The American abandonment of diplomacy in the Middle East has allowed its clients to pretty much do what they want leading to an ongoing realignment in the region, says Chas Freeman.
By Chas W. Freeman Jr.
Time was, the countries of the Middle East relied on the United States for patronage, protection, and guidance. Suez taught Israel, Britain, and France that without Washington’s acquiescence, their policies could not succeed. Egypt’s defection showed Russia the limits of its ability to compete for clients in the region. It was U.S. leadership that enabled Israel, Egypt, and Jordan to end the state of war between them.
The standing of the United States in the region derived in part from its centrality to diplomacy aimed at finding a formula for peaceful coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians and acceptance of Israel’s legitimacy by its Arab neighbors. Except on issues related to Israel, many Arab governments followed America wherever it led. The collapse of the Soviet Union erased Russian influence in the Middle East, as it did elsewhere.
To recall this history is to underscore the extent of the geopolitical changes that have occurred so far this century. The United States no longer enjoys primacy in the Middle East. The former colonial powers need American military support to intervene in the region, but the countries of the region itself now act independently, confident that they can gain American backing for whatever they do. They do not seem to be wrong about this, judging from U.S. backing for Israel’s wars on its neighbors, Gulf Arab efforts to topple the Asad government in Syria, and the ongoing devastation of Yemen by Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E.
In this century, the U.S.-managed “peace process” between Israelis and Palestinians served as a distraction while Israel evicted Palestinians from their homes, annexed their lands, and denied them self-determination. The ever less credible “peace process” ended by severely damaging U.S. diplomatic standing in the region and beyond it. Unilateral U.S. recognition of an undivided Jerusalem as Israel’s capital capped what had come to be seen as the world’s…