US: End of Middle East Dominance: What Dominance?

Previously suppressed states are exploiting the mess in Iraq and vying for supremacy.By Liam Bailey

With the Baker report suggesting America talks with its staunch adversaries Iran and Syria, and the public’s apparent support for Baker’s findings. It is beginning to look like Bush might finally be forced into –unthinkable for him– acts of history validated common sense. Since talking to Iran and Syria was first suggested by Blair after he gave evidence to the Baker Commission, analysts have been questioning the end of U.S domination in the Middle East.

The question should be: did the U.S ever dominate the Middle East? Sure, unconditionally supporting Israel ensured their influence in that conflict, IDF style. Bombing and shooting the Palestinians into agreement with the U.S’ –fad– peace plan at the time. Meanwhile the U.S exerted little or no influence in Israel’s often ill-advised and frequently illegal actions. Israel currently has little or no influence in Middle East affairs anyway. It couldn’t get by without U.S aid [PDF], let alone suppress the latest Palestinian Intifada.

There was a tradition of U.K and U.S influence in Iran’s monarchical rule after we imposed a suitable Shah. The current stand-off over Iran’s nuclear program, and its meddling in Iraq [PDF] show how much things have changed. Not only recently but since the Iranian revolution in 1979, the hostages taken in the U.S embassy during the revolution flipped the bird to U.S influence in Iran.

Iran currently showing disregard for U.S power is a facade to amplify its own strength and help their hegemonic aims.

Syrian diplomats have always adhered strictly to agreements reached with their U.S counterparts. But they have also been close to all-out war over the Israeli Lebanon conflict in 1983. The U.S, recognising that Syria plays a central role in the Middle East and in global Jihad, attempts to exert its influence. And turn the “rogue state” from a supporter of terrorism to a supporter of democracy and U.S hegemony. They have and probably will never succeed in that aim.

The U.S has enjoyed 70 years of good relations with Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, until 9/11 put a significant strain on the “special relationship”. Saudi Arabia’s condemnation of Israel during the Israel/Hezbollah conflict and rhetoric of going to war showed that the U.S doesn’t hold much influence over Saudi Arabia.

In Iraq’s case, we all know the current scenario. The U.S has as much influence in Iraq now as any of the rival militia factions. The same influence it has recently had over every other Middle East country, very little.

The U.S has had reasonable influence in Turkey since shortly after World War II, with the exception of the mid-late 70’s when Turkey invaded Cyprus. The U.S’ influence in Turkey crumbled in the build up to the Iraq war. Turkey refusing U.S forces entry to hit Iraq from the North, showed that –unlike Saudi Arabia– Turkey’s loyalty to their Iraqi Muslim brothers and sisters influenced their policy more than U.S relations. U.S aid [PDF] was cut-off 2003. Except a small military grant, which I presume was necessary for Turkey’s involvement in Afghanistan.

Relations fell apart in Mar. 2005, when the U.S ambassador to Turkey resigned after two years. Because Turkey’s government came out in support of their President’s decision to visit Syria in early April that year, despite the U.S warning against it. Also for ignoring the ambassador’s calls for Turkey to join an international coalition concerning Syria.

The U.S weighs its relationship with and influence of Egypt perhaps higher than any other Middle East country, because of its leadership role in the region. A role which was set when Egypt was actively fighting Israel and sought military aid from the Soviets. Several other Arab states shortly followed suit. U.S Israel relations improved after the 1979 peace treaty was signed with Israel. Since then the U.S has given billions of dollars [PDF] in military and financial aid to sustain Egypt’s moderate voice in Arab councils. Persuade less moderate regimes of the benefits of compromise and to maintain the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty.

The latter has been more successful than the other two by far. As the U.S failed to realize that the feelings of Egypt’s leaders toward Israel’s treatment of their Arab Palestinian brothers didn’t change overnight. More likely they realised they would be in a much better position to help the Palestinians in every way with a whole whack of U.S aid.

Jordan’s monarchy has perhaps the best relationship with the U.S. The U.S began providing Jordan with economic and military aid in 1951 and 1957 respectively. Relations were slightly soured by Jordan’s reluctance to participate in the first Iraq war to liberate Kuwait. Relations improved throughout the 1990’s as Jordan began to take a more favourable view of normalization of relations with Israel. Over the years the U.S has provided billions of dollars [PDF] in aid to Jordan. In return Jordan provided logistical support in the Afghanistan war, and, informally the same in the current Iraq war, although the monarchy was publicly opposed.

King Abdullah’s policies of normalization with Israel and alliance with the U.S cause much unrest from Jordan’s Islamic fundamentalist groups. Like the Jordan Muslim Brotherhood, an influential part of the political mainstream. It also causes unrest in parts of the Palestinian communities, and in prominent professional and trade organizations.

The Middle East and its rich oil reserves have always been at the fore-front of U.S policy. So much so that they have taken their eye off the ball elsewhere; allowing China to become the main influence in Asia and enter the fight for global supremacy. The North Korean nuke test is another example of the Bush administration taking their eye off the ball.

Given all this focus on their Middle East policy it is ludicrous that it has descended into such a farce.

Little wonder as it is largely the world’s most backward foreign policy. Unconditionally supporting a country surrounded by enemies –Israel–, while hoping to exert influence over its enemies. Is like a boxer’s coach shouting orders at the opposing fighter. Stupid. Previously however the U.S had tried to exert their influence over Israel’s enemies by diplomacy in the main. Bush Jnr coming in with his complete ignorance of foreign policy and its relation to even recent history, alongside his policy of never talking to your adversary. Combined with the backward policies above, are perhaps the main reasons for the current state of the Middle East.

Something else I find laughable however is Bush Snr, responsible for another reason for the current mess. Coming in now and telling his son what he needs to do in Iraq. If he had honoured his statements to the Iraq’s Shia and Kurdish populations, by ordering U.S forces to go on into Iraq and topple Saddam Hussein’s regime, in the first gulf war 1991. Embracing the uprising started by the Shia in the south and driving Iraqi forces into the Kurdish uprising in the North. Both of which were started because of Bush’s suggestion of support.

Saddam would undoubtedly have been easily defeated. As he was 2003, but the occupying U.S or U.S/U.N forces would have probably had the support of the Kurdish minority and Shia Majority. Giving the Sunni’s no choice but to join the new diplomatic efforts or be left out of Iraq’s democratic future. As oppose to miss-trust for Bush Jnr by Shia and Kurd’s after being lied to by his dad before him. And resentment because of the massacres his lies led them into.

I believe had Bush Snr done this Iraq would have been a stable democracy by now, certainly closer than has been for decades.

In closing, the U.S never really had much influence in Middle Eastern affairs. The little it did have from supplying heavy financial aid to needy countries in prominent positions. And U.S and Israel’s superior military force were sufficient to secure the things they really needed and manipulate affairs to ensure no-one else gained more control.

The Iraq war in 2003 showing that U.S military force was useless against sporadic Jihad’s guerrilla warfare. Accelerated the rate at which the little Middle East influence the U.S had is disappearing. All that remains is moderate influence in return for heavy aid to countries with even less influence –than the U.S– in Middle East affairs.

The rich and influential Middle East countries are exploiting the exposed weakness to secure their own hegemony.

It will be interesting to watch the changing political and military landscapes in the coming months. Especially if a serious U.S strategy shift in Iraq coincides with a policy shift in the Israeli/Palestinian conflict.

Liam Bailey is a writer from the UK, he runs the War Pages weblog and can be contacted by e-mail.

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