AMERICA’S FADING ROLE IN THE MIDDLE EAST

by Gunnar Eigener

America’s influence in the Middle East is beginning to fray at the edges. This is bad news for both the region and the global community. America has, over the past decade, became something of a pariah in the area. Its foreign policy, already distrusted by enemies and allies alike, has looked increasingly unclear and erratic under the current administration.

While previous Presidents acted with caution and measure, the Trump White House presses on, having found in its new National Security Advisor John Bolton the man who would seemingly give weight to any decision that Donald Trump would be likely to favour, yet is already being rumoured to be behind Trump’s decision to withdraw from the North Korea Summit.

America has, over the past decade, became something of a pariah in the area

The recent decision by the US to withdraw from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – better known as the Iran deal – has left many wondering what a better solution would be. Like many of Trump’s assertions, the Iran deal was a ‘horrible one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made’. There should be no doubt that the deal was far from perfect. Although Iran’s uranium enrichment program was dramatically reduced, centrifuge ability was decreased and heavy water facilities redesigned, there were only time limits applied to these and many other aspects.

A result of the deal was the lifting of sanctions against Iran and in some ways, this is the most important part. Iranians have endured high prices, unemployment, and lack of medicines and were looking forward to some economic stability. With the risk of sanctions more severe than before, many fear the return of grinding poverty and a rise in nationalism, and anger once again directed at the West. The reaction to the US withdrawal was frighteningly familiar. Rockets were once more fired into Israel and US flags burned in the streets of Iran and in its parliament. To rub salt in the wounds, European companies will struggle to do business with Iran due to US sanctions, further damaging relations between the EU and the US.

( Iran and Saudi Arabia )

No long after that, the US Embassy in Jerusalem opened, further aggravating the Israel-Palestine conflict. Long seen as a mediator for the peace process, the US decision to move its embassy seemed to indicate an entirely unsurprising leaning towards support for Israel. The latter receives vast amounts of financial aid and weaponry from the US, effectively acting as their Middle East base.

Along with support from Christian evangelicals, the White House has a history of supporting Israel and either abstaining or vetoing anything that would been seen as anti-Israeli. By coming down on one side, the US has made it clear that justice and equality can be pushed aside in order to appease a regional ally Iran will no doubt continue in its support for Hamas and Israel will carry on with its illegal settlement programs. The Palestine-Israel peace process is, for now, dead in the water.

This could give the EU the edge over America in the region, and with China breathing down everyone’s neck, the geopolitical future of the area could become even more complex.

The actions of the US in the Middle East, while undoubtedly self-serving, do not negate the impact it has had in maintaining some sort of status quo in the region. Iran has long supported those that declare the US as its enemy. Saudi Arabia, which sees itself as Iran’s main rival for ‘control’ of the region, is propped up by US support and the power of its oil reserves. US action against Iran favours Saudi Arabia, since sanctions are likely to reduce the oil output of Iran thereby pushing up the price, currently around $70 per barrel. Saudi Arabia, with its ambitious economic plans, needs the price to hit the $85 mark, something that is now likely to happen.

Meanwhile, European countries involved in the JCPOA remain committed to the peace deal, potentially paving the way for the Iran deal to be saved. This could give the EU the edge over America in the region, and with China breathing down everyone’s neck, the geopolitical future of the area could become even more complex. The US is bogged down in a war it no longer wants to be part of in Iraq, and US troops had to fight alongside the very people they had been searching for when fighting against the al-Assad regime in Syria.

The US has a tendency to react to problems it can’t diplomatically solve with military actions, a scenario more and more likely considering the woefully understaffed State Department. Anti-communism and oil brought the US to the Middle East, counterterrorism and a lack of allies may well see it withdraw.

Featured image US Air Force photo

 


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