Speech
Speech

Manama Dialogue Fifth Plenary U.S. Policy and Alliance Relations in the Middle East

Nov. 23, 2019
Prepared Remarks of Under Secretary of Defense for Policy John C. Rood

Good Afternoon. Dr. Chipman, thank you for the kind introduction, and for your long-standing friendship to the U.S. Department of Defense.

And of course, this gathering would not have been possible without the vision and leadership of King Hamad and Crown Prince Salman, who in 2004, first welcomed IISS to Manama for the very first ''Gulf Dialogue.''

The Kingdom certainly predicted the value that this event would bring to the international community in a rapidly-changing security environment.

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During the late Emir of Bahrain's 1983 visit to the White House, His Highness Sheikh Issa bin Salman and President Ronald Reagan discussed the then-nascent Gulf Cooperation Council to show the significance of partnership and regional cooperation in promoting stability and dealing with shared threats in the region.

And these partnerships are nothing new to the United States.

As early as 1790, just after the United States was founded, Oman received the U.S. ship, the Boston Rambler, into port.  And in 1840, the Sultan's envoy sailed to New York, becoming the first Arab diplomat to be accredited to the United States.

Day in and day out, the U.S. Department of Defense leads by example by engaging with our partners in the region.

In World War II, Bahrain opened up its ports to American sailors and airmen fighting in Europe, and in 1945, American President Franklin Delano Roosevelt hosted Saudi King Abdul Aziz aboard a U.S. Navy destroyer in the Suez Canal for our first governmental meeting with the Saudis.

And throughout the 1950s, we concluded our earliest Mutual Defense Assistance Agreements with Egypt, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Since then, we have cultivated over 250 defense agreements with our friends here in the region, which complement the eight significant bases we operate in the CENTCOM AOR.

Of note, Bahrain graciously welcomed the U.S. Navy's CENTCOM headquarters in 1995, and we have enjoyed a strong partnership ever since.

Both then and now, partnership in the face of adversity has allowed the U.S. and our partners to overcome threats and address instability. Therefore it is only fitting that that the U.S. National Defense Strategy is founded on advancing partnerships around the globe.

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This region, in particular, inherently understands what the United States has known since 1790: that a stable world requires a stable Middle East.

When left unchecked, aggressive regimes and malign actors cause instability, and threaten not only individual nations, but also the rules-based international order. 

Since 1945, this order has both fostered and underpinned global economic growth, stability, and peaceful dialogue.  But we must never take it for granted.

As Secretary Esper said last month, ''There is no inherent permanence to this system.'' Like-minded nations must work to preserve and protect it against aggressive actors that prioritize malign desires and goals at the expense of this rules-based international order. 

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Today, we encounter challenges not unlike those faced in the decades since 1945. 

Conventional and unconventional aggression in this region threaten the rules-based order, and seek to threaten the global economy and break down regional security. 

We seek to counter these trends by fulfilling the words of a much-admired U.S. Secretary of Defense and State, George Marshall who, in the wake of World War II, declared that the ''…the only way human beings win a war is to prevent it.''

For the United States, the role that we play as a partner is critical.  For the Defense Department, this means working with regional and global partners to identify ''efficient and effective means'' to advance shared objectives, recognizing that building partner capacity is a journey, not a specific destination.

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Now I'd like to spend a few moments on three key challenges facing the United States and our partners in the Middle East.

First, the fight to defeat DAESH – or ISIS. 

The United States has rallied together 81 nations for the Defeat-ISIS Coalition, and fought, successfully, in close partnership with the Iraqi Security Forces and the Syrian Democratic Forces.

The coalition freed 100% of ISIS-held territory.  It liberated 7.7 million people who lived under the brutal rule of ISIS.  And, at the hands of U.S. Special Operations Forces, it took down ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, and days later, one of his top deputies.

This global coalition reflects the partnerships the U.S. spearheads, and exemplifies how international collaboration can stabilize the region.

Recently, President Trump reaffirmed that the enduring defeat of ISIS remains a core priority for the U.S. military. Together with our Coalition partners, we will continue to inflict maximum damage on the remnants of ISIS, including denying ISIS access to oil fields for financial gain. Toward that end, the United States will retain a force in northeast Syria, and we will maintain our presence at At-Tanf Garrision along Syria's border with Jordan.

In Iraq, the United States is committed to building the capacity of the Iraqi Security forces to ensure they are well-equipped to defend against terrorist and other destabilizing threats that pose a long-term threat to Iraq and the region. 

U.S. forces have been training Iraqi forces to counter ISIS since 2015, and in the last quarter of the year alone, the U.S.-led Coalition expects to have trained 15,000 members of the Iraqi Security Forces.

We have built on our progress by transitioning to a ''train the trainer'' approach, so that Iraqis can pass on their learned expertise to future generations of Iraqi forces.  In addition, we support NATO Mission Iraq's nascent efforts to reform the Iraqi security sector through targeted defense institution building.

Even as we eliminate ISIS's so-called caliphate, the United States and our partners must acknowledge a different kind of instability, the one coming from Iran – the second challenge I will touch on this afternoon. 

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Iran has escalated its aggression in the region since Secretary Mattis stood on this same stage last year to condemn Tehran's malign actions.

In the last six months alone, Iran has sought to disrupt the freedom of navigation and the global economy, and destabilize its neighbors through direct attacks and through its proxies in Yemen, Syria, Lebanon, and Iraq.

The United States remains focused on an economic and diplomatic maximum pressure campaign that has continued to achieve its objectives since 2018.

Despite its leadership's bluster to the contrary, the heavy economic toll on Tehran is undeniable.

