In his article Debating US Military Strategy in the Persian Gulf: What is the Way Forward?, published in RBPI (Vol. 61, n.1 – 2018), Eugenio Lilli investigates the extent to which distinct US military strategies have affected the stability of the Persian Gulf – historically a region of strategic importance to US national security. Should the US strategy toward the Gulf be one of offshore balancing or one of deep engagement? Understanding whether distinct US military strategies have increased Gulf stability or not is not only a matter of academic significance, it also provides intelligence to those responsible for designing future US strategies.
Despite its relevance, this debate lacks solid empirical ground, according to professor Lilli. To tackle this, his article presents a comprehensive and evidence based study of the longstanding role of the United States as the Persian Gulf’s security provider. Professor Lilli was interviewed by Victor Thives, member of the editorial team of RBPI, regarding his views on topics related to his work.
In your article you stress that beyond academic interest per se, your inquiry provides critical information to the policymakers involved in outlining future US grand strategies. That said, how do you assess the relationship between government and academia in the realm of foreign policy in the United States?
The relationship between academia and government in the United States is commonly described as a “revolving door” system, meaning that there is generally a regular movement of people from one area to the other and vice versa. That means that academics do have a say in the process of US foreign policy making. However, they are not the only voice in the debate, and not necessarily the most influential one.
You argue that “The formal dissolution of the Soviet Union in 1991 effectively eliminated a critical constraint to the ability of the United States to project its military power abroad”. In recent years we saw Moscow rising once again. To what extent does this ascent constrain the US ability to project its military power in the Gulf region?
The challenge represented by Russia today is not comparable to that represented by the Soviet Union during the Cold War. However, as we have been clearly reminded by recent events in the Syrian crisis, Moscow’s renewed activism in foreign policy has been a constraint on US policy options. That said I believe that Iran, rather than Russia, represents the biggest challenge to US foreign policy and interests in the Persian Gulf.
You mentioned that the new US administration would face crucial decisions regarding its future overseas posture and policies. With respect to the withdrawal of the US from the Iran nuclear deal (JCPOA), do you consider that was done mostly for the internal public, to fulfill campaign promises, or do you think the current administration really believed the deal made the Middle East less stable?
Understanding the foreign policy, including the Middle East policy, of the current US administration is puzzling to say the least. To be sure, there were strong anti-JCPOA forces even before Trump’s election both within the USA (i.e. US Congress) and beyond (i.e. Israel). Moreover, since the beginning Trump has been poised to undo many of the domestic and foreign policies of the Obama administration, the JCPOA being one among many. In other words, there could be many reasons that led to that decision. The real concern is that there seems to be no coherent alternative offered by Trump to the JCPOA.
One of the sections of your article points out that the military withdrawal from Iraq was part of the Obama administration’s larger policy of “pivoting” toward Asia. Do you consider this shift as being caused by a specific scenario or as trend that will prevail in the foreseeable future?
Contrary to the general knowledge, the so-called pivot to Asia began well before Obama’s election to the White House. In fact, it was already under way during the Bush administration. And since the Asia-Pacific will only increase in relevance in the future, US attention to the region will likely continue to increase as well. That does not necessarily mean that the United States will lose interest in the Persian Gulf. As many people have noticed, myself included, Obama’s pivot should be understood as focusing on the Asia-Pacific along with the Persian Gulf, and not instead of it.
Read the article
Lilli, Eugenio. (2018). Debating US Military Strategy in the Persian Gulf: What is the Way Forward?. Revista Brasileira de Política Internacional, 61(1), e002. Epub April 12, 2018.https://dx.doi.org/10.1590/0034-7329201800102
Eugenio Lilli – University College Dublin, Clinton Institute for American Studies (firstname.lastname@example.org);
Victor Thives is a senior undergraduate International Relations student at the University of Brasilia and member of the editorial team of RBPI.