DC Insider Speaks with Barbara Slavin on Jordan's Growing Geostrategic Importance

Published July 15th, 2021 - 03:18 GMT
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US President Joe Biden meets with Jordan King Abdullah II in July, 2021 (AFP/FILE)
DC Insider spoke with Barbara Slavin, Director of the Future of Iran Initiative, on the US’ latest military move as it shifted its army basing from Qatar to Jordan in an attempt to hold some leverage over Iran.


Barbara Slavin | Authors | Macmillan

Barbara Slavin (Courtesy of Macmillan) 

“King Abdullah’s father was a genius and one of the truly great statesman of the 20th century… I don't know that any of his sons could possibly compete with his legacy. Jordan is a western-oriented country that has always had very close intelligence ties, in particular with the US, that has a peace treaty with Israel. Hence, this will be a boost that I would imagine maybe good for the Jordanian economy and so I think it's all good- I don't see any downside to it.”


What incentive would the US have to move this base, especially at a time in which Qatar is constantly being singled out?


“The US has just withdrawn all of its troops from Afghanistan so it no longer needs quite as many troops in the region or facilities to support the Afghanistan operation. It's my understanding that at least some of that logistical support was done out of Qatar so I would imagine that they are closing up some facilities there and that the remaining forces there can be moved out. I think that the other factor, frankly, is Iran… Qatar is very close and I believe that moving forces to Jordan makes them better protected against any potential problems with Iran, not that I imagine there will be but I think it's just prudent to move folks a little farther from harm’s way. I see it as part of the Biden strategy to scale back our military footprint in the Middle East.”


how does Biden's approach to foreign policy, especially with Iran, differ than that of Trump?


“Biden would like to get back into this nuclear deal so let's hope that's still feasible. I don't think that he wants to spend that much time worrying about Iran… I think he wants to put the nuclear program back in a box and just park this issue. If it's possible to talk to the Iranians about other matters, he will, but given the nature of the government that's coming in there- I don't think it's going to be possible for the US and Iran to reach any new understandings. It’s possible that Iran can achieve some level of detente with the Saudis but I don't think that the US is going to be a part of that and I don’t think that the U. should be part of that... I would actually like to see the US withdraw troops from Iraq and Syria as well… They're very exposed there to these Iran-backed militias and these tit-for-tat strikes that we've seen are not good and could escalate. At least for now, the US is pulling out of Afghanistan and some of the bases around the Persian Gulf and I think that’s a good idea.”


Is a return to the JCPOA in the cards with the Biden Administration after Trump withdrew from the agreement during his tainted presidency?


“Very much so; that's their express goal and right now… They’re just waiting for the Iranians to get their act together [after their presidential elections] and for the Iranian’s final offer. The US has already presented what it's willing to do in terms of sanctions. And so yes, it’s still a possibility [to return to the JCPOA] … I would've liked it to have happened earlier, but whether it takes place before or after this new government comes in there, I I’m hoping it’ll be sooner rather than later.”


How will this move benefit Washington in dealing with Iran more strategically and efficiently?


“Our forces will be farther away from Iran thus better protected and will also be under an Israeli umbrella, as well, since Israel is now part of CENTCOM. Jordan has always had a very strong security relationship with Israel so I think that this will be easier in many ways for the US.”


Does this decision happen to affect bilateral relations between the US and Qatar?


“No, I don't think so. Their relations are very strong and the US is keeping the big airbase- Al Udeid Air Base- that's not going anywhere so I don't think it affects relations with Qatar. However, I do think it does give a little bit of a boost to King Abdullah of Jordan whose had some problems lately and so it's a kind of a US vote of confidence in him and the stability of his government.”


Would you have seen this hat having to have it would you say would you have seen just having had happened we are within the Trump administration


“Maybe not... I think relations with Jordan were not good at all [during the Trump administration], primarily because Trump was so pro-Israeli to an extreme and that put Jordan in an awkward position. I am not sure that would've happened [under Trump] but it [could have been] possible. Trump did also want to get out of Afghanistan- Let’s remember that the negotiations with the Taliban and this agreement were reached under Trump- which would've meant, in any event, that the US would be moving forces around and out of the region.”


Could this move also have anything to do with pivoting from conflict in the Mena region to possibly competing with powerful near pier rivals like China possibly


“He’s not looking for foreign adventures. He'll do the minimum required. For example, if the Iranian militias hit Americans, then he'll zap back- that kind of thing- but he's not going to do anything major. As we can all see, we're out of Afghanistan before schedule which further proves that his focus is much more on the domestic side. The U.S. talks about wanting to be able to focus more on China but I just see Biden as someone who wants to really concentrate on the US and that means reducing our military footprint in areas like the Middle East. I don't think that he's looking for a confrontation with China either, but he may want to have more assets in the Pacific just as a kind of deterrent to the Chinese to prevent them from doing anything crazy, such as trying to invade Taiwan. I see him as very much domestically focused to the extent that he cares about foreign affairs but he’s very interested in shoring up the US alliance with Europe, working very closely with Europe to try to deal with the troublesome countries out there- whether they’re Iran or Russia or China. Either way, he's looking to help the US recover from COVID and have our economy back on its feet while trying to reduce the really nasty partisanship in our own country and I say, ‘good luck with that.’

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