US Middle East Policy: The Wrong Track Leads to Grave Consequences

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Up to now, the foreign policy of the successive US administrations towards the Middle East has been characterized by an ever-growing dominance of pro-Israel organizations, mainly the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).  In turn, this pro-Israel dominance over the mechanisms of decision making has grown in line with the moves by pro-Israel organizations to overwhelm Capitol Hill. On the other hand, the Anti-Israel lobby in the United States can be assessed as very limited in its impact on US politics both in volume and resources.

For the past seven decades all US Presidents, without exception – and the overall majority of Capitol Hill lawmakers as well as a percentage of think tanks, media, and academics – have adopted Israel as their central ally in the Middle East. This embedded bias cries out for a comprehensive review of Israel lobby groups in the US. In fact, there are three key groups: first comes the largest pro-Israel US lobby: ‘Christians United for Israel’; second comes the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), which directly lobbies the US Congress; third comes the ‘Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations’, which is the main link between the Jewish community and the executive branch of the US government. This network has been quite influential on US decision-making and justifies itself on a deep-rooted but bizarre notion that Israel (with half its subjects disenfranchised) is an oasis of democracy in the Middle East!

In the perspective of Israeli-ally-adopted circles, the countries of the region can be classified into first class, second, and even third-class allies, in accordance with their weight when it comes to US strategic interests. The realm of history shows that the people of the Middle East have been simple merchandise to the leaders at Capitol Hill. This ally-classification-based characteristic of US Middle East policy has deep roots in US history, itself based on race since the dawn of the British and French colonies in North America, and then into the American civil war and beyond. Today, the “Black Lives Matter” movement is an undeniable example of the race-based character of US society and politics.

Generally speaking, it can be said that Republican administrations have adopted a military-first approach to the ME region. On the other side of US politics, Democrat administrations have been linked to the so-called “peace treaties” of the ME, regardless of whether those treaties have helped the region’s people.

These days, the United States is reshaping its ME alliances not to secure the security and stability of the region, but to best serve the personal interests of President Donald Trump in the American political arena. Recent examples of this are the Emirati and Bahraini recognition of Israel.

These types of action tell us that US administrations do not have the will or intention to change their failed strategy, no matter whether those administrations are Republican or Democrat. The failed wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria have facilitated the entry of Russian and Chinese influence, emphasizing the costs of US policy failure. The legitimacy problems of Israel have not improved, with half the people living under Tel Aviv rule effectively disenfranchised and even Israeli groups like Yesh Din calling the regime in the West Bank one of apartheid. No amount of ‘peace agreements’ with Gulf monarchies can cover that fact. Nevertheless, recent events tell us that US administrations will continue with their blind-fold, without much of a chance at a re-evaluation of the seven-decade alliance with Israel, or of re-evaluating alliances with the Arab monarchies of the Persian Gulf, the worst of in all human rights abuse and lack of democracy.

The failures of the US approach go deeper, due to the ever-growing sum of resources committed to the Middle East’s ‘security’ objectives. Despite the standing differences in policy, the successive administrations of US Presidents Bush, Obama, and Trump have all dug deeper with military power, economic sanctions, relying on Gulf allies to launch, fund, and trigger division and war. The best witnesses in this respect are the roles Qatar and the United Arab Emirates are playing in the Libyan conflict and in the regional geopolitics. As soon as Donald Trump assumed duties in the White House, the Gulf monarchies got the green light to pay the US treasury for the wars they launch and the political turmoil they generate, from Yemen to Libya and through Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Algiers, and Morocco.

In this regard, the Saudi royals have played the local hegemon role while Qatar and UAE have emerged as additional warmongers and strife-funders, stirring conflict in the region. The Saudi monarchy is still fighting acknowledgment of its responsibility for funding and guiding terrorism on US soil, through the events of 9/11. This early role by a key US regional ally paved the way to the turmoil the region experiences today. An important question is when and how the Persian Gulf monarchies will acknowledge their responsibility for the ME turmoil.

Without exception, successive US administrations claim that their regional Middle East goal is the eradication of al Qaeda and the Islamic State in the Levant (ISIL). However, US security objectives are quite deceptive as ISIL and al Qaeda have been playing the role of ‘natural selectors’; allowing and at time encouraging them to inflict bloodshed and trauma to regional peoples and states. US policy objectives do aim at limiting Iranian influence in some strategic locations, and also at placing pressure on Iran so that its leadership might crumble, or at least dramatically alter its regional policy. That has not occurred. This is yet another failed regional strategy. Successive US administrations have employed resources in pursuit of what they call these ‘strategic objectives’. In reality, the same failed approach has led Washington from one quagmire to the other. At the dawn of this century, this failed approach began with the disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, concocted by George Bush Junior and UK leader Tony Blair orchestrated proven-later-fabulous Weapons of Mass Destruction. In neither country, after many years, has the US been able to consolidate its dominance.

The subsequently failed approaches adopted the tactics of empowering so-called ‘regional allies’, either through direct support or by providing those ‘allies’ with training, arms transfers, and intelligence. This has enabled those ‘allies’ to launch proxy wars on behalf of the United States.

