Middle Eastern leaders have learnt not to count on the US
من الصحافة اخترنا لكم
The limits to American geopolitical reach now on show in Afghanistan could yet lead to new ways of wielding power DAVID GARDNER Add to myFT Afghans struggle to show their credentials to western forces as they try and flee the country via Kabul airport evacuation flights © Akhter Gulfam/EPA/Shutterstock Share on twitter (opens new window) Share on facebook (opens new window) Share on linkedin (opens new window) Save David Gardner SEPTEMBER 1 2021 37 Print this page US foreign policy updates Sign up to myFT Daily Digest to be the first to know about US foreign policy news. The last American flight has left Kabul airport, to the din of celebratory Taliban gunfire. The US and western debacle in Afghanistan is setting off alarms from eastern Ukraine to the Taiwan Strait. The Taliban’s lightning seizure of the country after a 20-year war has spread a chill across Central and South Asia. Yet in the Middle East, arena of serial Anglo-American forays, leaders’ reaction to the US capitulation has been restrained. It was already dawning on allies and adversaries alike that they cannot count on the US. No one is blind to the military might the US possesses in unique abundance. But long before Washington accepted defeat in Afghanistan, the 2003 US-led invasion and occupation of Iraq showed the limits to America’s power and its inability to shape geopolitics in the region. Despite trillions of dollars spent in Iraq and Afghanistan on training and equipping their armed forces, an Iraqi army hollowed-out by corruption and sectarianism melted before the Isis onslaught from Syria in 2014, just as the Afghan military, left to its own devices by the US, imploded against the Taliban. But American unreliability has led leaders across the Middle East to start dialogue aimed at detente, rather than depending on outsiders. Critics worldwide have rounded on President Joe Biden for bungling the withdrawal from Afghanistan. Yet in the Middle East officials discern a pattern stretching back many presidencies. George W Bush chose to stay in Afghanistan while shifting US attention and resources to the fiasco in Iraq. This rekindled the ancient conflict between Sunni and Shia into region-wide proxy wars headed by Saudi Arabia and Iran or their clients. Barack Obama in 2013 failed to enforce his “red line” against the Syrian regime using nerve gas on the Sunni rebels Washington had egged on from the sidelines. Recommended Rachman Review podcast24 min listen America’s Afghan legacy Donald Trump was already heading chaotically for the exit in Syria and Iraq when, in February last year, he struck his withdrawal deal with the Taliban, undermining the Afghan government he did not even bother to consult. Most disconcerting for US allies, Trump declined to come to Saudi Arabia’s aid after Iran exposed the kingdom’s vulnerability with a devastating drone and missile attack on Saudi Aramco in 2019. Binning American security guarantees, Trump decided it was the Saudis, not the US, that had been attacked. “The basic problem is Arab dependence on foreigners, and then, when the foreigners change their policies, we’re lost,” a veteran Arab foreign minister observed before Trump’s reaction to Iran’s assault. Now Arab leaders are trying to get ahead of the wave of events before it crashes over them. Visceral enemies are talking to each other. Iran and Saudi Arabia, at loggerheads from Yemen to Syria and Iraq to Lebanon, began meeting in April. The United Arab Emirates and Egypt, on opposite sides to Turkey and Qatar in Libya’s civil war, are trying to mend fences. Iraq, struggling to survive as a unitary state, last Sunday hosted a summit bringing together the region’s adversaries. All this is tentative. Trump was offering blank cheques to Saudi Arabia and Israel. Yet Biden has been dismissive of the impulsive Mohammed bin Salman, crown prince and de facto Saudi ruler, and firmer towards an Israel encouraged by Trump to unilaterally annex occupied Palestinian territory. Last week, Israeli and Palestinian leaders met for the first time since Obama’s peace efforts collapsed in 2014. But Biden now has to find a way of preventing the Afghan disaster from further emboldening Iran. US policy has helped Tehran build a Shia axis across Arab land since the invasion of Iraq brought its coreligionist majority to power there. A key Biden objective is to revive the 2015 nuclear restraint deal Iran signed with the US and five world powers, from which Trump unilaterally withdrew in 2018. The US and its allies also want to restrain Iran’s aggression and Tehran-backed Shia paramilitaries in the Levant and the Gulf. Indirect meetings in Vienna brought Washington and Tehran tantalisingly close to a nuclear deal before the election of new hardline Iranian president Ebrahim Raisi. He has said Iran will back a nuclear deal that lifts the sanctions Trump reimposed. The US says that is on the table in Vienna. But Biden may need to go further. The US withdrew from the 2015 deal unilaterally, but Iran only started breaching its nuclear limits a year later. Biden could start lifting sanctions just as unilaterally, setting a deadline for Iran to return verifiably to compliance. Iran may also be willing to collaborate with the US on Afghanistan (as it did after the 9/11 attacks) to guard against a re-incubation of Isis. The US and Iran were aligned against the group after it swept into Iraq from Syria in 2014. Iran needs economic relief, and Arab leaders want to concentrate on development and diversification away from oil — imperatives across a region bursting with the unmet expectations of young populations. The US withdrew from Afghanistan, even sharing intelligence with the Taliban, in line with its own perceived interests. In a region that has just been taught one more lesson in US unreliability, it would surely be worth Washington’s while to explore the power of the self-interest of others.
مقالات أخرى للكاتب
Pope and Grand Ayatollah join forces to condemn extremism
The historic visit of Pope Francis to Iraq this week was freighted with symbolism, designed to lift the morale of what he called a martyred church
Venezuelans in Lebanon wonder which country is worse
Maria Issa misses Venezuela so much that the mother of two is even nostalgic about the time that her family was robbed at knifepoint
Joe Biden will find ample potential for acrimony in the Middle East
In March 2010, then vice-president Joe Biden, a stalwart supporter of Israel, arrived in Jerusalem with a brief from President Barack Obama to try to revive moribund peace negotiations
الثلاثاء 03 تشرين الثاني 2020
Three strongmen and their battle for the Middle East
Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Mohammed bin Salman have a lot in common. The Russian, Turkish and Saudi leaders are all nationalists with regional ambitions. They are autocrats who have centralised power and have been ruthless with domestic political opposition. And they are all risk-takers, who are happy to use military force.