Tillerson’s Middle East tour: messenger without a message

Tillerson is at the moment on a tour of a Middle East extra divided, extra lethal, extra harmful than it has been in a long time. Wars are raging in Syria, in Yemen, in Libya, in Egypt, and the potential for a mind-boggling array of different wars — small, medium and enormous, regional and international, looms darkly on the horizon. All this at a time when the US, as much as its neck within the trivialities of all of it, is shedding its grip.

The job of making an attempt to kind all this out has fallen to an oil govt with no diplomatic expertise main a State Division hemorrhaging skilled workers, and to the president’s 37-year-old son-in-law, Jared Kushner, a political neophyte well-versed within the murky world of Manhattan actual property, and never a lot else.

Tillerson’s swing via the area takes him to Egypt, Kuwait, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. And if there was any doubt about shrinking American affect within the area, this whirlwind tour is making it abundantly clear.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, left, meets Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry, in Cairo, Egypt.

His first cease, Egypt, underscored the questionable fruits of the budding bromance between Subject Marshall-turned-President Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi and President Trump. Tillerson’s host received a presidential election with a doubtful 97% of the vote in 2014, and can shortly run once more in one other election wherein he has detained or intimidated all significant challengers. Tillerson mumbled a few phrases about free and truthful elections whereas in Cairo, however was fast to endorse Egypt’s newest offensive towards Islamist insurgents within the Sinai and the Western Desert.

At a time when press freedom and civil liberties are in dramatic retreat in Egypt, he made it clear that the Trump administration’s precedence is the virtually 18-year-old and seemingly limitless conflict on terrorism.


Kuwaiti Foreign Minister Sheikh Sabah al-Khaled al-Sabah, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, EU Foreign Policy Chief Frederica Mogherini, Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman al-Thani, Afghan Foreign Minister Salahuddin Rabbani and Bahrain's Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed al-Khalifa pose with other officials for a group photo in Kuwait City.

Subsequent, Kuwait, the place he attended a regional summit on the reconstruction of Iraq after the defeat of ISIS. Baghdad estimates reconstruction will price $88 billion. Contributors managed to boost greater than $30 billion in pledges.

The US, to coin a phrase from the Obama administration, will probably be main from the rear, coughing up a $three billion line of credit score.

Tillerson took the chance to weigh in on the persevering with spat between Qatar on the one hand and a coalition of Arab states led by Saudi Arabia on the opposite. The Saudi-led bloc accuses Qatar of supporting terrorism and spreading subversion within the area, and final summer time imposed an embargo on the nation. Iran and Turkey rapidly sided with the Qataris, whereas the US despatched a barrage of combined indicators, with President Trump tweeting that the Qataris have been funding terror, whereas the US maintains, and plans to develop, its airbase simply outdoors the capital Doha, the most important US navy facility within the Arab world. Final summer time Tillerson tried, and failed, to mediate the dispute. His possibilities of success this time round are no higher.


Then the secretary flies to Amman, Jordan, the place he meets with King Abdullah II, nonetheless sad over President Trump’s determination to acknowledge Jerusalem because the Israeli capital. Tillerson, who reportedly opposed the transfer, will simply must suck it up. The Israel-Palestine file is in Kushner’s unsteady palms.

Jordan has lengthy been a trustworthy ally of america, but it surely’s an alliance that now comes with a excessive political price, particularly among the many majority of Jordanians who hint their roots again to historic Palestine. Within the days that adopted the Jerusalem declaration, the Jordanian authorities allowed giant and noisy protests within the hopes that Washington would possibly hear, however nobody listened.

Israeli forces confront Palestinian protesters in Jerusalem's Old City.

As for the Palestinians, they’ve made it clear, at the least to officers in Ramallah, that they’ve largely given up on the US taking part in the position of trustworthy dealer. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas flew to Moscow Monday within the hopes that President Vladimir Putin would possibly step in to fill the vacuum left by an American administration seen as probably the most pro-Israeli in historical past.


