Will Biden make the same mistakes in Iraq?
The hasty US withdrawal from Afghanistan has serious regional implications for Washington’s relations with a number of countries. While there is a need to address US diplomacy toward Afghanistan’s neighbors, such as Pakistan, Iran, China, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan, the most serious challenges to American interests in the region are presented by what the Biden administration will do in its relationship with Iraq, Syria and Turkey.
Iraq is the biggest test facing the US following Afghanistan. The question in Washington at the moment is will US President Joe Biden’s administration repeat in Iraq the same mistakes it made in Afghanistan? There is no official declaration of a new US policy toward Iraq yet. However, statements by senior officials indicate that the relationship between the Biden administration and the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Mustafa Al-Kadhimi is different than its relationship with the Afghan government of former President Ashraf Ghani.
The remaining US troops in Iraq will deal differently with the threat of terror groups, especially those that have ties with Iran and with Daesh, than their counterparts in Afghanistan did with the Taliban. Perhaps, the military mission will change from an “advisory role” to “expanded surveillance duties,” and could then evolve into “limited military operations.”
In addition, Washington must strengthen its bonds with the military establishments of key Arab countries. Biden in his speech blamed “a force of 300,000” soldiers in Afghanistan for its inability to coordinate with the US military and stop the militia from seizing the country.
The Pentagon must explain to any government with US troops stationed on its territory that any unexpected military incident will not overturn or undermine pre-planned operations.
The Biden administration will seek to boost its military presence in north Syria and pledge to keep supporting Syrian Democratic Forces. Most likely, it will advise them to reject any tactical or short-term solutions offered by the Syrian armed forces and its Russian allies seeking their surrender.
Critically, increased cooperation with Kurdish militias is inevitable if the US is to boost its military presence in both Iraq and Syria. One strategic consequence of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan will be the potential for strained relations with Turkey. The US may try to restrict Turkey’s ability to move its troops in north Syria.
Recently, the US condemned Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah over his comments that Israel must learn from America’s failure in Afghanistan and that the US is an unreliable ally. Ali Shamkhani, Iran’s Supreme National Security Council secretary, tweeted that “the fate of the US in Vietnam and Afghanistan will be the unchangeable fate of the occupying Zionist regime, too.”
Finally, the Pentagon must explain to any government with US troops stationed on its territory that any unexpected military incident will not overturn or undermine pre-planned operations. This means the US must have a coherent strategy on how to exit a certain region militarily, and how to maintain regional order and stability. There is still time for Biden to cement this urgent political and military plan, and ensure Washington’s allies continue to trust in his nation.
• Maria Maalouf is a Lebanese journalist, broadcaster, publisher and writer. She holds an MA in Political Sociology from the University of Lyon. Twitter: @bilarakib