The Middle East in the eyes of Washington – Alessio Marchena

The Middle East in the eyes of Washington – Alessio Marchena

October 17, 2023 at 11:56 am

“The Middle East is calmer today than it was two decades ago.” Jake Sullivan, the US National Security Advisor, was ridiculed for these words, which he said just ten days before the Hamas attack and Israeli response to the Gaza Strip. Speaking at an Atlantic magazine conference. Sullivan noticed With satisfaction: “The amount of time I have to devote to crises and conflicts in the Middle East today, compared to all of my predecessors since September 11, 2001, has decreased significantly.”

Ironic aside, it seems to me that Sullivan’s position nicely sums up the fundamental problem of US strategy in the Middle East. In essence, for years Washington has tended to engage with that region on the basis of how it wants things to be, rather than adapting to how things actually are.

For at least fifteen years, since Barack Obama took office from George W. Bush, one of the United States’ foreign policy priorities has been to gradually reduce its engagement in the Middle East to focus on fronts deemed more important. National interest. This assessment, shared by a majority of Democratic and Republican politicians, arose from recognition of a series of failures – in the war against terrorism and in building strong institutions in Afghanistan and Iraq – for which the country paid dearly in 2010, in terms of human lives, economic resources, and international reputation.

Joe Biden went to the White House with strategic ideas about the Middle East that differed from those of Obama and Donald Trump, but he shared with his predecessors the belief that US commitments in the Middle East were a distraction from more pressing challenges, especially those challenges. imposed by China’s geopolitical and economic rise. like Written by Susan Maloney On foreign affairs, the Biden administration “came up with an innovative way out, seeking to broker a new balance of power in the Middle East that would allow Washington to scale back its presence and focus, while ensuring that Beijing does not fill the void.” The historic attempt to normalize relations between Israel and Saudi Arabia must be read from this perspective, in order to formally align the United States’ two most important regional partners against the common enemy, Iran, and remove the Saudis from China’s strategic orbit. .

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“In parallel with this effort, the Biden administration has sought to ease tensions with Iran, the most dangerous adversary facing the United States in the Middle East,” Maloney explains. After failing to revive the 2015 nuclear deal — negotiated by Obama and then canceled by Trump — Washington launched an alternative plan consisting of economic incentives and informal agreements. The hope was that in exchange for modest concessions, Tehran could be persuaded to slow its nuclear programs and limit efforts to destabilize the region (including support for Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon). The first phase was reached in September, with an agreement under which five wrongly detained Americans were released from Iranian prisons and gave Tehran access to $6 billion in Iranian funds blocked under US sanctions.The funds have been blocked again October 12). From the Biden administration’s perspective, the new alliance between two of the region’s major players – Saudi Arabia and Iran – could transform the Middle East’s security and economy for the better.

According to Maloney, Biden’s plan to exit the Middle East failed because he overestimated the effects of the incentives offered to Iran and underestimated Tehran’s interest in fueling chaos in the region. “It was not at all plausible that informal understandings and some easing of sanctions would be enough to placate the Islamic Republic and its allies, who are well aware of the benefit of escalation to advance their strategic and economic interests. Moreover, the prospect of an Israeli-Saudi alliance frightened Iran, because it would restore the regional balance.” In favor of Washington.

After the unprecedented attack by Hamas and the harsh response by Israel, the United States must realize that disengagement from the region will not be a realistic possibility for a long time to come, and it will have to develop a new strategy that starts from different assumptions. Their foreign policy is already changing. Among the first consequences of the war is a rapprochement with the Israeli government (concerned by Israel’s nationalist turn, Biden has in recent months reduced his direct contacts with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to a minimum).

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No Israeli leader will make concessions to the Palestinians. The two-state solution that Biden pushed forward is further away than ever before.”

It was inevitable that this would happen, also because Biden did not want to be seen as the president who turned his back on Israel after this aggression, especially a year after the elections (Republicans believe that Biden, with his soft policies towards Israel) and the Iranian regime, contributed in some way to Hamas attack). But the United States must also ask itself how far its support will go. writes The Economist“Even assuming that Hamas can be destroyed, neither Biden nor Netanyahu can answer the difficult questions about what will happen after Israel is punished: Who will run Gaza and what will be the status of Palestinians in central Israel? As Israel learned from the misguided invasion of Lebanon in 1982, and as “As the United States discovered in Afghanistan and Iraq after September 11, 2001, it is easy to get drawn into a war against terrorists. It is very difficult to get out of it.” To describe Washington’s situation, Michael Corleone’s famous phrase in The Godfather III applies: “Now that I thought I was out of the woods, they’ve got me back in it.”

As for American plans for regional alliances, The Economist magazine explains, “The chances of concluding an agreement sponsored by Washington between the Israelis and the Saudis are very slim, at least at the present time. Regarding the Palestinian issue, no Israeli leader will make concessions to the Palestinians, so the possibility of the “two-state” solution proposed by Biden is more distant than ever. The room for maneuver available to Saudi Arabia will also be more limited. Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman may be reluctant to make a deal with American and Israeli leaders who may soon exit the scene.

If we broaden our gaze from the Middle East to the rest of the world, it is interesting that many American commentators read the outbreak of war between Hamas and Israel as further evidence of the decline of the United States on the global stage. Foreign policy experts see signs of this decline in the actions to challenge American hegemony that have begun in recent years in different regions of the world: China in Asia; Russia in Europe; And now Iran is in the Middle East.

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Ross Douthat wrote about it In the New York Times: “We still don’t know whether the Hamas attacks were planned with Tehran’s blessing or with its complicity. But the fact that the Iranians have increased funding and support for Hamas in recent years means that the attacks somehow stem from their broader strategy: to surround Israel with enemies.” , expanding their power through allies and proxies, and obstructing the United States’ attempt to mediate a rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Arab countries.”


“Although not explicitly agreed upon between Beijing and Moscow, this strategy is functionally consistent with the ambitions of those regimes in Taiwan and Ukraine. In any case, there is a hostile interest towards a region that is seen as a satellite or outpost of the US empire. There is a desire to To humiliate, defeat or occupy that region, not only for personal gain, but also to change the regional or global status quo.

In this scenario, Washington’s foreign policy options become more complex, and thus its relations with allied countries as well. “The implicit bias of competing nations means that the United States cannot consider its approach to one issue without assessing how it affects our ability to manage threats in other theaters. The understandable extremism espoused by the Ukrainians, now surrounded by understandable anger on the part of the Israelis, cannot To be the sole guide to US policy.

You might think that the end of American hegemony is not necessarily bad news, but one must prepare for the fact that the path to an eventual new world order will not be peaceful at all. Noah Smith talked about this a few days ago In his newsletter“A multipolar world is emerging, and people are realizing that multipolarity involves a lot of chaos.”

This text is taken from the Americana newsletter.

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