From Middle East Eye
Post-election comments on Middle East policy last week by President-elect Donald Trump and one his campaign advisers have provoked speculation about whether Trump will upend two main foreign policy lines of the Obama administration in the Middle East.
But the more decisive question about the future of US policy toward the region is whom Trump will pick for his national security team -- and especially whether he will nominate John Bolton to become secretary of state.
Bolton, one of the most notorious members of Dick Cheney's team plotting wars in the George W Bush administration, would certainly push for the effective nullification of the main political barrier to US confrontation with Iran: the 2015 multilateral nuclear deal.
Trump created a minor stir by giving an interview to the Wall Street Journal last Thursday in which he reiterated his criticism of the Obama administration's involvement in the war against Syria's Assad and supported cooperation with Russia against the Islamic State group.
And a Trump campaign foreign policy adviser once connected with an extremist sectarian Christian militia in Lebanon named Walid Phares suggested in an interview with BBC radio that Trump would demand that Iran "change [a] few issues" in the agreement and that "the agreement as it is right now... is not going to be accepted by a Trump administration."
The significance of that interview, however, is very unclear. Trump himself had avoided threatening such a move during the campaign, denouncing the nuclear agreement as "disastrous" but avoiding any pledge to renounce it as his Republican rivals Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio had done. In his speech to AIPAC, Trump thundered against the agreement but promised only to enforce it strictly and hold Iran "accountable."
Trump has consistently embraced the long-standing official US animosity toward Iran, but thus far he has given no indication that he intends to provoke an unnecessary crisis with Iran.
In any case, Trump's own views will only be the starting point for policymaking on Syria and Iran. His national security team will have the power to initiate policy proposals as well as effective veto power over Trump's foreign policy preferences.
That is why Trump's choices of nominations for the top positions on national security will certainly be the crucial factor in determining what policy lines ultimately emerge on those issues -- and why the real possibility of Bolton's nomination as secretary of state now represents the greatest threat to international peace and security.Obama's Afghanistan problem
Barack Obama became president with a firm intention to get US combat forces out of Iraq within 16 months as he had promised during the campaign. But in his very first meeting with Centcom Commander General David Petraeus, Secretary of Defence Robert M Gates and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen in late January 2009, Petraeus and his two allies pressed Obama to back down on his pledge, arguing that it wasn't realistic.
In the end, Obama accepted a scheme devised by the military and Pentagon officials under which combat brigades remained in Iraq, long after the August 2010 Obama deadline for their withdrawal with no reduction in combat capability. They were simply given additional tasks of advising and assisting Iraqi military units and renamed "advisory and assistance brigades."
Later in 2009, Obama's national security team, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, pushed for a major US military escalation in Afghanistan in 2009-2010. Obama didn't buy the arguments by Petraeus, Gates and Mullen for a huge increase in US troops in Afghanistan. He and Vice President Joe Biden argued that the implosion of Pakistan was a much bigger problem than Afghanistan and that there was no evidence of a threat that al-Qaeda would return to Afghanistan.
But the war coalition leaked a story to the press that the White House was ignoring a new intelligence assessment that the Afghan Taliban would invite al-Qaeda back into the country if they won the war.
In fact, the intelligence community had produced no such assessment, but the proponents of a big counterinsurgency effort in Afghanistan were demonstrating their power to use the media to raise the political cost to Obama of resisting their demand.