By Wu Minwen
The US President Joe Biden is nominating Army Lt. Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, current commander of the Army’s 18th Airborne Corps, to be the next commander of US Central Command and promoted him to be four-star general, news came from Associated Press on January 6. Judging from the current situation, this was by no means a simple change of personnel arrangement, but indicated America’s adjustment of its Middle East strategy.
The US Central Command is the chief executor of America’s anti-terror war. The joint command organizations of the Gulf War, Afghanistan War and Iraqi War were all based on the US Central Command with its commander also serving as the joint forces commander. However, America was quickly bogged down a quagmire of war after some initial victories in its anti-terror activities.
In 2021, the “Kabul moment” of the hurried withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan, which was even more embarrassed and shameful than what happened in Saigon, Vietnam many years ago, drew severe criticism to the Biden administration from its allies and domestic oppositions. Even so, Biden, risking enormous political repercussions, completed the troops’ withdrawal in a show of his firm resolution to drag America out of the Middle East swamp and then turn from counterterrorism to major-country competition.
Yet the US troops won’t leave the Middle East for good for many reasons. The region is a so-called “hub” connecting different parts of the Eurasian continent in America’s global hegemony landscape. After it won the Cold War, the US waged the Gulf War, the Afghanistan War and the Iraqi War, all in the Middle East. The wars have done their part in countering terrorism, but they were waged – for the most part – because the US had to truly put the fruits of the Cold War in its own pocket.
The shift of America’s military strategic focus to the Indo-Pacific and the successful development of its shale oil and gas resources have made Middle East’s oil and gas less important, but giving up the region entirely remains unacceptable for America’s global strategy.
In the meantime, the anti-terror situation facing the US remains grave. The chaos of war is a hotbed for terrorism. The various armed groups currently active in Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, including terrorist and quasi-terrorist organizations, would threaten American military bases and embassies with bombs and UAVs from time to time.
Facts have proved beyond doubt that the US has ravaged the region with a more-than-20-year war in the name of counterterrorism, only to make the situation even worse. The full withdrawal of American troops now will not only bring a disaster to the regional countries and people, but may even implicate the US itself.
Since the US won’t pull out all its troops and will keep some kind of military presence in the Middle East, it will need a foothold. At present, it still controls a batch of strategic strongholds and independent and self-sustained military bases in Turkey, Israel, Kuwait, Qatar and Bahrain. Even if Obama, Trump and Biden have all pulled out some troops, there remain about 20,000 troops stationed in those countries and bases.
Graduating from West Point, Erik Kurilla served in and commanded the Afghanistan War and Iraqi War, and previously served as Chief of Staff of US Central Command. His experience and capabilities will guarantee him a smooth run at the Congress for the approval of the nomination.
It’s easy to see that the Pentagon’s future Middle East strategy will be pulling troops from some less-important areas, consolidating strategic pivots and key bases, and maintaining a regional force with strategic capabilities. Under the command of an experienced commander familiar with the regional situation, the force will, on the one hand, continue carrying out anti-terror operations, deterring regional rivals, and quickly responding to emergencies. On the other hand, it will staunchly support regional allies, counter Russia’s regional influence, and curb the possible expansion of Iran, so as to protect America’s strategic interests in the Middle East.
(The author is from the College of Information and Communication, National University of Defense Technology)
Editor's note: This article is originally published on zqb.cyol.com, and is translated from Chinese into English and edited by the China Military Online. The information, ideas or opinions appearing in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of eng.chinamil.com.cn.