Ignoring the advice of Saudi and Israeli Intelligence, soon after President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq the administration realized that their principle reason behind the war, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was a myth created by Iran, a ruse to encourage the invasion (Iran’s agent in the White House, Ahmed Chalabi, fed disinformation re WMD to the administration “corroborated” by “trusted” Iranian Intelligence). Whatever inspired the administration to invade (several motives were provided, and replaced) Iranian motives were obvious: Sadam fought them to standstill in the 1980’s and Iraq stood between them and their ambitions to neutralize American influence and dominate the region.
Having defeated the Iraqis America then faced Shiite militias funded, trained and often led by Iranian officers. America was involved in another unwinnable “Vietnam.” With no graceful escape available Bush chose an accommodation with the Iranians to minimize US casualties. Between destroying the military standoff between Iraq and Iran and essentially kowtowing to Iran (Bush ended America’s thirty-year policy of non-recognition (Bush provided Iran a State Department interest section in downtown Tehran, likely reward for ordering Muqtada al-Sadr not to attack during the “Surge,” Bush’s “victory” to set a withdrawal date). And Iran, now facing a war-weary America, continued unopposed with its nuclear weaponization program.
If Bush backroom deals with the Iranians provided for an “honorable exit” from Iraq, provided Iran with her Iraqi satellite, who but Barak Obama, a politician dedicated to peace and naïve in foreign affairs would have been a better choice for president to continue the Bush policy of appeasing Iran? Under Obama’s watch Iraq all but ordered the US to leave; under his hesitant nuclear diplomacy Iran was provided a world stage to publicly and continuously embarrass the superpower by serially rejecting compromise. And America’s credibility declined as Iran’s soared.
An interview with Susan E. Rice
recently appeared in the New York Times in which Obama’s new national security adviser laid out the administrations “new” Middle East policy:
“We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” she said, adding, “He [Obama] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.”
The Times article continued by summarizing the president’s UN speech:
“At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.”
If this sounds akin to a child’s hopeful letter to Santa this is because, at least in the eyes of anyone not employed on the president’s foreign policy team, all three initiatives are at best extremely improbable:
“The president’s goal, said Ms. Rice…is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.”
But even a brief look at the president’s agenda before the UN, beginning with the Iranian bomb: the president’s five-year failure as negotiator has brought the world to a one-month threshold to weaponization as concluded by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security
(past head of the IAEA came to an even shorter threshold
). A president who, upon entering office had as his chief priority to reduce nuclear proliferation instead has put the most unstable region in the world, target of America’s War on Terror, on a path to a nuclear arms race.
As regards, “brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” anyone outside the White House with even a minimum awareness of more than a century of failure (as mandatory power England several times tried to bring the sides together only to be faced with Palestinian rejection) would be aware that as much as both sides would benefit, as much as both peoples desire peace, that each sides minimal demands (Israel: security including a demilitarized Palestine with Israeli military outposts in the Jordan Valley; the Palestinians: “return” of the “refugees” to their homes which, translated, amounts to the end of Jewish sovereignty); anyone with any sense of reality must realize that even if Obama’s “peace in our time” in nine months is serious, that regardless how forcefully presented, that the chances of the Kerry round of talks bridging the differences is highly unlikely: the peace process is dead at the gate.
And as for Obama's Syria "policy"… Right!
If the United States, despite all indications to the contrary, intends to remain in the region then it will have to undergo a presidential structural revolution. Attacking Iraq, ousting Mubarak; these certainly resulted with approval of America’s foreign policy “brain trust.” And such flawed policy advice seems endemic to the White House. The impact of such stupid or naïve, (reader’s choice) decision-making is that virtually all previous American alliances in the region are in disarray. And White House confusion regarding priorities continues. Amid leaks that the administration would use its financial aid as a way to force Egypt to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to be party to a return to “democracy” Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan met with Putin in Moscow in July:
“We will continue to support the [Egyptian] army
, and we will support Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi because he is keen on having good relations with us and with you. And we suggest to you to be in contact with him, to support him and to give all the conditions for the success of this experiment. We are ready to hold arms deals with you in exchange for supporting these regimes, especially Egypt.”
The message to Obama, clear from the independence demonstrated by the formerly dependent Saudis, is now openly adopted by Egypt. Al-Sisi responded to the Obama threats to limit aid by inviting Russia to take America’s place.
