The cover story in The Economist this week is “Losing the Middle East,” a reference to U.S.-Arab relations, which have experienced many conflicts since the outbreak of the Arab Spring. These disagreements have become public and both sides adhered to conflicting policies, a situation that had been intentionally avoided, at least over the past three decades.
According to the Obama administration, which boasts that it succeeded in freeing America from involvement in foreign wars for the first time in a long time, the U.S. is acting in response to the problem of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in which thousands of soldiers were lost. The Obama administration did not achieve any political gains, and so Iraq is in a state of chaos and in a struggle that has taken on a religious form. In Afghanistan, the Taliban did not disappear, but rather spread to a tribal region in Pakistan.
For a while it seemed like the Obama administration would emerge from the problem in Syria, only to return at the last moment, turning Syria into fertile ground for terrorists from all over the world and becoming a global problem that is threatening global security. Many Arab countries warned of this situation before it happened.
Some analysts in the West circulated theories that say the Middle East is losing its significance as an energy reserve as new technology for extracting shale oil has caused the U.S. to become a significant oil producer; U.S. dependence on importation of oil to meet its needs has subsequently decreased. All of these theories ignore the fact that other industrial countries depend on the Middle East’s oil, making it an important factor for the stability of the global economy. Aside from that, it is also expensive to extract shale oil in this way, and some researchers suspect that it encourages seismic activity.
The bottom line is that America will never leave the region because of its enormous interests in it, and the Middle East doesn’t want it to leave, considering that it has played (and still plays) an important role in the region’s security. If an area came into conflict, then it could be dealt with pragmatically by promoting common interests and determining the reason for the dispute in a specific area. This is how it was for the Gulf States led by Saudi Arabia, which took a firm stand alongside the Egyptian people’s dislike of the Muslim Brotherhood. These countries didn’t wait for a signal from Washington, which, for incomprehensible reasons, took a position closer to the Muslim Brotherhood under the illusion that by taking such a position it could strike a deal with certain movements of political Islam.
It seems the two parties, Arab and American, have reached an unspoken understanding over a type of pragmatism pointed out by The Economist in which American political strategy sides with Iran in Iraq, but conflicts with Iran’s political strategy in Syria. The same is true of the Iraqi side; Iraq is not pleased with American intervention on some of the issues, but it is accustomed to living with it.
The most important thing for the Arab side is to hold its interests close. It has already been proven that the results of Western intervention are disastrous in some cases, such as the experience in Iraq, when its institutions were dismantled and its army was demobilized, or in Libya, where chaos flared up and it became another magnet for international terrorists.