What have U.S. troops been doing in Jordan?
July 12th, 2013
09:56 AM ET

What have U.S. troops been doing in Jordan?

By David Schenker, Special to CNN

Editor’s note: David Schenker is director of the Program on Arab Politics at the Washington Institute. The views expressed are his own.

Weeks ago, fearing a reprise of the deadly attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Washington reportedly stationed hundreds of Marines to Sicily in the event they were required to protect the U.S. Embassy in Cairo. But these soldiers aren’t the only U.S. assets in the region guarding against contingencies.

In late June, thousands of U.S. service members wrapped up a 14-day annual multilateral military training exercise in Jordan known as “Eager Lion.” At King Abdullah’s request, 900 of these American soldiers, a squadron of F-16s, and a Patriot Missile Battery, have – according to President Obama – remained behind to support “the security of Jordan,” a state increasingly threatened by spillover from the war in neighboring Syria. And should reinforcements be required, the Marine amphibious assault ship, the USS Kearsarge, is steaming off the coast of Aqaba.

While King Abdullah is no doubt pleased with the demonstration of U.S. commitment to Jordan’s stability, not everyone is applauding the deployment. Not surprisingly, Moscow – which supports Syria’s Assad regime – has said U.S. soldiers in the Kingdom “doesn’t help.” Of more concern, however, is that many Jordanians themselves apparently oppose the presence of U.S. troops on Jordanian soil. Indeed, on April 22, 87 Jordanians of tribal origin – a cohort traditionally considered the monarch’s leading supporters – penned an open letter to the King condemning his decision and labeling U.S. troops on the ground as “a legitimate target for all honorable Jordanians.”

Today, Jordan is home to nearly 600,000 Syrian refugees – nearly 10 percent of the Kingdom’s population – and faces a severe economic crisis that has prompted cuts to a broad range of food and energy subsidies. Over the past two years, the Kingdom has experienced sustained protests focused on the stagnant economy and the widespread perception of officially-sanctioned corruption.

At present, it’s unclear how widespread the anti-U.S. troop sentiment is, but if it deepens and expands, the deployment of American soldiers in Jordan could become yet another problem for an increasingly embattled King Abdullah.

In addition to opposing U.S. troops on the ground, the April letter highlighted what appears to be a growing local concern that the Jordanian army may be deployed to Syria. After all, as the note points out, “Our first and last enemy is Israel.” Echoing a similar statement issued by the Jordanian Muslim Brotherhood that month, the letter also rejected the prospect that Jordanian territory be used by “foreign forces” to attack “Arab and Islamic lands.”

Opposition to the U.S. presence and to a potential Jordanian military intervention in Syria is not limited to just the Kingdom’s Islamists. One of Jordan’s most prominent secular political parties, the National Front for Reform, for example, has weighed in against the deployment and called for non-interference in the conflict. But perhaps the most credible group to inveigh against the basing has been the National Committee of Retired Military Officers, an organization comprised of both tribal leaders and former high ranking servicemen.

In June, the Retired Officers sent their own open letter to King Abdullah that touched on a long list of grievances, ranging from Royal corruption to the marginalization of tribes in the Kingdom. The letter also warned against “dependence on foreigners” for Jordan’s defense. Instead of basing U.S. soldiers and equipment, the group advised that King Abdullah should follow the “perfect example” of his late father King Hussein during the 1991 war in Iraq, when the Kingdom remained neutral.

More recently, Ali Habashneh, the retired general who heads the Officers’ organization described the establishment of the U.S. military base as “a black day” that marked “the return of colonialism” to Jordan.

Amman appears to be taking the complaints seriously. On June 20, Chairman of the Jordanian military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff General Mashal al Zaben held a press conference to assure Jordanians that the American soldiers and military assets were simply there to “help Jordan defend itself” and that their presence would not compromise the Kingdom’s sovereignty. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour is denying reports that the CIA has been training Syrian rebels in Jordan since 2012.

Notwithstanding Amman’s efforts to limit popular dissent about American boots on the ground, letters of opposition and public protests over the U.S. deployment are likely to continue. That’s because even as Jordanians largely support the rebels in Syria and hope for a quick end to the war next door, only a small minority of the Kingdom’s residents – 12 percent according to a 2012 Pew Poll – view the United States favorably. Alas, based on this enduring unpopularity and the open-ended deployment, U.S. troops will remain a persistent irritant to locals.

