister and former Labour leader wrote in his book.
In March 2003, Tony Blair ordered an invasion of Iraq. The Iraq war and related events led to the deaths of 179 British troops. Information obtained by Britain since 2002, under prime ministers Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown, indicates that Saddam Hussein’s government is capable of “possessing weapons of mass destruction“. “I was told they knew where these weapons were,” Mr Brown wrote in his book. “When I think about it, I think it’s as if they can give me the street name and the license plate number of the place where these weapons are hidden,” he said. Mr Brown, of course, said at the time that then-Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld had ordered a report.
Chilcot’s Investigation Report
A seven-year report in the making by the British-led Iraq War Investigation Team shows that Saddam Hussein posed no “immediate threat” at the time of the British-American invasion of Iraq.
According to this report, “incomplete information” started this war. In his diary, Brown said that if information from US security agencies had been made available to Britain, London might never have agreed to take part in the war.
Sir John Chilcot, head of the “British involvement in the Iraq War” investigation team, accused then-British Prime Minister Tony Blair of providing information leading to the decision to invade Iraq. In the Iraq war, he “did not show honesty with the nation.” Mr Blair testified before the Iraq War Committee that he was deeply saddened by the deaths of nearly four British soldiers in the Iraq war and the deaths of large numbers of Iraqis. Mr Blair emphasised the need to focus on Iraq, and said that it was even more important now with the crisis in this country.
Retired Brigadier General Ben Barry, in charge of the British Armed Forces’ internal investigation into the Iraq war, said in a statement that the British mission in Basra “Almost failed and damaged the credibility and confidence of the British armed forces”.
The families of the 179 British soldiers killed in the Iraq war hope the Chilcot investigation report will shed light on the weaknesses and mistakes of the operation. Twenty-seven of these soldiers were killed while driving in SNV Land Rover military vehicles that did not have the necessary safety protection against roadside bombs. These cars became known as “moving coffins”.
The Snatch model Land Rover is just one example of the lack of planning and the unwillingness of British Armed Forces commanders to take part in the Iraq war. In addition to using unsafe vehicles, some equipment, including vests and bulletproof vests, was sent to the battlefield at the last minute due to secrecy in the preparation and launch of operations in Iraq.
The 2003 attack on British Army units, in which six personnel were killed, was a wake-up call for the British people that war in Iraq would not be easy. The level of armed resistance in Iraq took them by surprise, they were unaware of the religious-ethnic differences in Iraq and did not even have satellite communication to ask for help and send reinforcements.
The BBC has spoken to a number of senior British Armed Forces officers involved in preparing for war and operations to occupy Iraq, including some who testified in the Chilcot investigation. Many said the investigation would be highly critical of the British Armed Forces, especially the Army. The Iraq war is a period that has left deep scars in Britain as well. One senior officer described it as “shameful” and another said it “humiliated” British troops in the eyes of its American allies. They hope that no matter what the criticism, it does not call into question the courage and sacrifice of British troops on the battlefield. But even before the release of Sir John Chilcot’s investigation report, it was clear that the commanders of the British Armed Forces were unprepared for what had happened after the initial success of the occupation of Iraq.
Most of the failures and shortcomings are due to a lack of planning. After the first phase of the operation, which was the occupation of Iraq, the British forces did not receive any specific command. One of the few senior commanders involved in preparing and planning for the post-occupation period in Iraq said he had warned Tony Blair that without a clear plan for the post-occupation period, the operation should not have been started. He said that while it was easy to blame the Americans for leading the operation, “Britain should have done more to prepare.”
There was unreasonable self-confidence and pride that everything would go well. The British armed forces have been somewhat misled by previous successes, from the conflict in Northern Ireland, Operation Falklands and the first Gulf War, to small military interventions such as in Kosovo and Sierra Leone. The senior commanders of the British Armed Forces mistakenly thought that there was a full readiness for the Iraq operation.
The British Armed Forces hoped, and even believed, that the 2003 war would be the same. It was thought that the Iraqi people would welcome them as liberating forces rather than occupying infidels. At the same time, there was no real understanding of the negative influence of Iran and Shiite militias and the power vacuum that would emerge after the disbandment of the official Iraqi army at the behest of the United States. There was a deep-rooted belief in the British military that all obstacles could be overcome by relying on the spirit of “we can”. But this may have weakened its ability to recognise problems and report them to power centres.
The British military probably believed that “its capabilities are beyond its true weight”. The 46,000-strong British forces in the operation to occupy Iraq was rapidly reduced to one-third, and as a result was expanded by concentrating insufficient forces in areas as large as the British territory.
This situation led to another problem. As the British army gradually took over Iraq, it shifted its focus to the Helmand region of Afghanistan. Some senior commanders at the time said that the country’s forces were not even ready for a long-term operation, let alone two simultaneous operations. In his investigation Chilcot can rightly ask why commanders thought of increasing military intervention on Afghan soil when the British army was not successful in Iraq.
Robert Fry, a retired British Army general responsible for increasing the British military presence in Helmand, said the British military was preparing to withdraw from Iraq once it became clear that Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction and there was no public support for the war.
At a time when most of the remaining British troops in Iraq were retreating to Basra Air Base, the United States expanded military operations in Iraq in the opposite direction, to defeat the insurgents. “There is strong evidence that American forces changed their strategy much faster than the British military and adapted to the new situation in Iraq,” he concludes. As Britain became increasingly concerned about its casualties in the war and public opinion, then-President George W Bush decided to take his military operation in Iraq to a new level known as the Lightning Operation against the insurgents. Unlike Britain, US forces began cooperating and conducting joint operations with Iraqi forces, sending new vehicles to Iraq that were safer from landmines and roadside bombs. “We have to rely on the army, we have to go to war,” said Donald Rumsfeld, a former US Secretary of Defense and one of the architects of the Iraq war. But Robert Gates, who became Secretary of Defense after Rumsfeld, added: “But we need to quickly build and build the army we need.”
The families of the soldiers who fought bravely in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the families of the soldiers who were killed in these wars, have the right to ask why Britain did not learn its lesson. The British-American military alliance in the Iraq-Afghanistan war should have led to a diplomatic alliance in the Middle East. The United States and Britain do not converge much on Middle East diplomacy, and Britain seems to have a passive role in terms of diplomacy in the Middle East. Britain can help the United States get out of the mire of the Iraq-Syria war. Excessive US military spending in Iraq and Syria and heavy anti-war sentiment in the Middle East have tied the Biden administration‘s hands in pursuing aggressive or confrontational policies in Iraq, Afghanistan and Syria.