Why is the U.S. Removing Military Assets from the Gulf? [Video]

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AT8Dg7t4crs

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U.s president joe biden is reportedly removing military assassins from the gulf
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thus even as washington still considers iran a threat in the region is this a shift in
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military strategy and what does it mean for security in this volatile
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area this is inside story [Music] hello welcome to the program i'm hashim
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mahal u.s president joe biden has ordered the pentagon to remove some military assassin forces from the gulf
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thus according to a report by the wall street journal at least three patriot anti-missile
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batteries have reportedly been withdrawn including one from a base in saudi arabia biden has pledged to recalibrate
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u.s saudi arabia since taking office in january including freezing the sale of some weapons riyadh uses in the war in
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yemen but his administration also says it does not want to destroy
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the relationship it says it will still continue to help the kingdom defend itself
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against increasing attacks from yemen and iraq saudi officials have not commented on
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this while the americans say the decision was taken to meet military needs
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elsewhere we'll bring in our panel shortly to discuss this further but first
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let's take a closer look at the u.s military presence in the gulf as of late last year there were about 50
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000 american troops across the region that's down from about 90 000 of the height of the tensions
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between donald trump's administration and iran in 2019. in october that year the u.s deployed
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nearly 3 000 troops to saudi arabia but now with the possible removal of the patriot anti-missile batteries and
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permanent aircraft carriers up to several thousand military personnel
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could also leave soon let's bring in our guests in washington dc douglas olivand a retired army
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officer and senior fellow with the future of war project at new america
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in london andreas craig assistant professor in the defense studies department at
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king's college london he's also co-author of surrogate warfare the transformation of war
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in the 21st century also in washington hussein ibish a senior resident scholar at the arab gulf states institute in
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washington welcome to you all douglas is the us with thinking military positioning in
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the middle east or is it just a simple act of reorganizing ministry assets so i think there's three different
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things going on here one is a simple matter of military necessity the number of patriots and to
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a lesser extent aircraft carriers that have been put in the gulf is simply
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unsustainable even if we wanted to retain that kind of presence it's simply not sustainable to surge
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that level of assets for that long i think second this is a message to the region that the united states
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is rethinking its military posture and that the region is no longer the united states priority
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and i think interestingly and more subtly internal to the u.s government this is a message from the
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white house to the pentagon to central command to those who do middle east policy
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that the united states government is giving a pushback signal inside the government to those who do
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military uh to those who do middle east policy that again this is no longer the
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priority all right andreas for many this could be an indication that uh biden is delivering on an election
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campaign promise he made which is about the need to rethink the way the administration
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should be dealing with saudi arabia well yes i mean there is it's a very much a tightrope
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walk that by the administration is doing here because on the one hand they obviously promised that they
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would you know kind of rethink and recalibrate the relationship with the crown prince mohammed salman and trying
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to put some distance between uh the administration and the crown prince and obviously making a clear
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break from uh what happened previously between trump and mbs especially with the uh khashoggi
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report coming out but at the same time obviously the baby administration as douglas
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rightly said you know the united saudi arabia remains a very important strategic partner of the
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united states so you know you have to strike a balance and i think that's what biden is trying to do
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the message that was sent last week already that the u.s administration would only support defensive
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uh support for the saudi military to ensure that they cannot use them of any material
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support offensively in the war in yemen again is part of that but obviously now withdrawing what are
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essentially defensive uh weapons and weapons that are used for deterrence
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against iran i think sends the wrong message at the wrong time hussein is yemen one of the main reasons
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why the americans are rethinking their military presence and particularly the support for saudi arabia because they
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have biden himself has been critical during the campaign of the
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uh of the war in yemen yes but this is not a manifestation of that okay everything my colleagues have said
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is exactly right and the word iran finally came up at the very
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end of of my colleagues last comment but to me and i agree with everything douglas said
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about internal and external messages and all of that's absolutely correct but i think the
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biggest um aspect uh that is of us policy that's being reflected here
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is the desire to reduce tensions with iran yes there's an overall um intention to draw down from
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the middle east to redirect to great power conflict with china yes there was an unsustainable
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surge in 2019 at the the last six months of 2019 and into 2020 uh against ir uh you know but why was
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there a surge and that's being drawn down now well it was precisely because
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of arising tensions with iran that was the result of the clash between maximum pressure
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and maximum resistance from iran and i think the administration is pushing very hard
