Right Web

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

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

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

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), one of the more effective U.S. lobbying outfits, aims to ensure that the United States backs Israel regardless of the policies Israel pursues.


Donald Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr is the focus of a growing controversy over the Robert Mueller report because his decision to unilaterally declare that the the president had not obstructed justice during the Mueller investigation.


Gina Haspel is the first woman to hold the position of director of the CIA, winning her confirmation despite her history of involvement in torture during the Iraq War.


United against Nuclear Iran is a pressure group that attacks companies doing business in Iran and disseminates alarmist reports about the country’s nuclear program.


Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, is the president’s senior adviser, whose dealings with the Persian Gulf leaders have come under scrutiny for conflicts of interest.


Erik Prince, former CEO of the mercenary group Blackwater, continues to sell security services around the world as controversies over his work—including in China and the Middle East, and his alleged involvement in collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia—grow.


Robert Joseph played a key role in manipulating U.S. intelligence to support the invasion of Iraq and today is a lobbyist for the MEK.


For media inquiries,
email rightwebproject@gmail.com

From the Wires

President Trump’s announcement that he would recognise Israeli sovereignty over the western part of the Golan Heights destroys the negotiating basis for any future peace between Israel and Syria. It also lays the groundwork for a return to a world without territorial integrity for smaller, weaker countries.


The Senate on Wednesday passed a measure mandating the withdrawal of U.S. forces from the Saudi/UAE-led war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. The vote marks the first time since the War Powers Act of 1973 became law that both chambers of Congress have directed the president to withdraw American forces from a conflict.


The Trump administration’s failed “maximum pressure” approach to Iran and North Korea begs the question what the US president’s true objectives are and what options he is left with should the policy ultimately fail.


In the United States, it’s possible to debate any and every policy, domestic and foreign, except for unquestioning support for Israel. That, apparently, is Ilhan Omar’s chief sin.


While Michael Cohen mesmerized the House of Representatives and President Trump resumed his love affair with North Korea’s Kim Jong, one of the most dangerous state-to-state confrontations, centering in Kashmir, began to spiral out of control.


The Trump administration’s irresponsible withdrawal from the landmark Iran nuclear agreement undermined Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif and emboldened hardliners who accused him of having been deceived by Washington while negotiating the agreement. However, the Iranian government could use the shock of Zarif’s resignation to push back against hardliners and take charge of both the domestic and foreign affairs of the country while Iran’s foreign opponents should consider the risks of destabilizing the government under the current critical situation.


Europe can play an important role in rebuilding confidence in the non-proliferation regime in the wake of the demise of the INF treaty, including by making it clear to the Trump administration that it wants the United States to refrain from deploying INF-banned missiles in Europe and to consider a NATO-Russian joint declaration on non-first deployment.


RightWeb
share