Alwaght- Commenting on the American relations with the Arab allies in a joint press conference with his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron on last Tuesday, US President Donald Trump said that there are some “immensely wealthy” Arab countries in the West Asia that “wouldn’t last a week” without US protection, and that he wants them to pump money and troops to support American efforts in Syria.
“Countries that are in the area, some of which are immensely wealthy, would not be there except for the United States, and to a lesser extent France,” Trump said.
“They wouldn't be there except for the United States. They wouldn't last a week. We are protecting them. They have to now step up and pay for what is happening," he said.
The remarks come as in the past few days Trump raised the ideal of sending an Arab force to northern Syria to replace the US forces operating in the war-ravaged Arab country. During his presidential campaign speeches, he had talked about US troops' withdrawal from the region, avoiding involvement in regional conflicts that, as he said, only foist heavy financial and humanitarian costs on the US but bring certain advantages in return to Washington. Now here is a question: Will debate with Saudi Arabia, Egypt, the UAE, and Qatar over the formation of a joint Arab force for deployment to Syria’s north mean that Trump wants to accomplish his promise of troops' withdrawal from the increasingly sensitive West Asia?
Arab army: unrealized dream
Although Trump officially said that American forces in northern Syria would give place to an Arab force, in practice, there is no such thing as joint Arab army in practice. The Arab army idea dates back to 2015 spring and was raised by Saudi Arabia to help invade Yemen. Saudi Arabia went to war with neighboring Yemen, but Arab army idea failed to materialize.
During the late March 2015 meeting of the Arab League in Egypt's Sharm El Sheikh, the Arab leaders agreed on a unified Arab force. Coming days after the anti-Yemen aggression, the agreement allegedly was meant to help protect the Arab world security against emerging risks. The leaders even commissioned Nabil Elaraby, the Arab League’s chief, to pursue the coordination and preparation to form the force. But, in practice, the idea remained ink on the paper.
In fact, the Saudi-led Arab coalition’s invasion of Yemen was planned by Riyadh to usher in the Arab army foundation process. But after three years of war against Sana’a, not only the much-vaunted Arab force did not form, but also the disputes between the Persian Gulf Arab states came to surface.
The political inconsistency among the Arab monarchies, Riyadh’s diplomatic rift with Doha, and also Saudi Arabia’s struggle with the UAE over influence in southern Yemen lay bare the fact that formation of an Arab army is far from reality in the near future as the Arabs are holding conflicting view on Syria, Iraq, Bahrain, and other regional crises.
Another challenge the Arab army has to deal with is the Saudi-Egyptian conflict for its leadership. While Egypt boasts of having the largest Arab army, Saudis seek to lead the bloc as they are the main raisers of the idea. If the UAE’s independent ambitions are added, then we see the issue is compounded. Abu Dhabi is at loggerheads with Riyadh in Yemen as it supports the southern Yemen separatists in the face of Saudi attempts to impose the fugitive president Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi on the whole Yemenis.
Trump’s profiteering approach to crises.
Trump’s suggestion to have the American forces replaced by an Arab force was not a surprise. He openly said that financial issues drove his idea, saying that if the Arab allies want the US troops to stay in Syria, they have to shoulder the costs. After seven years of spending billions of dollars in the form of supporting anti-Damascus militants and then engaging in a direct military campaign within a Western coalition and making no gains in return, the Americans are now seeking to cut their costs by forming an Arab army. Trump still dreams of defeating the central Syrian government, and wants to do the job using the Arab allies’ oil money.
Trump is assured of the Saudi Arabian readiness to pay the bill. Riyadh’s $110 billion military purchases from the US over the past year made him count on the Saudis reliability. Now he wants to test Saudis in his Arab army scenario to be paid for by Arab petrodollars.
Some even link the idea to the underway US-China trade war. They argue that increasing economic pressures drive Trump to cut spending on Syria intervention without damaging his goals, something accomplishable if Arab allies pay.
Arab army: the big deception
This is not the first time Trump claims he has made the decision to leave Syria. He made such a promise when he was racing for president. Now after over a year at the White House, the US forces have not pulled out of Syria.
The analysts hold that even if Trump is driven by his mercantilist approach to suggest US troops out of Syria battlefields, his senior military commanders find it a must to remain on the Syrian soil. On April 4, White House issued a statement announcing that US troops will evacuate Syria soon. Shortly after, General Joseph Votel, the chief of United States Central Command, maintained that the American military made good achievements in anti-ISIS battle, but it should stay and help Syria reconstruction, essentially contradicting White House pullout statement. Washington Post, commenting on the general’s remarks, reported disagreement between the military leaders and Trump over withdrawal plan, saying that the US army should stay to fight ISIS remnants and at the same time confront Russia and Iran’s influence expansion in Syria.
Therefore, Trump’s withdrawal claims are expected to remain only in words, and not develop to actions as strict opposition to the plan remains in place.
The Arab army faces major opposition from key actors. Soon after Trump publicized the idea, Russians responde, with. Senator Igor Morozov asserting that Moscow is definitely opposed to sending Qatari forces to Syria’s territory and will respond to it. This means that Trump has to counter Russia and other pro-Damascus players if he wants to proceed.
So, the Arab military bloc in Syria is only meant to wrest more oil cash out of the hands of Washington’s Arab allies, as apparently Americans do not intend to reduce their forces in the region.