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Defense Secretary Austin in Middle East to deliver message of steadfast US support

As published by the Middle East Institute

By Mick Mulroy
Non-Resident Senior Fellow and Co-Director of the Yemen Steering Initiative

  • Defense Secretary Austin’s multi-day trip to the Middle East aims to reassure local partners of Washington’s continued regional commitment.
  • Austin must deliver a message of steadfastness in the battle against ISIS, resoluteness in the face of the threat from Iran, as well as understanding of the region’s centrality to global security.

Although much of the U.S. national security establishment is focused on the war in Ukraine and the potential for one exploding in the Asia-Pacific, Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin’s multi-day (March 5-9) trip to Jordan, Egypt, and Israel aims to reassure local partners of Washington’s continued commitment to the Middle East region. The United States has the ability and interest to fully engage in every area of the world, including the Middle East.

And Secretary Austin is the right person to deliver the message that the U.S. will be involved in the region for the foreseeable future and that we value the relationships there for the benefit of all. He was the former commanding general for U.S. Central Command; thus, he has extensive knowledge of the issues and personal relationships. They respect him and will listen to what he has to say.

And they need to. It appears that Iran used last year’s negotiations on possibly reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) as a cover while it made further progress on its nuclear weapons ambitions. If the world wakes up tomorrow to Iran announcing that it has produced weapons-grade uranium, weaponized it, and achieved the ability to deliver it against targets in the region and beyond, global attention will shift immediately back to the Middle East.

It will also be important for the defense secretary to reinforce what the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Mark Milley, recently proclaimed, after visiting Syria: that the United States remains committed to the final defeat of ISIS. Through Austin, Washington needs to express to the government of Iraq and to the leadership of the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) that we greatly value their partnership in ending the so-called ISIS “caliphate” and to ensure it never returns. Our maintained presence in Iraq not only facilitates this mission, it also helps offset Iran’s mostly malign influence in the region.

The world is as interconnected as it’s ever been, and increasingly so. Therefore, while the Middle East is important to the United States in its own right, the region is also critical for its influence on all other areas of the world, especially in the energy sector. Washington needs to plan to stay permanently engaged, and our partners there need to know that.

Follow on Twitter: @MickMulroy