And so, on the unlikely assumption that the past thirteen years of consistent and persistent policy misadventures represent simple “amateurism” based on the advice of America’s “brain trust” then a complete foreign policy housecleaning, including the State Department, is the only way to reverse the decline of America as “superpower.” Idealistic platitudes such as “freedom” and “democracy” may work as domestic public relations; on the ground success is determined by Realpolitik. And that would have left Sadam in place in Iraq, Qadafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt! Perhaps not the “democrats” so desired by the west, but certainly preferable in spilled blood and spent treasure achieved to date!
With America’s role as regional hegemon coming to an end, what are Israel’s (and the Arab state’s) options for a post-America Middle East? To even approach this question demands a prior question: since the region is too volatile to simply be abandoned to itself, too strategic to be ignored by aspiring “superpowers,” who will likely replace the United States?
There are two obvious possibilities, China and Russia. While China has made major inroads into American interests in Africa and Afghanistan/Pakistan, she does not yet have the navy to assert control over a region half a world away. And so, barely four decades after the US ejected the USSR from Egypt Putin is positioning Russia
to return the favor. And since already patron to Iran and Syria, Russia’s return to the region without firing a shot is a nothing short of spectacular.
Conventional Wisdom (and American analysts) holds that Russia is too weak militarily and economically to challenge the United States. And this is true, at least if the United States continued to view the region a “national interest.” But is that the case? And if not, how explain the US withdrawing from the Middle East with its strategic oil reserves and Suez Canal? Perhaps the discovery of an abundance of oil shale deposits outside the region? Simple economics might be behind Arab oil fast losing importance to American policy-makers.
Regarding the region as “strategic real estate:” the US has been attempting under Obama to “pivot” from the Middle to Far East. Stubbornly the chaos which the United States played no small part in creating continues as distraction. The president’s policy of “benign neglect” as national course change from Bush “interventionism” has, rather than achieving status quo on the ground instead accelerated regional instability and frustrated America’s “pivot” east. And so Syria festers the result of Obama benign neglect as Iraq festers thanks to Bush adventurism. And Iran, masked by the smokescreen provided by its Syrian intervention continues its relentless march to nuclear weaponization.
Measured against US policy over the past thirteen years the US will continue its retreat blaming all the while the Syrians and the Iraqis and the Egyptians and the Jews for obvious American failures. And so Russia, militarily and economically far inferior inherits the region by default, realization of a centuries-long dream. And Europe the result of the Russian Navy to the south, the Russian Army to the north; already dependent on Russian natural gas to fuel its factories and heat its homes: Europe, as the Middle East, will be forced to leave the American orbit.
Returning to the question of this article’s title: how does Russia replacing America impact Israel? I numerous times addressed this question over the years while tracking America’s retreat into isolationism. So beyond providing links to those discussions I will limit myself to this: For decades Israel served America’s interests in the region, contrary to the imaginings of American pundits of the left and right. For decades Israel served to stabilize the region by threatening forces challenging stability, threatening American interests in Arab oil and the Suez Canal. Over the decades Israel saved the US many billions of dollars which otherwise would have be allocated by the US to directly protect those interests.
One obvious example: when Jordan was threatened by Soviet-backed Syrian tanks in 1970 American troops were not needed because Israel was able to threaten Syria’s flank forcing it to retreat. And the world was spared the possibility of a US-USSR nuclear showdown. And while the history of Israel/US military and intelligence cooperation is yet to be fully written Israel almost always defers to the American president assuring American interests are not endangered by Israeli independent action. The United States, the major party to the “special relationship,” achieves its interests at far less cost, minimal risk, and zero visibility.
Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, is aware of Israel’s role and value to the US during the Cold War. But even beyond Israel’s not insignificant value as counter-threat to forces threatening hegemonic/Israeli interests Russia has other interests in a n already developing alliance with Israel. For example Putin is courting Israeli as technology innovator to help Russia develop her own technological base. Russia is partnering with Israel in the area of natural gas deposits off Israel’s coast. And it happens also that Russia and Israel have a common enemy in Islamist terrorism, Chechnya one example. Russia and Israel are already allied in significant strategic interests. Certainly the instability of the Islamist Spring recommends Israel as continuing to provide the same stabilizing force for the future regional hegemon, Russia.
Several earlier articles on this topic:
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