Alwaght- The rise to power of Donald Trump as the US president in the 2016 elections and his start of work in January 2017 should be read as one pair of the most influential political events occurring on the stage of global political equations in the current decade.
With challenging slogans in his camping addresses, Trump not only challenged the internal US politics but also the whole international political order. By his controversial slogans, he gave rise to the notion that in case of his victory, many of the political and economic values and traditions on the global arena will face serious challenges.
To know Trump’s foreign policy doctrine and within it the policy of the country’s diplomatic apparatus towards the West Asia region, we need to more give attention to what the president denies than what he approves and promotes. In fact, Trump’s foreign policy doctrine should be investigated based on what he does not like and what he sees as the legacy of his predecessors at the White House.
Meanwhile, one of the specific aspects of his foreign policy is the “pullout doctrine.” It was the promise of the pullout from the overseas operations and conflicts that bright him to the rule. And it was the same policy that made him take surprising and critical decisions of revoking the US mutual, multilateral, and international commitments.
But in the military and security areas, despite a couple of unrealized decisions like the exit from Syria or retreat from Afghanistan or downplaying the West Asia importance in the new US doctrine or trying to forge regional treaties in line with the Western interests, the White House military strategy in West Asia was saved intact, namely Washington kept its military bases and its tangible military presence. The US activities in Iraq these days, including the deployment of Patriot air defense, represent this policy.
For Trump and his security advisors team, Iraq has a special position, not only dose not include the policy of pullout but also it is essentially the spot to amass the growing American bases and troops.
But what does make Trump to exclude Iraq from his policy of pullout? What is Iraq’s place in the American regional strategy under Trump? What impacts can the possible exit, or better to say expulsion, from Iraq leave on Washington’s interests and strategic goals in the region?
To give answers to these questions, first, we need to bring in the spotlight West Asia from the viewpoint of the pullout doctrine. Then we can see why Trump is rejecting to remove his forces from Iraq and what the potential implications could be.
The pullout doctrine and West Asia
The pullout doctrine essentially rises against the liberal internationalism doctrine and is an advanced part of Trump’s isolationism. In fact, Trump’s policy is the destruction of internationalism, an idea that shaped the US foreign policy’s ideological basis since the 1950s. Trumpism is an ideological and political stream that was advocated and followed in some Western nations like France and the Netherlands by right-wing politicians. It is a kind of isolationism rebelling against liberalism. Pulling out of the Paris climate treaty, Trans-Pacific Partnership pact, adopting nationalist policies marked by “America first” slogan, and implementing economical protactinium all drag towards self-favored isolation.
Trump strongly believes that collective trade pacts are “terrible” agreements that need to be canceled fast. They, he argues, have paralyzed the US production power and severely cut the wages. Trump asserts that China, manipulating its currency and keeping its value low, has over the years shaped an unfair trade relationship with the US. The same unfair relations are applied to the US by other trade partners, he says. Trump thinks that one of the main threats endangering the US vital interests is the disregard shown to the US vital interests in the economic, political, security, and military interactions with the world countries.
Richard N. Haass, who is the president of the US Council on Foreign Relations, says that Trump's foreign policy has now found its main theme which is the pullout doctrine. The US has since Trump's presidency abandoned important international treaties or threatened to quit them. Trans-Pacific Partnership, North America Free Trade Agreement, Iran nuclear deal, UNESCO, and Paris climate agreement all bear witness to this Trump doctrine.
When it comes to West Asia, Trump thinks that there is no need for a massive and costly military presence in this region. He even in his campaign-time addresses said that West Asia has the least importance for him. But the question is that why does he exclude Iraq from this approach to the region?
Iraq an exception in the pullout doctrine
Despite the Trump insistence on the doctrine of exit after 2017, Iraq remained the center of Trump’s peripheral “stay policy”. Even at the time of campaign speeches, Trump attacked his predecessor Barack Obama for cutting the number of forces in Iraq in 2011. A couple of theories can rise to explain why the US gives Iraq an exception.
1. Trump is a strongly economic-minded leader. Based on this logic, he believes that the costs need to be cut and the incomes should be increased. He also thinks that big profits shroud ensue whenever and wherever an investment is made, otherwise the investor is a loser. He repeatedly said that since 2003, the year the US invaded Iraq and toppled its dictator Saddam Hussein, the US spent $5 trillion in West Asia and Iraq but made no profits in return.
Trump once said that the US rid Iraq of Saddam dictatorship but got nothing from the country’s oil in return. When these remarks of him are put together like puzzle pieces, we can figure out why Trump is opposed to exiting from Iraq. He wants the US to take economic advantages from the oil-rich Iraq in the future and this guarantees the American troops’ stay in the Arab country.
2. Trump believes that Iraq, as the only regional country that was directly invaded and occupied by the US, should remain the face and center of the US military and political saber-rattling on the global stage. In fact, in Trump’s gangster mindset, no warrior easily evacuates a land he seized with the power of weapons.
3. In addition to the president, his advisors think that Iraq as the heart of the region should remain the US influence hub and area of American forces running rampant. From the viewpoint of the hardline strategists in the conservative and rightist circles, if the US moves out of Iraq, West Asia will be the maneuvering theater of Washington’s rivals. Russia, which since 2014 showed its strong will for massive presence in the region through its anti-terror deployment to Syria, waits for such an opportunity to start cooperation and presence in Iraq by winning Baghdad and Erbil trust. China, another heavyweight, has already designed its influence plan for West Asia and the whole world through the “Belt and Road Initiative” that wants to revive the ancient Silk Road trade route. Iraq can offer a route for Beijing’s expansion of power and influence.
4. Trump’s anti-Iranian mindset is another drive for him to exclude Iraq from the pullout doctrine. In his look at Iraq, Trump thinks that Washington should check the growing Iranian influence in Iraq. The US troops should serve this mission. In February 2019, Trump said that the US troops remain in Iraq to “keep an eye on Iran.” That is why he insists that the US forces operating in Iraq need to increase their readiness and strength in the face of Iran.
Possible US exit and the scenarios
The Iraqi parliament’s foreign forces expulsion bill, which was approved by the lawmakers on January 6, seriously rung the alarms to the US military in Iraq. In the meantime, Trump’s insistence on staying is causing a big crisis occupying the mind of his national security team.
Following the attacks by units from the Popular Mobilization Forces on the US military bases in Iraq, the Americans felt that remaining in the Arab country is not as easy as they were thinking and that they need a solution. As an initial response to the situation, they over the past few weeks embarked on the strategy of amassing their forces and equipment in the two large bases of Ein Al-Asad in Al-Anbar province and Harir in Erbil, the capital of the Kurdish region. Over the past few days, they handed over to the Iraqi army several military bases in various parts of Iraq.
As a second solution to push back against the expulsion from Iraq, the US has resorted to the Patriot air defense and Counter-Rocket, Artillery, Mortar (C-RAM) systems. Last week, the Pentagon said the first batch of the air defenses arrived in Iraq. But the anti-American sentiments in Iraq are running so high that the White House can hardly save the status quo. Soon, the calls for the US exit will grow even broader. The likely options of Washington in reaction to the situation are weakening the central government, attacking the PMF, and using the Kurdish and Sunni card to put strains on Baghdad.