Why US Strategy in Middle East Is Sinking into Embarrassment

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry visited the Middle East on Nov. 22. It is reported that his visit focused on the issues of the violence between Israel and Palestine, as well as the Islamic State and the conflict in Syria, etc. Kerry’s visit to the Middle East has garnered foreign interest and caused a lot of speculation. As the Middle East sinks into chaos, U.S. policy in the region is being attacked from all sides. Noam Chomsky, the famous political commentator, not long ago criticized the U.S. for creating a political black hole in the Middle East.

Since Obama has been in office, there has been an overall contraction in America’s strategy in the Middle East. Avoiding chaos and seeking stability has been prominent in the [country’s] highly cautious strikes on the Islamic State group, as well as its patient pursuance of Iranian nuclear negotiations. At the end of September this year, Russia began air strikes against the Islamic State group in Syria, and has thereby already caused very thorny feelings in America. After the terrorist attacks on Paris, it is even more clear that Obama’s strategy in the Middle East has become an embarrassment, and essentially reflects the United States’ strategic goal to maintain supremacy and useless power; but there are three major predicaments associated with the United States’ limited methods for this.

First of all, there is the contradiction of ending the violence within Middle Eastern regions while the U.S. strategically withdraws from the Middle East. Since the turbulent changes in the Middle East began, there has been an intense resurgence of terrorism, a rapid reorganization of power in local regions, and deep strategic adjustments both inside and outside the region. These are deep changes to local structures in the Middle East, and the rate of change is profound. But with its withdrawal from the Middle East, the U.S. has no other choice but to focus on dealing with the old problems of its deep involvement in the Middle East: the Palestinian-Israeli issue, the Iranian nuclear issue, the typical problems following its withdrawal from Iraq and Afghanistan, and — most of all — fixing the terrible mess left behind by the Bush administration. There has clearly been insufficient planning and serious flaws in its passive response to new problems. The U.S. has struggled to lead the way in balancing power among the four major traditional powers in the Arab world: the Arabs, the Turks, the Iranians and the Israelis. Now, Russia has also observed the vulnerabilities of the U.S.’s withdrawal from the Middle East, and has consequently undertaken action in Syria itself.

Second, there are contradictions between U.S. strategy in the Middle East and its multiple goals — contradictions between the values of diplomacy, pragmatism and realism. Today, despite the United States’ strategic withdrawal, its goal of maintaining hegemony in the Middle East has not changed. At the same time, the goals of defending the security of allies, guaranteeing energy security, exporting democracy, fighting terrorism and guarding against regional hegemony, etc., often all restrict and impede one another. This then puts the U.S. in a predicament of being unable to fully focus its strategy in the Middle East on one issue without losing sight of the others.

Third, the strategies of the Middle Eastern allies of the U.S. in the region have fallen into crisis. Having Middle Eastern allies has long been America’s strategic method for maintaining hegemony within the Middle East, but has also simultaneously been a serious burden on its strategy in the region and has meant that it has constantly been either training, utilizing, placating or denouncing those allies to form a level of balance between them. Currently, changes in relations between the U.S. and its ally Egypt exemplify the state of relations between the U.S. and its other allies. During the Cold War, due to the need to guarantee the safety of its ally Israel and to resist the Soviet Union, the U.S. worked hard to cultivate Egypt (a country with important influence in regional affairs in the Arab-Israeli conflict) as one of its own allies. But after the Arab Spring, the U.S. became concerned with the need to drive forward the exportation of democracy, and it mercilessly abandoned its long-term ally, the Mubarak regime. Later, due to its resentment that the Muslim Brotherhood had risen to power, the U.S. tacitly accepted the military coup d’état ousting the Morsi regime, but once again, this resulted in intense criticism from the Egyptian and Arabic populations.

Ultimately, the U.S. cannot concentrate on one issue without neglecting the other issues, and seldom meets the will of the people.

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