As he announced, he removed 50 residual American forces in northern Syria on Wednesday. But this decision cannot be without implications, analysts agree. And some actors, including the Arab allies of Washington, are expected to receive effects from the Trump decision.
Frightening the Arab allies
Both Trump’s tone and the style of removing the remaining forces from Syria carried political and practical messages for the Arab rulers. The fact is that the sequence of events is in a way that the American leader, arranging a set of actions over the past few months and especially over the past 10 days, seems to once again set his eyes on the Saudi and Emirati petrodollars.
A couple of days before the White House announced north Syria troops pull-out, it declared the transfer of Air Force operation center from Al-Udaid Airbase in Qatar to Southern Carolina. The base is the location to a key operation center in West Asia for the US military, working as a launching pad for airstrikes against the Taliban group in Afghanistan and is an accommodation place of strategic bombers like B-52s. The center’s relocation is believed to have caused a sense of despair among the Persian Gulf Arab allies about enjoying continued American security and military protection. Another issue is the unclear process of withdrawal. Dmitry Peskov, Russian presidential spokesmen, on Thursday commented on the announcement saying that Washington has not informed Moscow of the move and that Russia was not sure the US removed its forces. The largely equivocal comments by Trump indicate that the president has plans to once again mooch off oil-wealthy Saudis and Emiratis.
In December last year, when Trump said he intended to remove his forces from Syria, the Washington Post reported that he asked the Saudi king to pay $4 billion if he wanted the Americans to stay in Syria. The trouble is even worse for the Arabs because the US is no longer in need of their oil as Washington expands its home oil production. So, even after Trump the US will not want to pay the heavy costs of presence in the region. This means that the Arabs, firstly, have to pay the costs of such a presence and, secondly, unavoidably make massive arms purchases to fill the security vacuum.
Trump playing the Arab states
So far, all of the regional tensions fueled by the Trump administration came at the cost of the Arab countries and for the good of the Israeli regime’s stability and interests. Bringing the Saudis and Emiratis into a complicated regional security game, Trump is close to checkmating Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The two states now neither have a way ahead nor a way back. Joining the American escalation firstly harmed them. Their ports and oil facilities were attacked. But none of the seven security pacts the US signed since the Cold War and called them alive pacts contain any mention of Washington’s security agreements with the Arab countries like Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Egypt.
The gullibility of the Arab strategists sends them toward thinking that in any war the Arab states start against other regional actors the US will take part. In the US Department of State viewpoint, the Arabs have so far waged several wars against the most important Washington ally Tel Aviv. So, historical as well as identity factors prevent any security pacts with the Israeli enemies.
Trump’s withdrawal from Syria is a strategic decision. Hazem Ayad, an author at the Al-Sabil newspaper of Jordan addressed Trump’s Syria move. He said what happened in northern Syria will happen in other parts of the region. “As we saw on September 29, the US Air Force Middle East command center was removed from Al-Udaid of Qatar to the US. Certainly, the US will exit from other places like Afghanistan. This is an issue the State and Defense Departments, as well as the adroit diplomats of this country, cannot cover up or justify.” But the question is why Trump is milking the Arab leaders while he is pulling out.
Although Saudi Arabia is one of the main losers of the US exit from Syria, the US, using rhetoric and propaganda, seeks to take the Saudi rulers from a state of frustration. Undermining the Saudi economy is complementary to the American pullout scenario, all to tip the scales of power to Tel Aviv’s favor. Damage to Saudi Arabia under the guise of the American-Saudi friendship is possible for the Americans. This is the main reason they push to keep the Saudis by them. On Thursday, the CENTCOM chief met Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. A similar meeting took place between them in March. The intention was to give the Saudis assurances about Washington’s commitment to their protection. Since March Riyadh got involved in the complicated US game, something imposed on the Saudis arms purchases of about $8 billion from the American weapons makers.
Trump opened his foreign his trips as a president with Saudi Arabia where he inked $110 billion worth of arms exports with Riyadh. Since his presidency beginning, Saudis and Emiratis saw a surge in their military costs. The massive military buying is while Saudi Arabia and the UAE both set visions for economic growth in the next decade. Digression from the economic vision is now evident. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, the Arab kingdom’s military spending from 2011 to 2015 jumped 63 percent. Its military spending in 2018 was reportedly $68 billion, something accounting for 8 percent of its gross domestic product. The UAE spent some $22 billion on its military, the highest in 25 years. Trump on more than one occasion complained about the US spending of $7 trillion on West Asia wars in which Saudis and Emiratis played as provokers. Trump policy now is to get back the money to the last cent.
Saudi Arabia last year said it was ready to send forces to Syria if the US pulls out. But the recent developments, mainly the Wednesday Turkish attack on Syria’s north that comes with apparent US green light, leave no doubt that Washington has given the role indirectly to Ankara. This is while the Saudis are already struggling in the Yemen quagmire and for years will not be able to affect the Syria equations.