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to move away from that posture of confrontation with iran so i think other u.s policy
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towards saudi arabia have reflected more the desire of biden and other democrats to draw a new
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uh relationship with saudi arabia okay or recalibrate based on yemen this i think ultimately has to do with
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posture towards iran douglas uh hussein spoke about the iranian
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angle in this particular move and this is the problem i think from a saudi perspective and from
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many leaders in this part of the world trump came in and he said you know what obama messed up a big deal
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in the gulf region and that emboldened the iranians i have to show them an aggressive push
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biden comes in and says i need to show some sense of overture towards the iranians
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the saudis will definitely say you know what this is the wrong message to send at this particular
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time because it just ultimately will further embolden iran certainly that's the saudi message uh i
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totally agree with what uh again both of my colleagues here on the program have said
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this is about iran and partially that's the internal messaging i was talking about central command and
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again the pentagon offices that manage the middle east have been seen as the iran hawks and so i think this is
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a message from the white house to the iran the you know the central location
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of the iran hawks inside the united states government uh that this is no longer uh the
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intention of the white house to keep up this level of tension although as we all know they're kind of struggling to find
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a politically acceptable way to downplay that tension andreas could it also be a realization
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among the top strategists in the in the u.s administration that is about time to downsize the presence
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of the us ministry in the middle east because realities on the ground have completely changed so why should we
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be broke down in this part of the world forever i think they're they're on this kind of
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path of uh there's some sort of path dependency that goes back to the obama administration uh where the u.s
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has said you know we we are now delegating uh the burden of conflict of the middle
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east to our partners in the middle east and that also means help to self-help that also means that saudi arabia has to
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take care of its own security its own defense uh military aid will be provided to do
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that and obviously the saudi military when there is one branch that is good in the saudi military and actually
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operational and effective is actually the air defense ballistic defense uh units of the saudi armed
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forces which have been trained and supported by the us military um and at the same time it's about you
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know burden-sharing and meaning that the u.s will no longer carry the burden for defense of the gulf and that's the
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message that's been sent to uh partners in the gulf all throughout the obama administration but
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also kind of through the trump administration despite some rhetoric uh if you look at action on the
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ground it meant uh the united states no longer look at the middle east as
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as strategically uh most as the strategically most important region of operations and that means local
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partners have to adopt more of that burden hussein but this is the problem with the
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strategic review of forced placements around the world this is something that the americans did in the past
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but they had to to backtrack and send even fur more troops into the region particularly in 2019
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with iran with iran yeah that i mean that can easily happen again look the united states is a bit
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overstretched right globally and so there's been an intention i would argue going back to
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the second george w bush term to draw back from the middle east and every president
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obama in two terms and trump in one term and now biden wants to redirect from the middle east
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in general and the gulf in particular and pivot towards great power competition with china which
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is absolutely right in theory the problem is that uh the gulf region
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is the beating uh heart of the global economy and the south and east asian economies that are at the
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heart of great power competition so if you pivot to asia you
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pull the gulf with you in tow right in a certain sense and you can always back away entirely and leave a vacuum
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or open the door for further chinese encroachment but that carries its own costs
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the other thing is that there's a downside for the united states to burden sharing it's great
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except that yemen is kind of exhibit a and what burden sharing can look like they say well you guys take care of it
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the saudis go ahead and intervene in yemen and now the united states doesn't like the way that looks and i mean i
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think for very good reasons but the point is there's a mixed message here which is you do it no no don't do
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it your way do it our way but you do it it it ultimately
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uh doesn't fit together very well and i think a balance still has yet to be struck here okay
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douglas one of the key components of military positioning for decades was basically the presence of military
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bases that's where you would send troops equipment weapons bracing for what could happen
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next could that also become obsolete in a way or another in the near future because
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when you say that you are pulling out withdrawing one of the questions that you have to bear
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in mind what shall i do with bases well you bring up a very good point
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we've all been talking about the obsolescence of our strategic assumptions
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uh you know all these you know conventional forces are really good at deterring conventional threats
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but there really aren't any in the middle east anymore it's hard to think of two
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armies internal the middle east that might clash with each other you know the threats that come from iran
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are non-conventional it's their proxy forces it's their missiles um and potentially their nuclear forces none of
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which respond very well to an aircraft carrier uh so it's time to have some serious
