The primary shortcoming of U.S. policymakers since the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, has been a consistent inability to translate tactical and operational military successes into sustainable strategic political outcomes. This was objectively true for both former U.S. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama as evidenced by the long and tragic history of the continued conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq that has yielded wholly unsatisfying strategic outcomes. It remains to be seen if President Donald Trump and his senior officials can successfully reverse this trend. Doing so will require a long-term strategy that first establishes realistic and attainable objectives and then skillfully marshals all instruments of national power—military and non-military alike—to accomplish those goals.
This monograph examines the possibility of Egypt leading the Arab world again, and how that effort, if successful, will present opportunities and challenges for U.S. policy. At the present time, Egypt is not in a position to do so given its many domestic problems stemming from its turbulent politics since 2011 and the challenges facing its economy, which is currently experiencing high unemployment, weak tourism revenues because of terrorist incidents, and high rates of inflation as it implements an International Monetary Fund (IMF) economic reform package. However, Egypt has faced similar problems in the past and has recovered from them, enabling it to pursue an Arab leadership role. Hence, the United States should be prepared to deal with Egypt’s longstanding leadership quest, which this monograph argues will generally be a positive development for the United States in the region, though there will be some issues where the United States and Egypt will not see eye-to-eye. Given the intense Sunni-Shia conflicts in the region that are fed in large part by the rivalry between Saudi Arabia and Iran, having Egypt (a moderate Sunni Muslim country not pushing a religious agenda) in a leadership role in the region will help to dampen this sectarian strife. Moreover, because of its large and competent military, Egypt can be a source of stability and reassurance when other Arab states, particularly the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, are feeling vulnerable because of outside threats. Furthermore, Egypt can play a moderating influence in the region by being a bulwark against the radical extremist ideologies of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), al-Qaeda, and like-minded groups. The United States can help Egypt succeed by continuing military assistance, offering counterterrorism training of whole units, and resuming military exercises like Bright Star. This monograph also argues for a boost in U.S. economic assistance to past levels—given Egypt’s strategic importance—to help it cope with economic reform measures even under U.S. budgetary woes. Although the United States and Egypt will continue to differ on the nature of Egypt’s domestic politics, particularly with regard to human rights and dissent and recognizing that the United States has limited influence in this regard, Washington should use whatever leverage it has to persuade the Egyptian Government to be less repressive, because an easing of authoritarian policies and practices will help Egyptian stability in the long run.
This monograph examines the new Arab regional order that has emerged over the past few years and analyzes opportunities and challenges for U.S. strategic interests. The regional order encompasses: 1) an anti-Islamist grouping of countries that came about largely in reaction to Muslim Brotherhood rule in Egypt in 2012-2013; and, 2) an anti-Shia grouping which solidified in the aftermath of the Houthi takeover over much of Yemen, but which includes other areas of Sunni-Shia conflict in the region. Saudi Arabia is a leader in both orders and has important allies in them, like Egypt. Although the United States has extensive ties to a number of the countries in these alliances, and has assisted many of them in recent conflicts, it has tried to avoid getting involved in the larger Sunni-Shia conflict (having equities with both Sunni and Shia countries) and does not share the views of many secularists in the region that all Islamist groups pose a threat to regional stability. The monograph argues that U.S. policymakers should continue to promote inclusivity of all nonviolent political groups in the political systems of these countries, regardless of whether these groups are secularist or Islamist, with the understanding that there are limits to U.S. influence. In addition, U.S. policymakers should continue to avoid taking sides as much as possible in Sunni-Shia conflicts and should use its influence in the area to try to dampen such conflicts, as they are a main source of instability in the region and help extremist groups, like ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and al-Qaeda, exploit these conflicts. The monograph also recommends that the U.S. Army should assist countries of the region in counter-terrorism training and operations where possible, but Army officers should avoid being drawn into discussions about the Islamist-secularist and Sunni-Shia disputes.
This monograph focuses on the geopolitical and economic drivers for the renewed Moroccan interest in West Africa and examines how Morocco is conducting its foreign and security policy in a variety of Western African countries. It highlights Morocco’s contribution to counterextremism in West Africa and Sahel regions through the provision of training to the imams and preachers of African Mosques. It concludes with recommendations on how Morocco could be supported by the U.S. defense community to mutual benefit, tackling some of the key security challenges that are facing these sub-regions of Africa. Given the common interest between the United States and Morocco in preserving peace and stability in Morocco’s surrounding region, Rabat’s growing assertiveness in West Africa presents an opportunity, not a challenge, for U.S. interests. Morocco’s geographic location, political stability, and deep and long-standing cultural ties with sub-Saharan states provide a potential bridgehead for U.S. efforts to promote its security objectives in Africa. At a time of severe defense budget constraints, bilateral cooperation with reliable and moderate regional partners can provide an effective multiplier and augment the U.S. reach into otherwise challenging regions.
Arab military cooperation has been, over the past century, mostly a history of failures. Whether the Arab League’s Defence Pact or the Middle East Command, ideas for collective security in the region all failed to move beyond the state of declarations. Most of the time, Arab states were either at open war or in cold peace. Since the Arab Spring has toppled not only regimes but also brought insecurity, new momentum has come into regional security. From joint exercises to the announcement of first an Arab and more recently an Islamic military alliance, states begin to move further into cooperation. As this Letort Paper shows, several obstacles will have to be overcome before collective security in the Middle East and North Africa can become a reality.