The International Monetary Fund has assessed that Iran’s economy will contract by 9.5% in the coming year, while Iran has already seen the inflation rate grow to between 31% and 35%, has lost 60% of its currency's value against the dollar, and has been forced to cut 28% of its defense budget, thereby cutting 17% of its funding to the IRGC – no doubt affecting the operations of its regional proxies.

At the same time, President Trump has made clear that the United States stands ready to meet the Iranians at the negotiating table.

Unfortunately, with this May’s attacks on tankers transiting the Strait of Hormuz, and Tehran's attack on ARAMCO oil facilities in Saudi Arabia in September, Iran has made clear its intent to continue a pattern of aggressive and malign behavior that is destabilizing. 

These attacks are not merely a regional or U.S. problem – they are a threat to global security and the global economy, necessitating an international response. 

The United States has met this call to succeed by internationalizing the response through the International Maritime Security Construct or IMSC, and supports the regional Integrated Air and Missile Defense effort led by Saudi Arabia. 

Headquartered here in Manama, the IMSC has sought to deter malign activity, and promote maritime security by ensuring the freedom of navigation and free flow of commerce throughout the Arabian Gulf, the Strait of Hormuz, the Bab el-Mandeb Strait, and the Gulf of Oman. And as our coalition diversifies – from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Bahrain, to the UK, Albania and Australia – it becomes easier to maintain stability.

As an additional effort to bring stability to the skies and to counter Iran's demonstrable threat of ballistic missiles, Secretary of Defense Esper announced the deployment of U.S. forces, such as bombers, airborne intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance capabilities, maritime patrol aircraft, cruisers, and the Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier group, including destroyers and fighter aircraft squadrons.

Since May 2019, the deployment of approximately 14,000 additional U.S. forces seeks to deter further Iranian aggression and provide the U.S. with a formidable array of capabilities to defend against, and if necessary, respond forcefully to Iranian aggression. 

As former President FDR has said, ''Peace, like war, can succeed only where there is a will to enforce it, and where there is available power to enforce it.''

These U.S. deployments augment the considerable capabilities of our partners, with whom we have been working closely to provide the basis for a networked, layered regional defense.

Tehran and its proxies have demonstrated both the capability and the intent to use their missile arsenal as a tool of regional coercion. The THAAD battery and the three Patriot batteries that we have been deploying will also counter Tehran and its proxies' attempts to wield their missile arsenal as a tool of regional coercion.

As President Trump has clearly stated, the United States does not seek war with Iran.  Yet, I would also remind Iran’s leaders that they should not mistake the restraint the United States has shown to be a lack of will to respond forcefully to aggression.

We are dedicated to ensuring that our partners have the capabilities to address threats such as piracy in their territorial waters, as evidenced by the counter-piracy task force that Bahrain commanded last year.

And we seek to ensure they have the training and equipment necessary to counter terrorist threats to their sovereignty, and the systems necessary to track and defeat UAV or UAS incursions into their airspace – an increasing worldwide concern.

We encourage our partners to take responsibility for their security – and America’s longstanding investment in security cooperation is emblematic of this.  Between 2015 and 2019 alone, the United States invested approximately $74 million in the training of 3,200 personnel working in national security, including military and civilians, throughout the region.

U.S. arms bolster unrivaled global coalitions, and our products remain the most advanced and trusted military technology on the market.  Over the last five years, U.S. Foreign Military Sales have totaled approximately $132 billion for the CENTCOM area of responsibility – demonstrative of our commitment to partner capabilities.                                          

Here today, General McKenzie can attest to how consistently we engage with our partners – the CENTCOM Commander engages with roughly 180 key leaders in one year alone.

More broadly, over the course of the year, we participate in a staggering number –  over 40 in this region alone – exercises with dozens of participating partners. Earlier this month, for example, we concluded the annual IMX naval exercise that brought together 47 Nations, 6 International Organizations, 5000 Personnel, 40 Vessels, 34 ''visit, board, search and seizure'' teams, 19 Explosive Ordnance Disposal Teams, and 17 Aircraft.

As Winston Churchill once quipped, ''One always measures friendships by how they show up in bad weather.''

If the last six months have shown anything, it's that U.S. forces are showing up in greater and greater numbers in the region as the weather has become stormier. 

The United States does not profess to be perfect or to get things right all the time, but our partners know what we stand for, you know our values, and you know that you can count on us now and in the future. 

I would also add, that over the decades, America's adversaries – whether they were Saddam Hussein's regime, Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda, or Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi and his ISIS followers – have seen what the U.S. stands for. They have seen our values in action, and they know that America will always be with our partners and allies.

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In this context, it is worthwhile to draw a contrast with the opportunistic behavior of some external actors that we are seeing here in the Middle East.

As our partners pursue opportunities for external trade and investment in their economies and infrastructure, the United States encourages them to consider the risks and track record of states such as Russia and China. We encourage them to consider their assistance to the murderous Assad regime in Syria and the regime in Tehran that intently pursues malign activities throughout the region.  And we encourage the region to consider with clear eyes the predatory economic model that China is promoting as it pursues new projects.

''No foreign policy, no matter how ingenious, has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none,'' Henry Kissinger said.

World War II made abundantly clear that while few men can do it alone, certainly few nations can carry the burden of global security alone.

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In conclusion, I will leave you with our vision of the Middle East – one that is stable and prosperous, one that is not dominated by any malign power or group, and that is rooted in the rules-based international order.

Accordingly, the United States is continuing to enhance our partnerships, including through an integrated Gulf Cooperation Council.  And going forward, the United States will work closely with each of you, our partners in the Middle East, to continue to make this vision of stability and peace a reality.

Thank you very much.