The myth of U.S. credibility in the Middle East
The fact that the U.S. would back a disgraced regime with Palestinian blood on its hands as a driver for “peace, stability, and growing prosperity” in the Middle East confirms a single fact: that the U.S. has nothing to do with meaningful peace or stability in the region.
Washington is a vital partner to each and every country in the Middle East, and can be counted on to “remain in the neighborhood as a support for the countries and their security”.
That is the latest fiction from U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration as it looks to put a peaceful spin on its interventionist legacy, balking at China’s diplomatic engagement in the Middle East. The heightened prospect of Chinese President Xi Jinping’s visit to Riyadh was a key trigger to Washington’s defensive posturing. The suggestion that U.S. influence in the region is “not going anywhere” is wishful thinking at best.
First, the determinants of so-called U.S. ‘influence’ in the Middle East are largely of its own making. Continuity in U.S. arms supplies and devasting military interventions have given strength to resistance, not acceptance of U.S.-led conflicts in the region. Biden’s own fruitless visit to the Middle East laid bare the weaknesses of using democracy and human rights as a front to sideline many regimes – only to court their approval when rhetoric hits the wall.
The fact is that Middle East’s growing Asia pivot is a marked departure from U.S. doublespeak on human rights and nonintervention. It entails no costs of glaring U.S war crimes on sovereign soil, the introduction of divisive blocs in the Middle East, and America’s criminal silence on the Israeli occupation forces’ continued assault against oppressed Palestinians.
On the economic front, America’s development footprint in the Middle East is a shell of itself compared to that of China. A case in point is the mammoth, multidecade development partnership between Beijing and Tehran that stands consolidated in the face of U.S. “priority” focus in the Middle East. The growing localization of Belt and Road (BRI) projects as far as Syria is also aimed at extending tangible infrastructure connectivity.
It is China – not the U.S. or its Western partners – that have prioritized emerging and developing economies in the region without political or containment overtones attached to it. Beijing and some of its Middle East partners have been consistent in illuminating the perils of illegal sanctions imposed by the U.S. upon will. “We need to be partners promoting security and stability”, said Chinese State Councilor and Foreign Minister Wang Yi at a key summit of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) in Islamabad this year. “China will continue to support the efforts by Islamic countries to use Islamic wisdom to solve current hotspot issues and to hold the key to peace and stability firmly in their own hands”.
All this makes for a damning contrast to Washington’s ‘regime change’ obsession in the same region, ending the case for vital relationships and so-called ‘influence’ in the region.
Interestingly, the dominant view in the U.S. has been to overlook Middle East’s right to an independent foreign policy, and instead force nations to accept the Zionist regime and its unmitigated terror against Palestinians. Look no further than last month, when the United States joined the political leadership of the Israeli occupation forces to hail the “I2U2” – a quadrilateral bloc alongside UAE and India – to orchestrate "Israel’s" economic and political “integration” in the region. The fact that the U.S. would back a disgraced regime with Palestinian blood on its hands as a driver for “peace, stability, and growing prosperity” in the Middle East confirms a single fact: that the U.S. has nothing to do with meaningful peace or stability in the region.
“The major message that the [U.S.] president brought to the [Middle East] region is that the United States is not going anywhere,” alleged Tim Lenderking, U.S. special envoy for Yemen, on Friday – in response to Xi’s prospective visit to Saudi Arabia.
But evidence from Asia tells a different story. Like in the Middle East, Washington has tried to apply great power rivalry as the dominant lens for leadership but embraced few takers. For instance, the Biden administration’s frivolous obsession with ‘containing’ China has been met with resistance in Southeast Asia, as new security groupings rise up and alternative proposals to the Belt and Road face headwinds. In some ways, this is emblematic of the U.S. credibility crisis in the Middle East too: Washington famously signaled that it was dialing down its controversial presence in the region to focus on Asia. What happened?
All it took was the prospect of Xi’s independent diplomatic engagement within the region to unnerve the U.S., and compel its special diplomat to argue that America – in its own mind – is a credible partner in the region and is here to stay.
But make no mistake: who stays and who doesn’t is the Middle East’s call. Washington will be ill-advised to overplay its hand by using great power rivalry as a pretext for interference in a region that has seen plenty of it.
Ultimately, a sustained pattern of reacting apprehensively to Middle East’s autonomous foreign policy choices – be it those of Iran, Syria, Lebanon or the Gulf – is a farce on the part of the U.S.
Maintaining that practice, in hopes of ‘countering’ China, can only underscore two things: the dismal state of U.S. engagement in the region, and the futility of trying to interrupt Middle East’s diplomacy with the second largest economy in the world.