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US imperialism and the Middle East: the decline of regional influence
 
 

(Contributed)                        27 April 2019

After decades of US-led interference in the Middle East, Washington would appear to be losing its hegemonic presence in the region.

A number of recent developments have had far-reaching implications for US imperialism.

• US-led initiatives to topple President Bashar al-Assad in Syria proved spectacularly unsuccessful;
• the diplomatic position of the Russian Federation has been strengthened across the wider region;
• problems of fleeing jihadists have created serious security considerations elsewhere;
• a new regional alliance, including Iran, Turkey and Qatar has also been established, which effectively has challenged traditional US diplomatic positions;
• an attempt by the US to create an 'Arab NATO' to reassert its regional domination has also proved unsuccessful;
• recent developments inside OPEC, likewise, have seen a dramatic reduction in US-led influence across the Middle East.
 
Israel, in more recent times, has maintained strong diplomatic silence; evidence of their concern with recent developments, which potentially have far-reaching implications.
 
US foreign policy aimed at toppling the government of Syrian President Assad using jihadists and Islamic mercenaries, would appear to have failed in a spectacular manner. It is not particularly difficult to find sufficient evidence to support the position or assess the outcome where the past has returned to haunt the present.
 
Recent US foreign policy toward the Middle East rests upon decisions taken decades ago, which now hang like a mill-stone around their necks:
 
This foreign policy, an outcome of the artificial creation of Al-Qaeda to challenge Soviet social-imperialism in Afghanistan, had the specific purpose of maintaining a data-base of Mujahideen 'to be used as intelligence assets to achieve US foreign policy objectives throughout both the Cold War and into the post-Cold War era of the new world order', if and as required. (1)
 
British governments of the period also played an important role in training the jihadists for covert operations. Reliable sources have noted, for example, 'in the 1980s, the British Special Forces (SAS) were training Mujahideen in Afghanistan, as well as in secret camps in Scotland, and the SAS was largely taking orders from the CIA'. (2)
 
The developments did not escape the attention of some British M.P.s, including Robin Cook, who later served as Foreign Secretary in the 1990s. He publicised what was usually referred to as 'literally the data-base' of Al-Qaeda, composed of thousands of files on who had been recruited and trained by the CIA. 'Al-Qaeda', it was noted, 'was born as an instrument of western intelligence services'. (3)
 
Soon after US military intervention in Iraq plans were being laid to topple the Syrian government of President Assad. In early 2006 the US allocated $5 million for Syrian governance and reform programs. (4) The moves coincided with US imposition of a series of sanctions against Syria together with covert military planning. (5) The planning, however, was for use with surrogates and proxies which were to include 'an extension of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, drawing on Syrian Muslim Brotherhood networks and the ever faithful, sectarian and vicious Saudis'. (6)
 
Pentagon military planners would appear to have considered two important factors:
 
• their failure to establish a viable functioning administration in Baghdad despite the huge US formal military presence;
• a general reluctance to fight two regional wars at the same time, when they had shown their inability to win even one.
 
Saudi Arabia, a bastion of US-led support for Sunni Islam, has long been played against Shia supporters who identify with Iran. Since the fall of the Shah in 1979, a US puppet installed to promote 'US interests', successive presidential administrations in Washington have maintained a Cold War position toward Tehran. As the Syrian administration of President Assad is based in Alawite traditions, close to Shia belief systems, the US position toward Damascus can best be viewed in similar Cold War terms, directed primarily at Tehran and its allies.
 
The ambitious US military plan to topple President Assad was eventually implemented in 2011 under the guise of the so-called 'Arab Spring' and the supposed struggle for democracy promoted by the Free Syrian Army. In reality, the complete opposite formed part of the plan: tens of thousands of jihadist mercenaries converged upon the country from elsewhere. Their stated intention was to establish a caliphate based on sharia principles, but designed to serve 'US interests'.
 
The massive distortion of reliable coverage in US-led media outlets has subsequently been seen, however, to have completely back-fired. President Assad has emerged from the appalling situation as a popular political leader with the mass of Syrians, much to US embarrassment. The military assistance provided to Syria by the Russian Federation from 2015, has, for all intents and purposes, now altered the balance of forces across the wider Middle East.
 
It has been noted, for example, that 'Russia, not the US, emerged out of the rubble of Syria as a major power-broker and military tactician'. (7) Similar statements, including one from the prestigious US Army Military Review, have since been removed from official websites to avoid further embarrassment for the Pentagon and the military planners responsible for the debacle. (8) 
 
It is, therefore, not surprising a crisis has emerged in US-led western circles about a suitable course of action to take when dealing with tens of thousands of fleeing jihadists. Very few sensible political leaders would actually want battle-hardened terrorists back in their own countries, for obvious reasons. 
 
