Right Web

Tracking militarists’ efforts to influence U.S. foreign policy

For U.S. in the Mideast, the Ice Is Getting Thinner

With Washington facing new challenges in its relations with Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the United States is less equipped to dictate events in region than at any other point in recent history.

Print Friendly

Inter Press Service

New and unexpected strains in Washington’s ties with two of its closest Middle Eastern allies — Saudi Arabia and Turkey — have underlined the difficult challenges the administration of President Barack Obama faces in navigating its way in the region’s increasingly treacherous and turbulent waters.

While neo-conservatives, many Republicans and other hawks claim that Washington’s Middle Eastern difficulties are due chiefly to President Barack Obama’s desire to disengage from the region and his failure to aggressively assert Washington’s interests, militarily if necessary, others argue that the forces unleashed by the 2003 Iraq invasion and the so-called Arab Spring have transformed the area in ways that defy U.S. control.

“(F)or all our unmatched military power, Americans no longer command the ability to shape trends in the Middle East,” according to Chas Freeman, Jr., a highly decorated retired foreign service officer who served as U.S. ambassador to Riyadh during the Gulf War. “Delusions of imperial omnipotence die hard.”

Among other trends, “regional actors are redoubling their efforts to recruit outside powers to support them,” he told the Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference. “This could produce some startling geopolitical realignments.”

U.S. officials were taken completely by surprise when, in a bitter denunciation of the U.N.’s failure to effectively address the ongoing civil war in Syria, as well as the long-running Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Saudi Arabia renounced the coveted seat on the U.N. Security Council to which it had just been elected for the first time by the General Assembly.

Adding to the shock was a front-page report in the Wall Street Journal about a meeting between unnamed European diplomats and Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud in Jeddah in which Riyadh’s former long-serving ambassador in Washington was quoted as saying that the decision to boycott the Council was meant as a “message for the U.S., not the U.N.”

Bandar, according to the Journal’s sources, said he was not only planning to reduce cooperation with Washington in arming and training Syrian rebels, but that Riyadh also intended to distance itself from the U.S., including by exploring military relationships with other powers that would presumably give higher priority to Saudi defence and other interests.

Asked about the report in London where he was meeting with his counterparts from 10 other countries that make up the “Friends of Syria” coalition, Secretary of State John Kerry argued that he had just held a series of meetings with Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Saud al-Faisal on which there had been agreement on Syria and other issues and that he had “great confidence” that the two countries “will continue to be the close and important friends and allies that we’ve been.”

Still, while Bandar words may be more bark than bite – nothing has yet come of his much-ballyhooed “secret” meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in July reportedly to offer a major arms deal in exchange for Moscow’s reducing support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad – it’s difficult to escape the fact that Washington and Riyadh are increasingly at odds on a range of other issues.

These include Saudi support for the ongoing repression of opposition movements in Bahrain and Egypt and its failure to more actively crack down against private Saudi funders of Al Qaeda affiliates in Syria and Iraq, not to mention the looming possibility of détente between Washington and Tehran that Riyadh clearly fears could eventually restore Iran to its pre-revolutionary U.S.-backed primacy in the region.

Meanwhile, on the Turkish front, Washington was clearly taken aback by a series of developments likely to complicate ties with its only predominantly Muslim NATO ally, if they haven’t already.

The well-connected Washington Post columnist David Ignatius reported recently that Ankara’s intelligence chief had deliberately exposed the identity of 10 Iranians who were spying for Israel to his Iranian counterparts, effectively ending a long-running and close intelligence relationship between the two erstwhile allies that began falling off the rails during Israel’s 2008-09 military offensive against Gaza.

(The Turkish press reported that Washington had cancelled delivery of Predator drones to Ankara in retaliation for the alleged exposure.)

While Ignatius’s account was denied by Ankara, it nonetheless added to suspicions that, despite Turkey’s historic rivalry with Iran, its strong support for rebels seeking to overthrow Tehran’s closest Arab ally, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and Obama’s personal efforts to mend ties between Turkey and Israel, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan remained more favourably disposed toward Tehran than to Tel Aviv.

Moreover, the report came on the heels of Turkey’s surprise announcement in September that it had selected a Chinese company – and one that was under U.S. sanctions for selling military equipment to Iran, no less – over its U.S. and European competitors to build a new long-range missile-defence system despite the fact that the Chinese system would be incompatible with existing NATO equipment.

Even veteran defenders of Erdogan and his Islamist AKP party against the attacks of neo-conservatives and, more recently, the powerful Israel lobby, conceded that the latest developments suggested that the U.S.-Turkish alliance was in deep trouble.