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rethinking about both managing our presence in the gulf and our competition in the gulf i
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mean we just saw in the last week that china is moving very forcefully
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into the gulf but they're not doing it with military presence you can't counter a china-iran uh trade agreement with
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another aircraft carrier so we're going to have to have a lot more creative thought as to
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how the united states manages its presence and conducts its strategy in the middle
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east region andreas the problem here is that when you
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withdraw or when you recalibrate you give the people the impression that you're living a world in
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order and moving to another more chaotic world but you look at this part of the world
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it's still the same set of challenges and problems isis is still there syria is still having
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problems yemen is still another issue libya is still another issue you're talking about
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well that needs to be put into order before moving forward well to be honest the middle east is
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probably in a greater state of instability than it has been over the last two or three decades
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uh but beyond that i think the us has already gone into a new phase of engagement in the region
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and that's one of what i call surrogate warfare in my book which you know this is how the iranians do it
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delegate to local surrogates let them fight on your behalf and the us responds by
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saying we delegate to local partners and local non-state actors to fight on our behalf
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and rightly as douglas said an aircraft carrier doesn't have anything uh any kind of weight in that sort of
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surrogate confrontation but then at the same time there's the americans are saying you know they want to push
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back against china and part of that great power game uh the issue is as that good already
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doug has already touched upon the issue is the chinese actually struck some very strategic deals with partners in the
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region first and foremost the the deal with the iranians which is a 25-year
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uh strategic relationship based on up to 400 billion dollars of investments from china into
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into iran they struck a deal with the uh with saudi arabia where it's about investments into agenda 2030 again
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billions of dollars of investment and they struck a deal with the uae which is about uh you know
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creating a vaccine within within the uae that again you know it increases the foothold of
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china but the foothold that china is increasingly building in the region is not one that's based on the military
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domain it's a whole of government approach and again that's where i think the
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americans are lacking the americans don't understand how to do a whole of government approach
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in the same way that the chinese do hussein if you suddenly decide that this is about time for me to consider for
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example china to be the long-term security challenge for the united states of america
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this is something that will definitely have to have some implications on the way the americans
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have to reorganize themselves and build up their presence in different parts of the world
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i mean no question and everything my two colleagues have said is exactly right but
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there there is one exception um to the asymmetrical threat pattern uh that douglas has described which is
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maritime security in the gulf there's a big dispute among american strategic thinkers right now
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about whether the fifth fleet and the permanent stationing of large naval
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forces based in bahrain in the waters of the gulf is necessary to maintain maritime security uh in the
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gulf waters itself the incredibly crucial economically crucial waters of the gulf
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and to keep the strait of hormones open whether you think you need that kind of presence or not
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somebody is going to have to uh create a security structure that ensures the free flow of commerce
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through the strait of hormuz and an orderly system in the maritime waters of the gulf right now it's a
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combination of ad hoc understandings backed up by the presence of the fifth fleet
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if you want to shift away from the traditional model you will have to figure out a
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sustainable long-term modus vending to ensure maritime security in the in the gulf
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waters otherwise the u.s i think is naval presence going to be necessary to
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continue douglas if we are to shift to wave the americans have to shift away from that
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model that has been prevailing for quite some time in this part of the world could it be an indication that perhaps
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the arctic the pacific and the asia could be the next battlefields where the americans will have to
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fight for the supremacy i don't think battlefield is quite the right word but certainly the united
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states is going to be competing all kinds of places with the chinese and again my colleagues have
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more or less sum this correctly you know we don't the united states is not configured for this
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every chinese aid and development worker sees him or herself as the vanguard for larger chinese business
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i don't think anybody in usaid thinks that way but they need to start thinking that way if we're serious about this
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whole of government approach i'm going to differ slightly with ibish on the presence of the fifth fleet
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i think the united states is still thinking as a energy consumer and not as an energy producer
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look texas is competing with markets in asia with is competing with saudi arabia for
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markets in asia to export oil um and in some ways the fifth lead is underwriting the
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geopolitical risk of buying saudi arabian oil i'm not sure if we really start thinking
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strategically that that's going to make sense particularly for texans andreas well
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that's the argument i was i was referring to go ahead go ahead go ahead yeah no i was
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just saying that's precisely the argument that i was referring to that many people are making
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andreas biden made this quite clear that he will definitely need to be build ties with with nato and we're
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talking about nato we're talking about russia at the same time because that's where the western thinking has been