Spillover from the deterioration in Syria increasingly threatens the Kingdom. To be sure, the high profile nature of the U.S. troop deployment was intended as a message to the al-Assad regime. And in a worst case scenario, U.S. soldiers in Jordan can help the Kingdom cope with chemical weapons consequence management. Yet the American GIs in Jordan are not cost free for King Abdullah: the deployment will join a long list of ongoing complaints the King has to manage.

Given the stakes, dispatching military personnel and assets to the Kingdom was the right call. But several hundred U.S. soldiers will not insulate Jordan from its most significant threats. Jordanian stability is a casualty of the Obama Administration’s vacillation on Syria. If Washington wants to shore up King Abdullah and secure the realm, it will do everything possible to hasten the departure of Syria’s al-Assad regime.

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Topics: Middle East

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soundoff (28 Responses)
  1. peacefulpothead13

    ok here's an idea...if we don't want our embassies attacked then why don't we pull out of countries where we are unwanted...

    July 12, 2013 at 1:06 pm | Reply
    • Chris H

      Do you have any idea what an embassy is for?

      July 12, 2013 at 1:15 pm | Reply
      • peacefulpothead13

        yes for peaceful and political purposes but some of these countries don't want u there....take a look at what happened in Libya. We bombed the hell out of them, installed an American bank and put a U.S embassy in there and then the Benghazi incident occurred...

        July 12, 2013 at 1:20 pm |
      • ccsroscoe@gmail.com

        It's a holding tank for spies.

        August 3, 2013 at 9:53 am |
  2. Vic

    Jordan has always been a sell out to the british and recently to US when it comes to Arab causes. They never apposed Israeli occupation seriously, but pretended to. Go back to the 1973 war and see what they did. Nothing!. Which allowed the Israeli forces to focus on Syria. Jordan's government only worries about its monarchy and that is it.I was laughing when King Abdula was giving democracy advice to Assad and the guy himself inherited his position. He and his wife used to vacation with assad and his wife and next day he says he should resign. Jordan always went to the strong side and never to the just side.

    July 12, 2013 at 2:35 pm | Reply
  3. denverboy1

    When is this Nation going to Understand..when we deploy our Armed forces to a Nation..The Inhabitants of that country see America as Never leaving..We have become this kind of Go to Natioin for Problems..Let The U.A.E. deploy to Jordan and the like. America is viewed like the Black Death in the Middle East...No one wants us there and the King of Jordan should know this already..It's not huge secret..Were just not liked..because we use War as a means to further our Profit base from a Military Industrial point of view while oppresing the local populations on the pretense that were are searching for terrorist...Which over there could in fact be anyone.. So our Mission is impossible from the start..No matter which Nation we put boots in...We Just Dont Learn...ever..Why cant the Saudi's and the UAE mind there own store...We should if we must be there get CASH up front for doing the work.. Our military is not supported by the TAX PAYERS DOLLAR..For Jordan

    July 12, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Reply
  4. outspoken

    Jordan wil be toasted if it got too much involved in Syria.

    July 12, 2013 at 9:42 pm | Reply
  5. Jame

    Freed Zakaria is that token black/sort of middle eastern but not really guy – who gives a crap they are all brown anyways; his role is to convince Americans that the pit of hell they are headed towards is actually quite comfortable, Give them assurances that their ass backward view of the world is quite legitimate. And anybody against is actually the AQ type.

    July 12, 2013 at 11:37 pm | Reply
  6. abou noor

    Another win for western Christianity (we have nothing against Christianity in general only those who have united with the Jews, which goes against all common sense if the jews are responsible for the death of prophet Jesus) and the killers of woman an children Jews of the illegitimate state od Israel, I have to handed it to you this maybe some of your best work. For 4 years its was all about what a ruthless dictator Assad and his father was, how he killed 40,000 civilians in cold blood in the city of Hama in 1982 and how he kicked around his people ever since, but iit wasn't for you to change him its up to the people of Syria to decide that has been you talk all long. And when the people finally revolted over the imprisonment and torture of small school children you cheered it on, you sent your embassydors and politicians to demonstration in Syria assuring the Syrians that they will get the help they needed to get rid of they tyrant of the century, f.... Nato was talking about a no fly zone and military intervention so that people began to take arms against they're fellow countrymen and now we have a country that wont be put back together for ages. Good work America good work Western Europe, congratulation Israel

    July 13, 2013 at 6:20 am | Reply
    • Hello NSA

      Islam has no problem with the Jews, Muslims revere all Jewish prophets as their own, the problem is limited to politics and Israeli policies, I am a Muslim and have no problem with any Jew, I consider them as family if they consider me one too. Please don't spread hatred and certainly do not speak for all Muslims if you must indulge in hate.