“Considering Turkey’s record, how can the Obama administration continue to tout Turkey as a ‘model partner’ or even treat it as any ally?” wrote Steven Cook, a Turkey specialist at the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), with Michael Koplow. “We have crossed the line of reasonable disagreement and arrived at a point where Turkey is very clearly and very actively working to subvert American aims in the Middle East on a host of issues.”

The fluidity that now characterises the region’s geopolitics – and the difficulty Washington faces in navigating them — is illustrated by the increasingly complex relations between Turkey and Saudi Arabia themselves.

United, at least until now, on the demand that Assad must go, Riyadh is helping prop up the military regime in Egypt with billions of dollars in aid, while Erdogan continues to demand the restoration of ousted President Mohammed Morsi and an end to the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood, the trans-national movement that is seen by the region’s monarchies as a mortal threat.

And while Riyadh and its Gulf allies, like Israel, are increasingly worried about détente between Washington and Tehran, Ankara, which tried unsuccessfully with Brazil to broker a nuclear accord in 2010, appears much more relaxed by the prospect, apparently eager as it is to resume full commercial ties with its eastern neighbour.

And while most of the shifts now underway in the region are driven more by indigenous forces than at any other time since the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, external powers clearly see major opportunities to fill any gaps left open, adding to the new multipolarity.

“The simple world of colonial and superpower rivalries is long vanished,” according to Freeman. “The notion that one is either ‘with us or against us’ has lost all resonance in the modern Middle East. No government in the region is prepared now to entrust its future to foreigners, still less to a single foreign power. So the role of great external powers is becoming variable, complex, dynamic, and asymmetric, rather than comprehensive, exclusive, static or uniform.”

Jim Lobe’s blog on U.S. foreign policy can be read at Lobelog.com.

Share RightWeb

Featured Profiles

Clare Lopez is a former CIA officer and rightwing activist who has argued that the Muslim Brotherhood and a shadowy “Iran Lobby” are working to shape Obama administration policy.


Michael Ledeen, a “Freedom Scholar” at the neoconservative Foundation for Defense of Democracies, has long been obsessed with getting the U.S. to force regime change in Tehran.


Michael Flynn is a former Trump administration National Security Advisor who was forced to step down only weeks on the job because of his controversial contacts with Russian officials before Trump took office.


The daughter of former Vice President Dick Cheney, Liz Cheney has emerged as the most visible advocate of hardline security policies in the Cheney family.


Bret Stephens is a columnist for the New York Times who previously worked at the Wall Street Journal and the neoconservative flagship magazine Commentary.


Joe Lieberman, the neoconservative Democrat from Connecticut who retired from the Senate in 2013, co-chairs a foreign policy project at the American Enterprise Institute.


Former attorney general Edwin Meese, regarded as one of President Ronald Reagan’s closest advisers despite persistent allegations of influence peddling and bribery during his tenure, has been a consummate campaigner on behalf of rightist U.S. foreign and domestic policies. He currently serves as a distinguished visiting fellow at the conservative Hoover Institution.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

Print Friendly

The President went to the region as a deal maker and a salesman for American weapon manufacturing. He talked about Islam, terrorism, Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict without the benefit of expert advice in any of these areas. After great showmanship in Riyadh, Jerusalem, and Bethlehem, he and his family left the region without much to show for or to benefit the people of that war-torn region.


Print Friendly

Although the Comey memo scandal may well turn out to be what brings Trump down, this breach of trust may have had more lasting effect than any of Trump’s other numerous misadventures. It was an unprecedented betrayal of Israel’s confidence. Ironically, Trump has now done what even Barack Obama’s biggest detractors never accused him of: seriously compromised Israel’s security relationship with the United States.


Print Friendly

Congress and the public acquiesce in another military intervention or a sharp escalation of one of the U.S. wars already under way, perhaps it’s time to finally consider the true costs of war, American-style — in lives lost, dollars spent, and opportunities squandered. It’s a reasonable bet that never in history has a society spent more on war and gotten less bang for its copious bucks.


Print Friendly

Trump’s reorganization of the foreign policy bureaucracy is an ideologically driven agenda for undermining the power and effectiveness of government institutions that could lead to the State Department’s destruction.


Print Friendly

Spurred by anti-internationalist sentiment among conservative Republicans in Congress and the Trump administration, the US is headed for a new confrontation with the UN over who decides how much the US should pay for peacekeeping.


Print Friendly

Decent developments in the Trump administration indicate that the neoconservatives, at one point on the margins of Washington’s new power alignments, are now on the ascendent?


Print Friendly

As the end of Donald Trump’s first 100 days as president approaches, it seems that his version of an “America-first” foreign policy is in effect a military-first policy aimed at achieving global hegemony, which means it’s a potential doomsday machine.


RightWeb
share