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focusing for quite some time which is the need to contain the russian buildup could this be an
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indication that in the near future we will be seeing the americans dealing with two
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key players here russia on one hand china on the other
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i don't see any of that engagement happening uh when it comes to when it comes to russia acquiring the
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country i think it's one of confrontation but again russia doesn't feature i mean when you speak in europe
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obviously europeans and nato partners in europe constantly talk about russia not so much about china i think there's
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a huge divergence there between how the threat perception of china in in europe is a different one than the
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united states and when it comes to russia there's a different representation
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in the united states than there is in europe so i think as is europe is more confrontation towards russia
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the u.s is more confrontational when it comes to china and i think there's a huge divergence
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uh within nato of how to deal with china in in this uh during this period you know because
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there are a lot of european partners native partners as well who are opening up towards china
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uh becoming part of the one wrote one belt initiative selling out uh very strategic assets to china and
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there is very little that the united states can do about it so the competition is about an alternative
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so i'm not saying that you know china is substituting the us but it's supplementing and that in
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itself could be a long-term threat hussein this is one of the problems with shifting the burden of
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defending territories particularly overseas you have two options here either you
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start training those troops like in the case of saudi arabia or selling them more advanced weapons to
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be able to defend their own territory the caveat here is some of those weapons could end up being used the wrong way
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and this is the dilemma yeah and in fact the yemen war already shows that it's not being used
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necessarily in the wrong way but from the point of view of many americans uh in in in the wrong way not
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necessarily for the wrong purpose but in in a way that's counterproductive and and ineffective and even in
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at times morally indefensible right so at the same time if you're really going to shift to burden sharing you're going
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to have to accept more of that than you want and striking the balance is very difficult
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i do think it's important to say that the biden administration is working on they've got this tiger
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team going this ad hoc group of defense experts to look
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into more sales training and technology transfer to help the saudis defend themselves
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the the line between offensive and defensive in the military is very very blurry
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douglas we keep talking about armies of as if they were entities disconnected from this part of
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the world when you look at our modern life challenges pandemics and climate change are perhaps
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the biggest challenges that we are facing don't you see that this could be the
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moment to rethink the very notion of armies in their substance in their form
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in their identity and in their mission well certainly and i think in some ways we we already
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see that um you know as i alluded to earlier it's it's really hard to picture a conventional war in
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the middle east today you know it's it's very hard to imagine iraq picking up an invading kuwait again
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um it's almost impossible to imagine syria or egypt trying to launch a ground attack to invade israel
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those are just not things that are very thinkable in the region for a host of reasons
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peace accords lack of capability the instability inside the country but nonetheless
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it's more or less unthinkable and so the security challenges are very very different uh the one thing
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i do want to respond to is you know as we build up these saudi and
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other gulf states saudi emirati etc military capabilities we have to reason that the we have to realize that iran
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sees its unconventional capabilities its missiles its support of proxy forces as its counter to those capabilities so
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as we move into a place where we start to imagine
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negotiating with the iranians about their missile program about their support for proxies
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what are the gulf states going to be willing to come to the table and negotiate with to give up
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indeed and one thing we know about states is they don't unilaterally disarm andreas if we are to move forward into
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the future it seems that with artificial intelligence we won't be needing hundreds of
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thousands of troops and aircraft carriers anymore in the near future it will depend on a larger
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extent on whether and what kind of smart weapons you will have absolutely so that's my whole point
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about if you look at gray zone operations that are taking place everything
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any sort of competition at the moment in the middle east as everywhere else is in the gray zone and you know the
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synergies that china is building are not just in the domain of trade and economy but also in information
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technology share sharing and synergies particularly between uae and china
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the integration is around information technology so already china has a kind of pro or is providing the uae
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with capability that you know the americans are not sharing with the uae and and these kind of synergies will be
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more important moving forward again in a time when the us is entirely focused on on conventional military
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gentlemen we'll have to leave it there douglas olivet andreas craig husseini [ __ ] i really
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appreciate your contribution and your time thank you and thank you for watching
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you can see the program again any time by visiting our website aljazeera.com for further discussion
00:23:41
go to our facebook page that's facebook.com forward slash aj inside story
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you can also join the conversation on twitter our handle is at aj inside story for me hashim the entire
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team here in doha bye for now you

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