Tillerson will then make the transient flight to Beirut Thursday. As a part of the Trump administration’s try and counter Iran’s rising affect within the Middle East, he’s anticipated to induce Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri to distance himself from Hezbollah, Iran’s principal Lebanese ally. However Hezbollah is a part of Hariri’s coalition authorities. It performed a crucial position in crushing ISIS pockets in Lebanon side-by-side with the US-supported Lebanese military. And prefer it or not, Hezbollah is credited by many Lebanese throughout the political and sectarian spectrum with ensuring ISIS by no means gained a foothold right here. Pushing Hezbollah out of Lebanon’s delicate political equations threatens the sort of instability most Lebanese would reasonably do without.

A private anecdote: The opposite night time I sat in a West Beirut bar with a combined group of Christians and Muslims. “What do you consider Nasrallah?” a Christian lady requested me, referring to Hezbollah Secretary Basic Hassan Nasrallah. “I like him!” she exclaimed earlier than I may reply, elevating her glass of whiskey in salute.

“He is the designated driver of Lebanese politics,” chimed in one other on the desk.

Nasrallah’s position in calming the uneven waters of Lebanese politics was highlighted final November when Hariri all of the sudden resigned below what many consider was stress from Saudi Arabia, indignant over the position of Hezbollah in Hariri’s authorities and their perception that Iran, via Hezbollah, was manipulating Lebanese politics. Nasrallah made a collection of tv addresses through the tense days after the Hariri resignation, calling for calm. Many in Lebanon credit score Nasrallah’s stance with stopping a profound schism in Lebanon, maybe even heading off the outbreak of violence.

Lebanon is a sophisticated place. Does Tillerson, or his boss, perceive that?


His last vacation spot, and definitely his most tough, is Turkey. President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is furious over American assist for Kurdish fighters within the conflict towards ISIS in Syria. Turkey sees the Kurds there as an offshoot of the Kurdish Staff’ Occasion, the PKK, which has waged a separatist conflict towards the Turkish state since 1984.

Smoke is seen billowing from Afrin on January 31, 2018.

Turkey launched an offensive towards these Kurdish fighters, many armed and skilled by america, on January 20 round Afrin, a Kurdish space in Syria alongside the border with Turkey. The US and Turkey are each members of NATO, however their alliance is in tatters — certainly, near its final gasp.

“Ties with the US are at a very crucial level,” stated Turkish Overseas Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu Monday. “We’ll both repair these relations, or they’ll break utterly. There isn’t any different selection right here.”

Not on Tillerson’s itinerary, however very a lot on the middle of regional issues, is Syria. The previous 10 days have seen Syrian rebels shoot down a Russian warplane. American and Kurdish forces in Syria killed as many as 100 Syrian pro-government forces, together with a number of Russian contractors, within the jap a part of the nation. An Iranian drone was shot down over Israel and Syrian air defenses downed an Israeli F-16.

Tillerson faces prospect of 'Ottoman slap' amid Turkey tensions

By no means have so many alternative and antagonistic forces been concerned in a lot navy exercise in such a restricted geographical house.

The potential for catastrophic confrontation involving international and regional superpowers is big. Notably absent in all of that is an American position. After the Iranian drone incident, and the downing of the Israeli F-16 and the Israeli airstrikes on Syrian and Iranian targets that adopted, the US was AWOL. It may discuss to the Israelis, however not the Syrians, nor the Iranians. It was the Russians, in contact with all events concerned, who stepped in and staved off conflict.

In line with the Israeli every day Ha’aretz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with Russian President Vladimir Putin by cellphone as Israel ready for a large counterattack. Putin warned Netanyahu to not escalate hostilities, and Netanyahu complied. The article’s writer Amos Harel was blunt about what all of it meant: “The quiet after the Netanyahu-Putin name exhibits as soon as once more who’s the actual boss within the Middle East. Whereas america stays the area’s current absentee — searches are persevering with for a coherent American overseas coverage — Russia is dictating the way in which issues are going.”

And that about sums it up. Secretary of State Tillerson is, on the finish of the day, President Donald Trump’s messenger. However he is a messenger without a message.

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