US illusions in the Middle East

12:16 08.09.2023 •

In different directions…

The U.S. preoccupation with the Middle East over the past six decades has been a costly endeavor with little benefit. The traditional twin pillars of U.S. policy in the region have been relations with Israel and Saudi Arabia, notes Melvin A. Goodman, a senior fellow at the Center for International Policy and a professor of government at Johns Hopkins University, a former CIA analyst.

There has never been a significant foreign threat to U.S. national security interests throughout this period, and the United States could distance itself from the region without injury to U.S. national security policy.

China recently stole a march on the United States in shepherding a diplomatic reconciliation between Saudi Arabia and Iran, but there are limits to the accord between the hostile Gulf neighbors as well as limits to Beijing’s influence due to its dependence on Gulf energy supplies. As long as the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, have significant control over the global price for oil, there will be a rivalry for influence among the United States, China, and Russia.

Until George W. Bush’s wretched and dishonest pursuit of war with Iraq in 2003, a series of U.S. administrations had wisely avoided military confrontation in the region. The 1948 Arab-Israeli War; the 1956 Suez War; the 1967 Six-Day War; the 1973 October War; and the 1980’s Iran-Iraq War elicited no U.S. military involvement.

Conversely, limited U.S. interventions in Lebanon in 1958 and in 1982 were colossal failures for the United States. U.S. containment of Iran, which included military threats, has also failed, and a significant opportunity to limit Iran’s nuclear capability has been jeopardized.

The U.S. overreaction to the 9/11 terrorist attacks led to two decades of warfare in Afghanistan and Iraq with nothing to show for the costly military involvement. The major byproduct of U.S. military action in the Middle East and the Persian Gulf has been increased Islamic radicalization that includes Jihadist terrorism as well as a pan-Islamic identity that complicates U.S. diplomacy.

Instead of pursuing ways to reduce U.S. exposure in the volatile Middle East, the Biden administration is shepherding sensitive and secret negotiations with Israel and Saudi Arabia for an agreement that would increase U.S. commitments in the region. The Saudi demands for entering a diplomatic agreement with Israel include a mutual security arrangement with the U.S.; advanced arms sales such as a high altitude defense missile system; and U.S. assistance for a civilian nuclear program that could enable the Saudis to enrich uranium. This would certainly contradict Biden’s campaign commitment to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state.

Israel will demand what it traditionally demands: increased military assistance at no cost and U.S. acceptance of increased settlements on the West Bank. Once again, the Palestinians will be lost in the shuffle, and there will be no mention, let alone progress, toward a two-state solution.

The long-term U.S. illusion of trading Israeli territorial concessions for Arab-Israeli peace is just that — an illusion. Twelve years ago, the Obama-Biden administration declared that it would “pivot” from the Middle East to the Indo-Pacific region — another illusion.


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