New threats by Iran against US troops in Iraq have prompted a very public surge of US forces to the Persian Gulf region. On Sunday evening, the White House and Pentagon announced that the USS. Abraham Lincoln carrier strike group, and a USAF bomber force would be moving into the Persian Gulf area immediately. The decision to expedite the movement of these forces came after new intelligence made the possibility of hostile action against US forces in the near future seem imminent. There’s also been concern about Iranian maritime activity in the Strait of Hormuz, and Persian Gulf over the weekend and it’s probable this concern also helped to prompt the US military movements. National Security Adviser John Bolton summarized the threats as “a number of troubling and escalatory indications and warnings.”
Additional reports from the region on Monday appear to indicate the current standoff between the United States and Iran could very well be escalating soon. Reports from Iranian state media have suggested that Tehran intends to announce a reduction in its compliance with the 2015 Nuclear Agreement. An announcement could come as early as Wednesday which, ironically enough, marks one-year anniversary of the American withdrawal from the nuclear deal. This particular detail makes Iran’s intentions questionable. Will Iran reduce its commitment to the nuclear deal, or is this move simply a response to the latest US moves?
Scrutiny will be fixed upon the Strait of Hormuz in the coming days as the already-jittery global markets watch for any signs that Iran could be moving to restrict movement through the strategically-important strait, or possibly close it entirely.
Disentangling the United States from Syria is proving to be far more difficult than President Trump has anticipated. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s snub of National Security Adviser John Bolton yesterday in Ankara serves as a warning of the difficulties that lay ahead. Bolton’s insistence that Turkey agree to safeguard the US-supported Kurdish militia in northern Syria before a US troop withdrawal begins struck a nerve with Erdogan. He refused to meet with Bolton following the remarks, claiming what Bolton proposed was in direct contradiction to the deal Erdogan and Trump agreed to in December. The Turkish president also made it clear he would prefer to communicate directly with Trump instead of through an emissary like Bolton. Until this issue is resolved to the satisfaction of all involved parties, the US troop withdrawal from Syria will likely be put on hold.
Trump is determined to pull US troops out of Syria quickly, and for good reason. Syria has no strategic value for the United States. Critics of the proposed withdrawal are quick to point to the notion that leaving Syria will embolden Iran and undercut US efforts to contain Iranian influence in the region. This is simply not true. The US has been very successful in containing and challenging Iran on multiple fronts across the Middle East. The same critics also argue that a US presence in Syria is needed to counter Russia’s expanding influence and power there. Again, not true. Syria has historically been a Russian ally and therefore Moscow regards the survival of Bashir al-Assad’s government as vital to its national interests.
The United States cannot say the same. Yes, there is a humanitarian disaster going on in Syria. However, after the debacle that post-Gaddafi Libya became, it’s unlikely that Washington will ever mix foreign policy, military action, and humanitarian goals together again. This particular combination has proved to be volatile, especially in the Middle East.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton will be visiting Moscow in the coming week to try and lay groundwork for a meeting between President Trump and Vladimir Putin next month. Trump will be in Europe then for a NATO summit in Brussels, and then a state visit to Great Britain. The proposed mini-summit of sorts between the two leaders is the latest attempt by the White House to build a friendlier relationship with Russia. Earlier this month at the G7 Summit in Quebec, Trump tried unsuccessfully to convince the other members to readmit Russia, which was suspended in 2014 following its annexation of Crimea. Relations between the US and Russia have been cold for quite some time, though there has been a large amount of backchannel discussion between the two nations over security concerns, namely Syria.
It is worth noting that there are no plans to include European leadership in a potential July talks. The exclusion of EU members, and NATO allies sends a blunt message to Europe about the reemergence of US leadership on the global stage, and the current state of relations between the United States and Europe. The Trump administration does not intend to be encumbered by European actions and interests, or be bound by a lack of consensus among its European allies. Right now, Washington and Europe have significant disagreements on a host of issues including security, trade, and immigration. There’s little chance an overall agreement could be reached right now on how to approach Russia.
Therefore, the United States sees fit to take the lead.
With less than thirty days remaining until the US-North Korea summit is scheduled to take place in Singapore, the first signs of trouble have appeared. North Korea’s statement expressing ‘disappointment’ with National Security Adviser John Bolton’s remarks over the weekend suggesting that North Korea’s potential denuclearization could follow the ‘Libya Model.’ Considering that Muammar Gaddafi’s gave up his nation’s nuclear program only to be killed by Western-backed rebels a few years later, it is easy to see why the North Koreans are a little disturbed by Bolton’s words. It is no secret that the North has long been wary of Bolton and his hawkish views. Vice-Foreign Minister Kim Kye-gwan. even admitted in the statement that his country finds Bolton ‘repugnant.’
Frustration with Bolton is not the only matter irritating North Korea. Max Thunder, a joint ROKAF-USAF military exercise currently underway have apparently displeased Pyongyang enough for it to cancel high-level talks with South Korea that had been scheduled for today. KCIA, North Korea’s state-run media outlet has stated the exercise could prevent the 12 June summit between President Trump and Kim Jong Un from taking place.
Washington is publicly projecting great confidence that the summit will take place. Behind the scenes, though, questions about North Korea’s candor regarding talks with the United States, and the eventual denuclearization of the Korean peninsula. Tuesday’s statements and actions suggest Pyongyang might be embracing tactics of the past to project its unwillingness to discuss at length the subject of denuclearization with Trump at the summit. Bolton’s remarks likely appear to be a suitable justification for North Korea to try and shift the focus of the summit away from its nuclear weapons and the future of the program.