However, when it comes to these tools, it is obvious that US proxy groups in Syria have a variety of titles. Yet all such groups have the US green light to intervene directly in bloodshed and chaos. The same has applied to Yemen and Libya. Nevertheless, on the ground, none of these US proxy wars have come even close to fully serve US strategies. On the contrary, the proxy wars have brought US administrations shame and disgrace. In Afghanistan, US proxy wars led to the rise of the Taliban. After decades of misguided intervention in Afghanistan, the Trump administration is doing its best to escape that quagmire through negotiations with the Taliban. Those negotiations were made through back door channels provided by Bahrain and Qatar; the same financiers of other US adventures.

The so-called US security allies in the region, particularly the Persian Gulf monarchies, were never meant to admit that the proxy-wars they launched on behalf of the US were driving the region into greater chaos. The proxy wars and the so-called Arab Spring became the Gulf monarchies’ approach towards toppling independent governments, through the use of terrorist groups which received direct guidance and were openly funded and armed by Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and the overall supervisor of the proxy-war-campaign, Saudi Arabia.  Thus, the Gulf monarchies used conflict and instability to pursue greater regional influence and in attempts to push aside regional adversaries. But the wishes of those monarchies have turned into nightmares, pushing them into the same US-orchestrated quagmires, with no end in sight.

The current Washington strategy has been sealed by the Trump Administration’s latest diplomatic incursion into ‘peace accords’. Actually, Trump is using these accords as fodder for his re-election campaign. In fact, the Israeli-UAE and Israeli-Bahrain ‘peace accords’ are more about Iran than peace. They do not change the balance of forces in the region. Such agreements actually escalate tension in the Persian Gulf by forcing the Islamic Republic of Iran to take a defensive position against any possible new intervention or provocation. The new accords raise the risk of war. Meanwhile, the Palestinian people, who lost and are losing their land, will face additional pressure to accept an abusive deal imposed by the extreme-right Israeli parties. Yet they are not going away.

In their capacity as privileged Arab states, the Gulf monarchies are making it clear that they no longer care for the Palestinian cause. Today the two-state solution and the ‘Arab Peace Initiative’, once endorsed by the Arab League in 2002 at the Beirut Summit and re-endorsed at the 2007 and at the 2017 Arab League summits, have become unfeasible with Israeli Premier Netanyahu’s publicly and openly declared a bid for a Jewish state which will absorb the major parts of the West Bank, leaving almost no land for the long-promised Palestinian state. That is why the Palestinians see the recent deal as a betrayal by the UAE, Bahrain, and the other Gulf monarchies. The Palestinians are already pushed into the corner as Trump goes on with his ‘peace treaty’ war plans, blatantly biased towards Israel. The Trump and the Jewish state advocates of these agreements will go beyond reality and claim that the previous peace processes failed and a new approach is needed. Closer relations between Israel and the Persian Gulf monarchies, they say, could provide greater security for the Jewish state and, potentially, greater willingness to compromise by other Arab and African countries.

For the Palestinians, now is the time to face the fact that the accords have been shaped by the Israelis and a Trump Administration which shows no interest in a fair resolution of the Palestinian problem. The two-state solution has had its gravestone marked. That means, as past Israeli leaders have feared, the spectacle of an openly apartheid Israel. Rather than delivering peace, deals in support of this apartheid are most likely to exacerbate Palestinians’ sense of hopelessness and despair. That will only generate greater problems for the future. Trump’s so-called ‘peace accords’ are nothing but leverage to the interests of Trump, Netanyahu, and the Gulf monarchies. Such accords are a reverse gear shift in the region’s geopolitics. Through these accords, the Persian Gulf monarchies, themselves democratically illegitimate, will deepen their paranoia that the Islamic Republic of Iran is their prime enemy rather than Israel. The rest of the Gulf monarchies may well come to the US ‘peace’ table soon.

Regardless of Netanyahu’s cases of fraud and his decreasing popularity in Israel, the Israeli leader has for the past two decades been the master political operator, with his pledge to annex parts of the West Bank and the Syrian Golan. Netanyahu is insisting on Israel’s claim for sovereignty over any occupied territory. The UAE in its accord made no real mention of Israeli withdrawal from the lands it has occupied in the 1967 war. For decades, this ‘wished for’ withdrawal has been the central Arab demand for normalizing relations. Yet through new ‘peace accords’ Israel seems to have gained a type of recognition it has been looking for. Instead of the main point of leverage being the Palestinian demand for their own state, the ‘peace accords’ seem to have deprived the Palestinians of their dream. The recognition that would have been delivered through a real peace settlement has now been offered at no cost. Yet most of the world still considers the annexation of occupied lands as illegal. Trump has a positive story to sell in his re-election campaign, but there is no advance for this region.

A better Middle East approach for the US would be to concentrate on how to promote human well-being and end the proxy wars by placing restraints on the Persian Gulf monarchies and revising the failed strategies of exploiting conflict after conflict. When proxy interventions come to an end, the US will be no longer have to invest in more of the same.

Paradoxically, the only achievement for US administrations has been that the multiple failures have led the Capitol Hill to a point of no return, where the only real move in their own interest is to prevent further spillovers taking place. No matter whether the forthcoming administration is Republican or Democrat, Capitol Hill strategists will have to face this legacy of failure and contemplate how to abandon the ‘sinking ship’ approach. Engagement in the Middle East only based on restraining the Persian Gulf monarchies from promoting further terrorism and sabotaging regional economies as they themselves defeat that terrorism will only lead the US deeper into its self-created quagmire.

*(Top image: Israeli leader Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the US Congress, March 3, 2015, an unusual privilege. Credit: Official Photo by Caleb Smith/ Speaker John Boehner/ Flickr)