by Yossi Melman in Tel Aviv
[This was written first for the Israel-based TV news channel i24News and its website.]
The past 3 years have seen several Middle East-related developments that might seem to have little or nothing in common:
- Israel and the United States are locked in on a collision course over Iran’s nuclear program and the stalled negotiations with the Palestinian Authority.
- Saudi Arabia, frustrated by the failure to topple the Assad regime in Syria and American efforts to reconcile with Iranian, is turning its back on the Obama administration and devoting billions of dollars to diversify its sources of military hardware.
- Egypt’s military rulers, angered by Washington’s decreased military and political assistance are making overtures in the direction of Moscow and recently hosted its intelligence and military chiefs.
- In the Libyan civil war the U.S. claimed to “lead from behind” – an oxymoronic phrase.
- Iraq fell into the Shiite-Iranian sphere of interests after the U.S. pulled its troops out.
- Another political and military vacuum is to be expected once U.S. and NATO troops withdraw from Afghanistan. The fragile Kabul government of President Hamid Karazi will be left at the mercy of the Taliban. More than likely, the radical and brutal Islamist movement will eventually return to power.
- President Barack Obama declared that the use of chemical weapons by the Syrian army would be a “red-line.” However, once this line was crossed the U.S. looked the other way and did nothing. Russia jumped at the opportunity, offered a diplomatic solution and emerged from the crisis as a savior.
These incidents could be seen as isolated and independent of each other, yet they do have much in common. Together these incidents are part of a geo-political earthquake taking place in the Middle East and beyond. They are symptoms and results of the shrinking American posture in the region.
The causes for the huge shift in U.S. foreign policy can be attributed to several reasons, some of them self-inflicted mistakes and others calculated risks that were deliberately taken.
In a matter of four years, America is going to be energy independent. It will either completely eliminate, or at least drastically reduce, its need for Arab oil. It is estimated that by 2016, the U.S. will be a bigger oil producer than Saudi Arabia and Russia.
In the decades since the Second World War, a central pillar of U.S. policy in the region was to consolidate its influence on the oil-producing countries and ensure the routes of supply. Once America is no longer dependent on oil imports, the importance of the Middle East, with regards to U.S. national interests, will undoubtedly shrink. As one senior U.S. diplomat told me: “If we don’t need Arab oil, why should we bother with them?”
As a result of his personality, background and political upbringing, President Obama is more motivated by idealism and morality than pragmatism. One must also consider his lack of experience in global affairs and shortage of world class advisers, such as Henry Kissinger (for President Nixon) Zbigniew Brzezinski (for President Carter) or even Condoleezza Rice (for President Bush).
After a decade of two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, war-weary America is less and less interested in becoming involved in world conflicts. Americans are no longer willing to sacrifice their sons to spill blood on foreign fronts. They look inward and want their government to fix their own economy and not to act as the policeman of the world.
The U.S. detachment from regional issues is so evident that it is no wonder Middle Eastern nations are nervous, confused, frustrated and troubled. They realize that they will have to take care of their own national interests. They are less and less afraid of criticizing and confronting the U.S.
The void created by the shift in U.S. foreign policy has forced the Arab nations to look for new sources of military aid, new strategic alliances, and new diplomatic partners.
We are watching the decline of U.S. power worldwide, particularly in our region. Since the Soviet Union began abandoning its posts and influence in the area since the mid-1970’s, the Middle East has been dominated by Pax Americana. Washington consolidated its political influence and military presence, and it dominated the regional markets. Now those days are gone.
Yossi Melman is an Israeli intelligence and security commentator and co-author of “Spies Against Armageddon: Inside Israel’s Secret Wars.”