Dr. Shehab Al Makahleh
On October 13, 2022, the US National Security Strategy was issued by American President Joe Biden’s administration. The strategy did not come with anything new to the Middle East. Comparing the current National Security Strategy to the strategies published by both the administrations of former American presidents Donald Trump and Barack Obama, the global strategic threats contained in the 2022 document appear closer to the National Security Document of the Trump administration published in 2017.
As for the section related to the strategic vision of the Middle East, it appears as an extension of the first National Security Strategy, published by Barack Obama’s administration in 2010, which includes a long-term vision, unlike that published in Obama’s second term in 2015, which reflected the failure of the “Arab Spring” and the return of American involvement in the fight against terrorism and radical groups.
The US National Security Strategy for the Middle East document focuses on de-escalation. The document pledges to strengthen partnerships and alliances and support diplomacy to reduce escalation, de-escalate tensions and reduce the risk of new conflicts in the Middle East. In order to achieve this purpose, the document pledges to abandon the policy of military engagement and change regimes by force.
The document cited what looks like a critical review of the policies of previous engagements in the Middle East, blaming those policies for the failure of the United States to capture appropriate opportunities for global priorities, stressing that previous policies were based on an “unrealistic belief in power and regime change to achieve sustainable results”.
However, despite this review regarding the failure of the policy of regime change, and although the document does not explicitly mention working to change the Iranian regime, it pledges to “stand by the Iranian people”, who “struggle for basic rights and dignity, which the regime in Tehran has denied.” a long time ago”, according to the document.
The new strategy indicates that the Washington has a “comparative advantage” in building partnerships, coalitions, and alliances in order to enhance deterrence and achieve long-term stability in the region, noting that the phrase “comparative advantage” is widely used in trade and economics. In this context, the document pledges to work on five principles, which are: strengthening partnerships, securing navigation in the Middle East waterways, reducing regional tensions, ensuring economic, political and security cooperation and integrations with Middle Eastern allies and finally promoting human rights, democracy and freedom of expression.
With regard to strengthening partnerships with partners, it has been noticed that the document abandoned the phrase “allies”. In regards to securing the security of waterways in the Middle East, including the Strait of Hormuz and Bab al-Mandab, the strategy does not tolerate efforts by any country to dominate another — or the region — through military reinforcements or incursions or threats, referring to Iran in various places.
The other important angle of the strategy was that the document retracts from using a threatening language asserting that “even when the United States works to deter threats to regional stability, we will work to reduce tensions, reduce escalation, and end conflicts, wherever possible through diplomacy”. The other important principle affirms the United States’ work on regional integration “through building political, economic, and security ties between and among the partners of the United States…with respect for the sovereignty of each country and its independent options”. The last important principle talks about the promotion of human rights in the world where many cases of imprisonment and torture of activists and journalists have been reported.
The most important part of the strategy was the strict commitment to Israel’s security. The document affirms “strict adherence to Israel’s security”, support for normalization and relations between “Israel” and the Arab countries including “Abraham Accord”, and “promoting the two-state solution” based on the 1967 borders, with “agreed swaps” between the two parties.
In general, the security document, constitutes the broad outlines of the US strategic vision at a specific point and time, and it changes according to changing circumstances, dangers and global challenges. The strategy outlines that the Middle East, though it has always been central to American strategic thinking, is on the verge of important developments related to the American vision for the next stage, which will balance between reducing American involvement in the interest of other regions and preserving American interests at the same time. This may require changing partnerships, searching for alternatives linked to the American assessment of Chinese and Russian strategic threats, and weighing the performance of “traditional” allies in the Middle East.
What is clear is that the language in the current security and strategy document has changed, reflecting a change in American perspective to the world and to the Middle East.