US, 18 other nations, wrap up Eager Lion military exercise in Jordan
The sprawling Eager Lion military exercise was tied by some news outlets to the war in Syria. Though that was incorrect, the US is looking to deepen its military engagement with the region.
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Though the exercise had been long scheduled and was designed to improve military coordination between allies, it drew far more attention than usual given the deepening civil war across the border in Syria. Many press accounts, particularly on cable news channels like CNN, tried to connect the exercise to Syria's war. Among the wilder media speculation were claims Eager Lion was a dry-run for an invasion or cover for training Syrian rebels.
Those fanciful accounts are belied by the fact that Eager Lion 2012 was three years in the planning and amounts to an outgrowth of the annual bilateral "Infinite Moonlight" US-Jordan exercise that stretches back to the 1990s.
But war in Syria, or anywhere else in the region, is relevant in the sense that training exercises are about being prepared for an often unpredictable future.
Major General Ken Tovo of the US Special Operations Command, who was in charge of the participating US forces, explained the objective was to "build partnerships and friendships that will allow us to serve successfully together to meet any challenges that our nations ask us to.”
Michael Eisenstadt, director of the Military and Security Studies program at the Washington Institute for Near East Studies, calls the timing of the exercise “a happy coincidence... I suspect they’re trying to get kind of a psychological operations bump by [publicizing] this exercise now; it puts more pressure on the regime in Syria. But this was planned from a long time ago.”
American and Jordanian military officials said Eager Lion is expected to become an annual event in the region. The first Eager Lion, a bilateral exercise between the US and Jordan, took place in the summer of 2011 – when the world’s attention was focused on Egypt, Bahrain, and Yemen, and the fledgling protests in Syria were just another blip on the radar.
Michael Rubin, an adviser on Iraq and Afghanistan to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld from 2002-2004 and now an analyst at the American Enterprise Institute, says the exercise is useful as a reminder that the US military presence in the region is still extensive.
“In Washington we can convince ourselves we withdrew [from Iraq] per political agreements, but a lot of the propaganda in the region, especially the Iranian-backed propaganda, suggests we fled in defeat,” Rubin says. “One of the perceptions we’re trying to reverse is the perception among many of the Gulf monarchs, and the king of Jordan, that we dumped Hosni Mubarak way too quickly."