Trump’s Syria Policy is About Containing Iran

The United States has taken the fight to ISIS and other jihadists who have wrought chaos in Syria and Iraq since 2013. In the nine months since Donald Trump took the oath of office, U.S. forces have done a fine job of rolling back ISIS in Iraq. Now the focus is Syria, where for four years civil war has raged between the autocratic, Iranian- and Russian backed Assad regime and a multiplicity of actors, almost all of whom are some species of jihadi.

Unlike Barack Obama, whose policy in Syria was some ill-defined brand of regime change, Trump has taken the more sensible approach of supporting our Kurdish and Sunni Arab partners, who have the most to lose if the jihadists prevail.  

But America’s challenges do not end with the destruction of ISIS or the end of Syria’s civil war. America’s woes in the Middle East are of a larger, geopolitical nature.

At the heart of the geopolitical struggle is this: since the Iraq War in 2003 destroyed the precarious balance of power in the region, the predominantly Shiite Muslim Iran believes it can become the regional hegemon. Iran is using the large Shiite diaspora that extends from Afghanistan to the Levant (known as the Shiite Crescent) as a means of expanding its influence in the wider region.

So far, Iran’s plan is working brilliantly.

The Syrian civil war gave the Iranians the perfect opening to bolster their presence in the Levant. Even as they (along with the Russians) took up arms against ISIS and other jihadist networks, the Iranians’ true goal was to control the ancient caravan routes that cut through Syria, linking Iraq with Lebanon. Controlling these ancient strategic highways would allow for Iran to have direct access to their Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon. The Iranians would also gain influence in the Mediterranean, as well as have a greater ability to threaten their mortal rival, Israel.

At the same time, Iran’s nuclear arsenal could curb America’s engagement in the region, thereby isolating Iran’s long-time rivals in the Sunni Arab states. This would then allow for the Russians to step in as friends of the new regional hegemon, and gain unprecedented influence in the resource-rich Mideast. In other words, controlling these ancient caravan routes would solidify the rising Iranian empire and expand Russian power at America’s expense. Each one of Iran’s geopolitical objectives is at loggerheads with U.S. strategic goals.

This takes us to the fight shaping up over the eastern Syrian province known as Deir ez-Zor. Right now, the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a militia of Kurdish and Arab fighters, battling  Russian-backed Iranian and Syrian government forces for control over this geostrategically vital region.

The cynics insist that America’s race against the Russo-Iranian alliance for control over Deir ez-Zor is “about oil.” Not so. Yes,  Deir ez-Zor has a great deal of oil in the sands beneath it, but the U.S. objective is geopolitical: we want to stop Iran from expanding its control over the Shia Crescent. Denying Iran control over the ancient caravan routes is vital to keeping Iran contained and preventing Iranian hegemony in the region.

Trump’s antipathy to Iran’s nuclear weapons program is only one part of a larger containment strategy.

While the Russians, the Iranians, and Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad are apoplectic over the U.S.  push for control in Deir ez-Zor, the fact is without preventing the growth of Iranian influence—partly by denying Iran physical links with its allies in Syria and Lebanon—the Trump goal of containing Iran will ultimately fail. Failure to contain Iran will result in destruction of the American geostrategic position in the Mideast. This would not only threaten Israel, but it would also undermine our efforts to defeat jihadist terror networks, and it could lead to a potential nuclear conflict between Iran and the Saudi Arabian-led Sunni coalition of states that would develop nuclear arms under such dire geopolitical conditions. So, yes, this is what an “America First” foreign policy looks like.

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About Brandon J. Weichert

Brandon J. Weichert is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report. He is a contributing editor at American Greatness and a contributor at Asia Times . He is the author of Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower (Republic Book Publishers). His second book, The Shadow War: Iran's Quest for Supremacy (Republic Book Publishers) is due in Fall of 2022. Weichert is an educator who travels the country speaking to military and business audiences about space, geopolitics, technology, and the future of war. He can be followed via Twitter: @WeTheBrandon.

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6 responses to “Trump’s Syria Policy is About Containing Iran”

  1. North Korea’s Syrian Connection:
    Yet another reason why one way or another it needs to be disarmed.

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  2. Sept 18, 2017 / 5:13 P.M. EDT: [from Pres. Trump’s bilaterals with PM Netanyahu and Pres Macron on Iran, Syria:
    “Sept 18, 2017 Press Briefing by Press Secretary Sarah Sanders and State Department Director of Policy Planning Brian Hook, Hilton Midtown New York, New York 5:13 P.M. EDT

    “…on Iran, we are taking a comprehensive approach to the range of Iran activities — its threat network, its ballistic missile
    systems, its nuclear program. And that is something which I think
    is very much needed after the Iran deal.

    I think the Iran deal [JCPOA] became a proxy for an Iran policy, and we are trying to take a
    comprehensive approach and bringing in all of Iran’s activities — terrorism, nukes, missiles, regional instability — so that we’re not substituting the Iran deal for an Iran policy.

    And one of the things that’s common to both the meetings with the French and the Israelis is this deep and abiding concern about Iran’s activities in Syria, and broadly — whether it’s in Yemen or Syria, Iraq,Lebanon.

    One of the things they discussed was not allowing the “Lebanization” of Syria, and – this is in the meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

    But it was common to both meetings, discussing the kind of work ahead to address Iran’s work around ballistic missiles, the nuclear program, and its range of destabilizing activities in the region. …’”

    Read the entire presser, which took thirty minutes, and the readouts from these four bi-laterals:
    with PM of Israel Netanyahu:
    with President of France Macron:
    Trump’s bi-lateral with Macron took place, as scheduled, on Monday, Sept. 18, which is why Brian Hook was talking about it in the past tense at 5:13 pm.

    with King Abdullah II of Jordan on Sept. 20:

    with PM of the UK Therese May on Sept. 21:

    NOTE the date and time of this Reuters report: September 20, 2017 / 7:22 PM / 2 days ago “Iran regional behavior means nuclear deal not enough: Macron” by John Irish
    [So difficult to contain echoes of echoes of echoes, on Iran/Hezbollah land bridge through Syria, that Trump asked Macron to give it a try…]

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  3. he’s playing right into iran by letting russia and assad squash all opposition and by leaving open the roads through iraq right to syria and lebanon

    his policy is bs

    • He has no choice. The Russian air force and special forces, along with the Syrian Arab Army and the various Iranian and Shia factions face little opposition in any part of Syria — unless Americans are willing to put troops on the ground to assist the SDF (Kurds) in an offensive initiative to retake lost territory in eastern Syria.

      It would be putting it mildly to say that Americans want no further part in middle eastern wars.

      And if the US fails to take the lead in such an initiative, who else will?

      Face facts. Iran — with a huge assist from Russia — will have their Shia crescent, however terrorized it might be by Sunni factions in the decades to come.

      The days of American geopolitical influence in the middle east are fast fading.

      In the end (ironically perhaps) Russia will play peacemaker in the region, which will make them appear — not just theoretically but actually — to be a better geopolitical force for good than the US was ever able to be.

      The real question for Americans to ponder is “What made us think that perpetual military conflict was going to endear us to allies who were all too often at odds with each other?”