After the Cold War ended with the dissolution of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s, the only US foreign policy left was fighting terrorism. This policy became a reaction to the 9/11 attacks, with the US fighting terrorist groups in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. This lasted for a decade-and-a-half.
Today, in Syria, Ukraine, Iran, and on the Korean Peninsula to a lesser extent, we see confrontations between Washington and Moscow. This conflict between Russia and the US brings back to mind the old Cold War.
This was highlighted last week by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson in his speech about his country’s new strategy, which primarily relies on fighting rival powers — mainly Russia, as well as China to a lesser extent.
Under the Trump administration, Washington’s policy has differed in the Middle East in general, and in Syria and Iraq in particular. It has decided to confront Russia’s and Iran’s presence, in addition to fighting Daesh. The US has chosen Syria as its battleground, despite its complicated situation, which resulted from the wide array of powers involved in the crisis there.
US policymakers have finally realized the danger associated with the dramatic transformations on the ground and are now intent on thwarting Russia and Iran in Syria as well as foiling Daesh’s attempts to return.
Washington’s adoption of an upfront policy for the first time is likely to produce new problems that did not exist before, including that the US will expect its allies to support its policy and restore old alliances. Moreover, stances toward the Syrian crisis will be classified and, later on, applied to major regional issues like dealing with Iran.
Turkey, which is a NATO member and historically a US ally, was trying to use the crisis for its own benefit, until the battle for Afrin brought it in to confrontation with Iran, Russia and the Syrian regime. Thus, Turkey — as well as the rest of the region — will find that its options are narrowing by the day. Will this lead it to ally itself to Washington or Moscow in Syria?
The US has abandoned last year’s policy of cooperating with Russia in Syria, and adopted a new policy based on confronting Russia through regional agents and allies. However, Moscow had preceded Washington in adopting such a policy by using Iran and its Lebanese, Iraqi, and other militias to fight on the ground.
On the other hand, the US is using Kurdish-Syrian militias on the ground, along with remnants of the Free Syrian Army east of the Euphrates. The new US approach is based on thwarting the Russian-Iranian project in Syria, and foiling Daesh’s attempts to return after its defeat in Raqqa.
Fortunately for us in the region, policymakers in Washington have finally realized the danger associated with the dramatic transformations in Syria; and they are also against what Iran is doing in Iraq. Even if matters do not escalate to a military confrontation, the adoption of a policy of hostility is enough to raise the cost of war for the Iranian regime and make it unlikely it will control the region.
• Abdulrahman Al-Rashed is a veteran columnist. He is the former general manager of Al Arabiya news channel, and former editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat.