Iraq and US Strategy in the Gulf
September 20, 2011
During the coming months, the US must reshape its strategy and force posture relative to Iraq and the Gulf States. It must take account of its withdrawal of most of its forces from Iraq, and whether or not it can give real meaning to the US-Iraqi Strategic Framework Agreement. It must deal with steadily increasing strategic competition with Iran, it must restructure its post-Iraq War posture in the Southern Gulf and Turkey, and define new goals for strategic partnerships with the Gulf states and its advisory and arms sales activity. It must decide how to best contain Iran, and to work with regional friends and allies in doing so. In the process, it must also reshape its strategy for dealing with key states like Egypt, Jordan, Turkey and Yemen.
This strategy cannot simply be a military one or focus on national security. It must work with its friends and allies to deal with the impact of popular unrest that has already created a crisis in Bahrain, and which presents broad problems in the other Gulf states. It must deal with an explosive political and economic crisis in Yemen.
At the same time, the US must deal with political unrest and instability in Iran and the rest of Arab world -- particularly in Egypt and Jordan. The US must decide how to plan for the risk if some form of “axis” of Iranian influence develops that will potentially extend through Iraq and Syria to Lebanon, while also taking account of the fact that unrest in Iran and/or Syria could be a major strategic benefit to the US and greatly reduce the tensions in Lebanon.
The current crisis in Somalia, other parts of the Horn, and Yemen interact with problems in Egypt and the Sudan that create a new set of security needs in the Indian Ocean and Red Sea. The United States cannot focus on Iraq, Iran, and the Gulf alone. It must consider its broader strategic concerns in the UNCENTCOM area.
These issues include the rising tension over the Palestinian Authorities search for recognition as a state, and the full range of growing tensions between Israel, its Arab neighbors, and Turkey. It must do so in the context that the power projection capabilities of its traditional allies continue to drop, and this includes key partners in the region like Britain and France, while China is emerging as at least a critical economic presence.
This mix of challenges requires the US to decide on both how to deal with Iraq and how to restructure its entire force posture in the Gulf and Middle East, and Turkey as it largely withdraws -- or leaves Iraq. It also, however, requires an integrated civil-military effort that goes far beyond the military dimension. For what may well be the next half-decade, the US will have to deal with a new, uncertain, and constantly changing mix of regimes and regional politics. It will need a civil-military strategy geared towards uncertainty and change.
The Burke Chair at CSIS has developed a new report that focuses on Iraq, but examines all of these issues, current US plans for transition, and the need for the US to maintain a major diplomatic and security posture in Iraq – if this proves possible – as well as restructure its security relations with other Gulf states, and key partners like Turkey and Saudi Arabia.
This study is entitled Iraq and US Strategy In the Gulf: Shaping and Communicating US plans for the Future in a Time of Region-Wide Change and Instability, and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/Iraq_and_US_Strategy_in_the_Gulf_14.9.11.pdf. It should be noted that the analysis of Iraq goes far beyond US troop levels and examines the critical role of State in assuming the burden for training police and security forces, financing FMF, and helping Iraq to improve its economy and governance.
Other recent Burke Chair studies of Iraq and Gulf security include:
Iran’s Strategic Competition with the US and Arab States – Conventional,
Asymmetric, and Missile Capabilities. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/Iranian%20Strategic%20Competition%20pt.1%207.28.11.pdf
Iraq in Transition: A Status Report. It is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/110705_Iraq_Transition.pdf.
Iraq: Patterns of Violence, Casualty Trends and Emerging Security Threats, and is available on the CSIS web site at http://csis.org/files/publication/110209_Iraq-PattofViolence.pdf.