An official media release following the collapse of the Islamic caliphate in eastern Syria reported, 'there are thousands of fighters, children and women from 54 countries, not including Iraqis and Syrians, who are a serious burden and danger for us and for the international community'. (9) The exact number of Australian passport holders within their midst has remained a contentious matter. While Syrian Kurds have repeatedly demanded western countries 'repatriate their citizens', the vast majority of those concerned remain in makeshift transit camps with nowhere to go. (10)
 
Following the recent stabilisation of Syria a new regional alliance has been established which has been based upon Turkey, Iran and Qatar, with backing from Russia and China. It has come to symbolise a changing balance of forces and credible challenge to traditional US hegemonic positions, through their regional proxies of Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States. It has already led some observers to note that 'America's Syrian humiliation is worse than it looks'. (11)
 
Recent attempts, by the US, therefore, to establish an 'Arab NATO', can best be viewed as an attempt by Washington to reassert their hegemonic position. The stated US diplomatic position about the regional body was the outcome of 'the Trump administration's strategy to contain Iranian power'. (12) Needless to say, the plan would appear to have failed, dismally, with Egypt not wanting any involvement to 'bind Sunni Muslim Arab allies into a security, political and economic pact to counter Shia Iran'. (13)
 
It has been noted the new Turkey, Iran and Qatar alliance has acted as a buffer against the planned 'Arab NATO'. (14) The initial plan for the pro-US NATO-type regional body, was first tabled two years ago by Saudi Arabia. It was also, ironically, 'aimed at limiting the growing regional influence of Russia and China, according to a classified document reviewed by Reuters last year'. (15)
 
A further factor explaining the reluctance of Egypt to participate in the 'Arab NATO', was their concern whether President Trump would win a second term of office next year. It was thought a successor might abandon the regional military plan, leaving those involved with the problem of explaining their participation to their own peoples at a later date. (16)
 
It is against this shifting backcloth of regional alliances and changing balances of forces that recent developments inside OPEC have proved significant and evidence of the increased influence of Russian diplomacy in the wider region. Saudi Arabia, historically, has been a major player inside OPEC. Following high-level diplomatic talks between Russian President Putin and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, at the recent G20 meeting in Buenos Aires, Russia agreed to cut oil production while Iran was allowed to keep pumping. (17) Iran is subject to US-imposed sanctions restricting trade in oil with other countries.
 
It would appear Saudi Arabia is no longer so keen to accept US diplomatic dictat, given the changing regional balance of forces. While Saudi Arabia has maintained strong links with the US, it now has to consider Russia as a credible regional player. It has, therefore, not been so surprising to note an official media release from Saudi Arabia that stated Saudi Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih met more times with his Russian counterpart in 2018 than he did with colleagues in the Saudi cabinet. (18) The diplomatic meetings also appear to have been cordial; based on common interests, not 'US interests'.
 
To date, Israel, traditionally a main regional military planner for the US, has remained very quiet about recent developments. It is, perhaps not surprising: a great deal of the problem the US now confronts within the Middle East resides within decision-making circles of the Israeli corridors of power in Tel Aviv. Israel has provided a great deal of the expertise historically used in US-led regional foreign policy planning and implementation. A reduction of US influence in the Middle East is also quickly experienced inside Israel. The country cannot remain viable without almost unlimited US assistance. Those hiding behind diplomatic silence, have a great deal to hide and even more to lose.
 
The future, therefore, for the Middle East, remains particularly interesting at the present time.
 
Australia needs an independent foreign policy!

1.     The Imperial Anatomy of Al-Qaeda, Andrew Gavin Marshall, Global Research, Montreal, Canada, 5 September 2010; NEXUS Magazine, October-November 2010, pp. 11-15.
2.     Ibid.
3.     Ibid.
4.     The Dirty War on Syria, Tim Anderson, (Canada, 2016), page 30.
5.     Ibid., page 31.
6.     Ibid., page 32.
7.     New Turkey-Iran-Qatar axis, Russia Today, Quoted: The Guardian, 3 April 2019.
8.     Syria Conflict, news.co.au., 3 April 2018.
9.     Defeated jihadists a time-bomb, say Kurds, Australian, 26 March 2019; and, Captured ISIS forces a burden on allies, Australian, 7 March 2019.
10.   Nations urged to take ISIS families, Australian, 26 February 2019.
11.   Russia Today, op. cit.
12.   Egypt quits the 'Arab NATO', Australian, 12 April 2019.
13.   Ibid.
14.   Russia Today, op.cit.
15.   Australian, op.cit., 12 April 2019.
16.   Ibid.
17.   OPEC's new best friend: Russia, Australian, 17 April 2019.
18.   Ibid.