WASHINGTON – The divide between American elites grows, with regard to difficult foreign policy decisions. Acting Secretary of Defense Patrick Shanahan was sent to Asia yesterday, may 28th, to “make an important political speech in the region.”
But increasing tensions with Iran threaten to destroy the Pentagon’s strategy aimed at “competing the great powers” and fighting with Russia and China, experts and officials in Washington said in an interview with Reuters.
In January 2018, the United States placed China and Russia at the center of a new national defense strategy, changing priorities after more than a decade and a half concentrating on fighting Islamic militants. On his first day as Acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan called on the US military to focus on “China, China, and China again,” Reuters notes. Shanahan’s comments seem to reflect a growing view among U.S elites, and the focus on Iran has shifted.
However, an aggravation in relations with Iran over the past month could weaken this focus of the United States on the PRC. On Friday, May 24, the United States announced the deployment of 1,500 troops in the Middle East, explaining that it was necessary to “strengthen the defense” of its allies against Iran. This deployment of additional forces is insignificant compared with almost 70 thousand US military, stationed in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and not enough to qualitatively change the strategy of the Pentagon. But in case of a prolonged escalation with Iran, the Trump administration may increase its deployment of forces, which means that it will be even more distracted from the focus on China.
“The best way to kill a new national defense strategy (USA) and its orientation to long-term competition and preparation for a possible conflict with China and Russia is to start a new war in the Middle East,” said Mara Karlin , a former Pentagon official who now works as an expert at the Brookings Institution.
The official representative of the US Department of Defense on condition of anonymity told Reuters that the leadership of the Pentagon is currently discussing the question of how a large-scale conflict with Iran could affect the concentration of American attention on China and Russia. According to him, the Pentagon hopes that “deterrence measures in the form of sending aircraft and ships to the Middle East region will be sufficient to prevent a major conflict with Iran.”
Recall, on May 24, US President Donald Trump decided to send an additional military contingent to the Middle East, which, in addition to 1.5 thousand personnel, includes Patriot anti-missile systems, reconnaissance aircraft and the necessary forces “to protect themselves.”
The representative of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the US Armed Forces, Vice Admiral Michael Gildey, said that out of 1.5 thousand troops, about 600 will be serviced by Patriot batteries. “In the coming weeks, we will send additional observation and reconnaissance equipment, as well as aviation and engineering units to protect our forces,” the vice-admiral added, noting that the forces will include airplanes and drones to track the Iranian cruise missiles.
After the administration of Donald Trump introduced an “oil embargo” against Iran, which prohibits Tehran’s traditional partners from buying its liquid hydrocarbon, the situation in the region is heating up every day. In addition to deploying the aircraft carrier Abraham Lincoln and other warships in the Middle East, the United States sent B-52 strategic bombers to the region. Mutual “terrorist confessions” of Washington and Tehran made their contribution to the aggravation of the situation a year after the US’s withdrawal from the multilateral agreement on the Iranian nuclear program. On April 8, the United States added the Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to its own list of foreign “terrorist organizations.” This was followed by a similar decision by Iran regarding the US Central Command (the Middle East is in its area of responsibility).