Iran: “The U.S. Stands in its Own Way”
“The U.S. wants to withdraw from the Middle East and at the same time to demonstrate strength.” In a radio interview on Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), the German Marshall Fund’s Jan Techau discussed the juxtaposition of U.S. Middle East strategy and its impact on the region.
Interviewer: Did President Trump miscalculate the ordered attack on General Soleimani or was there a strategy behind it?
Jan Techau: I think Americans have been in a very difficult situation for some time. Basically, they have two conflicting strategies in the region. Trump actually wants to reduce American engagement in the world. He has thus pursued more passive policies, including in the Middle East. He has also withdrawn from Syria, where he essentially abandoned the Kurds and made concessions to Iran here and there. On the other hand, [President Trump] does not want Iran to fully expand in the region and therefore he had to carry out a kind of setting limits, to mark the territory lines. These two goals are incompatible.
Interviewer: Trump also said some time ago that he had dropped out of the nuclear deal because he can ‘do much better’. Does he achieve this now through military rather than economic pressure?
Jan Techau: No, I think it has always been, so to speak, pure announcement rhetoric. He did not have a plan for a better deal. Nor did he have a plan at all for the large-scale pressurization of Iran in the entire region. Iran is now active in Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen, and also in the Gaza Strip through its proxies, i.e. with its puppets. He wanted to exert pressure everywhere, so to speak. But he did not do that. He did not have such a plan. I think it is important for him to somehow manage to get this mix, if somehow possible – for him to also signal withdrawal: ‘We are getting out. We, America, are tired of war.’ This is what he promised to his electorate. But at the same time occasionally to demonstrate strength. This is not really a proper policy. It is not sustainable at all. But he is not really interested in sustainability.