      July 13, 2013 at 9:15 pm | Reply
    • Johan

      The Jews were not responsible for the death of Prophet Jesus rather the Romans were.

      July 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm | Reply
  7. Hello NSA

    Jordanian monarchs along with the Saudis have a long and disgraceful history of abdicating their nations security to the US, funny thing is the US would not hesitate to mow down Jordan in an instant if it came to choosing between it and Israel, very interesting.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:11 pm | Reply
  8. Hello NSA

    As everyone can see, the US is completely fine in supporting a dictator, so long as he is pro US. The stench of hypocrisy from Obama is unbearable.....ughhh!!!

    Stop supporting scoundrels and dictators, when will the US ever learn. Start with the head of the snake – KSA Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

    July 13, 2013 at 9:13 pm | Reply
    • marc

      the problem the american policy is not learning from their mistakes look what is going now they closing the embassy because ALKAEDA they turn around and they support them in SYRIA why ther is two kind of terrorists EVERY BODY IN THE MOSLEM WORLD LOVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLES BUT NOT THE POLIY stop helping these killers in syria because if they win the middle east will be onfire and religious war I HOPE MR OBAMA READ THIS ARTICLE and itell mr obama ther is no good alkaeda they are all abunch of killers

      August 9, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
    • marc

      the problem the american policy is not learning from their mistakes look what is going now they closing the embassy because ALKAEDA they turn around and they support them in SYRIA why ther is two kind of terrorists EVERY BODY IN THE MOSLEM WORLD LOVE THE AMERICAN PEOPLES BUT NOT THE POLIY stop helping these killers in syria because if they win the middle east will be onfire and religious war I HOPE MR OBAMA READ THIS ARTICLE and itell mr obama ther is no good alkaeda they are all abunch of killersi think ther is a mistake THAT THE FIRST TIME I COMENT

      August 9, 2013 at 12:43 pm | Reply
  9. Tahir

    The US troops are there to tell the people that they do not get involved in any interfering activities and it is just a propaganda that US interfere in other countries.

    July 14, 2013 at 7:22 am | Reply
  10. Vietvet1968

    Arab and Muslim countries are so backward it is ridiculus. It was the king of Jordan who asked for military help. It was Libya, Tunsia, Yemen, and Egypt who asked for military assisstence and aid. What the hell is wrong with you people. I agree that US military presence should be limited. I also agree that another Benghazi will never happen again.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:13 pm | Reply
    • Ekram

      Do you really want to know what is wrong with these Arab and Muslim people for hating America? Because all those countries you mentioned in your post is and was run by dictators/kings/army thugs and all supported by America......money and weapons which they used to kill these same Arab and Muslim people you are complaining about! I hope you found the answer!

      July 15, 2013 at 4:30 am | Reply
  11. thelastindependent

    You know, you can't make everyone happy. No matter what decision we make, right or wrong, someone somewhere is going to hate our guts for it.

    July 14, 2013 at 8:29 pm | Reply
  12. outspoken

    US troops is doing some noble works and having party and picnic. Lets have some fun with Palestine/Jordanian
    girls.

    July 14, 2013 at 9:08 pm | Reply
  13. j. von hettlingen

    Demographically Jordan is in a delicate situation. It has "nearly 600,000 Syrian refugees – nearly 10 percent of the Kingdom’s population". Of the some 6.5 million living in Jordan, native Jordanians – descended from Bedouin tribes – are in a minority, most of the population is made up of Palestinian immigrants. The Palestinians do resent the US, being an ally of Israel. Real power rests with King Abdullah and the government's pragmatic, non-confrontational line in foreign relations is often at odds with the more militant approach of local Palestinian and Islamist groups.

    July 15, 2013 at 6:52 am | Reply
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    July 15, 2013 at 1:46 pm | Reply
    • Patrick

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      July 17, 2013 at 12:46 pm | Reply
  15. Hiding in Plain Sight

    "What have U.S. Troops been doing in Jordan?"

    --------–

    Training terrorists, that's what.

    July 17, 2013 at 2:13 pm | Reply
  16. ben.c

    does the u.s military strategy rly build or destroy?

    July 25, 2013 at 1:15 am | Reply

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