Monday, January 18, 2016

44's Foreign Policy Core Values

For whatever reasons, 44 is not that interested in using his biggest public speeches to explain his foreign policy to the electorate. 44's detailed pronouncements on the region give a very good roadmap of what is to come during the rest of his tenure in office.

Saudi Arabia: The ruling Al-Saud family has operated under the assumption that the United States would protect the regime and its oil assets since 1945. The relationship became even stronger in 1981 when the Reagan administration, in response to the Iran-Iraq War, pledged to defend Saudi Arabia from invasion and to ensure internal regional stability. Obama's decision to effectively end the U.S. promise to guarantee the status quo in the Gulf is at the core of the Saudi crown's regional aggressiveness in recent years. What may come of the changes currently being proffered by King Salman and his son, Deputy Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, are unknown, but Saudi Arabia's outsized influence on the world's oil markets means the United States will be patrolling the sea lanes for years and years to come.

Iraq: Only after the Islamic State group threatened to overrun Kurdistan, a key U.S. sub-state ally, and started an extermination campaign against the Yazidi ethnic minority in Aug. 2014, did the administration intervene militarily. Hence, Kurdistan and the Iraqi coalition government constitute a core interest for the administration, and as a result, more than 3,000 troops are on the ground in Iraq coordinating the counter-insurgency against ISIS.

Syria: The lack of any alliance with the regime of Bashar Assad, combined with scant direct threat to U.S. citizens or property in Syria, meant that the country didn't meet the threshold of a core interest, even after resulting in 250,000 deaths and a major refugee crisis in Europe. The administration's Iraq-first focus strongly suggests that the Syrian conflict will not be resolved until well after Obama has left office.

Egypt: The core American interests in the country's strategic relationship with Egypt remain strong priority transit rights through the Suez Canal for the U.S. Navy; a close military and intelligence relationship with the Arab world's most populous country; and continued peace with Israel. The United States continue to protect Egypt and its infrastructure from attack, but Washington will not ensure internal stability, as seen by U.S. inaction when both Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi were swept from power by the military.

Israel: Even a deep personal dislike between U.S. and Israeli heads of government did not upend the economic, cultural, and security linkages between the two states that run deeper than anywhere in the region. The survival of the Jewish state is a core interest of the United States, and it remains so even after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a personal reprimand to Obama before a joint session of Congress in March 2015 over the administration's talks with Iran.

Iran: Defending Iran is not an American core interest by a long shot. The two sides have been major adversaries for decades and killed members of each other's armed forces on many separate occasions in the past. That said, the nuclear agreement signed in July and scheduled to be implemented as early this weekend is a watershed action that effectively ends the era of relations between the two sides symbolized by the Iran hostage crisis of 1979. Much will depend on the outcome of the Feb. 26 elections for Iran's parliament, the Majlis, and for the Assembly of Experts, which will choose a successor to Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei , who at age 76 is one of the world's most successful and longest-tenured purveyors of anti-American rhetoric come as a head of state. If reformists take over either body, Obama is certain to take some credit, arguing that his rapprochement with the government of President Hassan Rouhani has borne fruit.