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What Trump and Clinton Said (and Didn't Say) About the Middle East

Sept. 29 2016

Analyzing the discussion of the region in Monday evening’s presidential debate—marked by the omission of any mention of Syria—Robert Satloff comments on the two candidates’ positions:

In terms of the fight against Islamic State (IS), both candidates replayed stock lines from stump speeches. Overall, Hillary Clinton’s paragraph on defeating the group was much more detailed than Donald Trump’s; it included support for Kurdish and Arab allies, a focus on targeting IS leadership, and a sequence of actions (liberate Mosul by the end of 2016, then focus on squeezing the group in Raqqa), all done with enhanced U.S. air support but not ground forces.

For his part, Trump did not go far beyond a commitment to massive military action against IS, falling back on his critique that the Obama administration permitted the group’s rise by precipitously withdrawing U.S. forces from Iraq and mishandling Libya. Neither candidate, however, addressed what most experts believe to be the most serious challenge—what to do the day after liberating IS-held territory so that it does not become the base for the next iteration of radical Sunni jihadists.

Clinton and Trump spent considerable time jousting over the wisdom of the Iran nuclear accord, including Trump’s remark that the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, remains displeased with the deal. However, the Republican candidate offered no specific alternative to the existing agreement, and the Democratic candidate offered no detailed suggestions [about how] to push back against Tehran’s success in taking advantage of the deal to extend Iranian influence throughout the region.

Read more at Washington Institute for Near East Policy

More about: Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, ISIS, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy, U.S. Presidential election

 

How the U.S. Can Strike at Iran without Risking War

In his testimony before Congress on Tuesday, Michael Doran urged the U.S. to pursue a policy of rolling back Iranian influence in the Middle East, and explained how this can be accomplished. (Video of the testimony, along with the full text, are available at the link below.)

The United States . . . has indirect ways of striking at Iran—ways that do not risk drawing the United States into a quagmire. The easiest of these is to support allies who are already in the fight. . . . In contrast to the United States, Israel is already engaged in military operations whose stated goal is to drive Iran from Syria. We should therefore ask ourselves what actions we might take to strengthen Israel’s hand. Militarily, these might include, on the passive end of the spectrum, positioning our forces so as to deter Russian counterattacks against Israel. On the [more active] end, they might include arming and training Syrian forces to engage in operations against Iran and its proxies—much as we armed the mujahedin in Afghanistan in the 1980s.

Diplomatically, the United States might associate itself much more directly with the red lines that Israel has announced regarding the Iranian presence in Syria. Israel has, for example, called for pushing Iran and its proxies away from its border on the Golan Heights. Who is prepared to say that Washington has done all in its power to demonstrate to Moscow that it fully supports this goal? In short, a policy of greater coordination with Jerusalem is both possible and desirable.

In Yemen, too, greater coordination with Saudi Arabia is worth pursuing. . . . In Lebanon and Iraq, conditions will not support a hard rollback policy. In these countries the goal should be to shift the policy away from a modus vivendi [with Iran] and in the direction of containment. In Iraq, the priority, of course, is the dismantling of the militia infrastructure that the Iranians have built. In Lebanon, [it should be] using sanctions to force the Lebanese banking sector to choose between doing business with Hizballah and Iran and doing business with the United States and its financial institutions. . . .

Iran will not take a coercive American policy sitting down. It will strike back—and it will do so cleverly. . . . It almost goes without saying that the United States should begin working with its allies now to develop contingency plans for countering the tactics [Tehran is likely to use]. I say “almost” because I know from experience in the White House that contingency planning is something we extol much more than we conduct. As obvious as these tactics [against us] are, they have often taken Western decision makers by surprise, and they have proved effective in wearing down Western resolve.

Read more at Hudson

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Syria, U.S. Foreign policy, Yemen