Strategic contraction and failure to advance and retreat-changes in U.S. influence in the Middle East

By yqqlm yqqlm

Global Depth | Strategic Shrinkage, Advances and Retreats-Changes in U.S. Influence in the Middle East

The U.S. will officially end U.S. military operations in Iraq before the end of this year. This will be an important sign of the strategic contraction of the United States in the Middle East.

The implementation of strategic contraction does not mean that the United States will “abandon” the Middle East. Although the importance of the Middle East on the American global strategic chessboard has declined, the region still affects some major strategic interests of the United States. The decline of US hegemony in the Middle East is relative. Its dominant position in the Middle East has not changed, and its military presence in the Middle East remains strong. In order to safeguard its own interests, the United States will still exert influence on the Middle East through various channels.

Strategic contraction and failure to advance and retreat-changes in U.S. influence in the Middle East

U.S. President Biden said on July 26 The US military in Iraq will end its combat mission by the end of this year, but will continue to undertake the duties of training and assisting Iraqi government forces. Information photos taken on July 25 show that US President Biden arrived at the White House in Washington. Xinhua News Agency (photographed by Shen Ting)

Continuous adjustment of U.S. strategic goals in the Middle East

The strategic goals of U.S. Middle East policy have been dynamically adjusted. Looking back on the U.S. Middle East strategy since World War II, its changes have basically kept pace with the adjustment of U.S. global strategy.

After the Suez Canal War in 1956, the United States replaced Britain and France as the main “player” of the Western world in the Middle East.

During the “Cold War”, the United States and the Soviet Union launched a global strategic battle. The Middle East is an important stage for the United States and the Soviet Union to compete, but the United States has not been directly involved in the Middle East conflict on a large scale, but has implemented a policy of “offshore balance” for a long time. Defending Israeli security, controlling energy in the Middle East, and preventing the Soviet Union and its allies from controlling the Middle East are the core interests of the United States.

After the end of the “Cold War”, the promotion of American “democracy” and “freedom” and the establishment of a new Middle Eastern order dominated by the United States became its main strategic goals.

However, the Gulf War that broke out in 1991 completely changed the US Middle East strategy. During the Gulf War, the United States sent a large army directly to the war and drove the Iraqi army out of Kuwait. Since then, US Middle East policy has shifted from “offshore balance” to large-scale intervention.

After the “September 11” incident in 2001, combating terrorism, preventing the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and promoting regional “democratic” transformation have become the core content of the Bush administration’s Middle East policy. In the view of the Bush Administration, the “democracy deficit” in the Middle East is the main source of the spread of regional terrorism. During the 2003 Iraq War, US troops directly invaded Iraq and overthrew the Saddam regime. Before the large-scale withdrawal in 2011, the United States maintained a long-term garrison of about 100,000 troops in Iraq, which was the pinnacle of the United States’ large-scale intervention strategy.

After Obama was elected president in 2008, in view of the lessons of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the decline in American power and status, and the launch of the “Asia-Pacific Rebalancing” strategy, the United States further adjusted its Middle East policy and adopted Many measures have been taken to reduce strategic investment, such as the large-scale withdrawal of troops from Iraq in 2011, and a nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015 with China, Russia, Britain, France and Germany. The core idea of ​​the Obama administration’s Middle East policy is to implement strategic contraction in the Middle East and shift the US global strategic focus from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific.

After Trump came to power in 2017, counter-terrorism and containment of Iran are the primary goals of the US government’s Middle East policy. Trump’s Middle East policy is designed to allow the United States to achieve a complete strategic withdrawal from the Middle East. Trump emphasizes “America first”, and his Middle East policy is also profit-oriented, reflecting the characteristics of unilateralism and pragmatism.

After the Biden administration takes office in 2021, ending the “endless war”, returning to the Iranian nuclear agreement, and implementing value diplomacy will be the three major priorities of Middle East policy. The main goal of the Biden administration’s Middle East policy is to contain Russia and Iran and regain the leadership in Middle East affairs.

Focus of U.S. Middle East Strategic Interests

Reviewing the U.S. Middle East strategy in different periods, it is not difficult to find that the core interests of the United States in the Middle East mainly include two aspects, namely, safeguarding U.S. national security interests. And control the energy resources of the Middle East.

In terms of security interests, the United States must first maintain a balance between its ally Israel and its Arab partners, not only to ensure Israel’s security, but also to take into account the positions and reactions of Arab countries; the second is to combat terrorism. Avoid the recurrence of the “9.11” incident; the third is to ensure that Iran will not possess nuclear weapons.

Strategic contraction and failure to advance and retreat-changes in U.S. influence in the Middle East(1)

On August 11, the car was in Virginia, USA Refuel at a gas station in Arlington, California. Photo by Xinhua News Agency reporter Liu Jie

In terms of energy interests, the United States wants to prevent its opponents from controlling energy in the Middle East. Although the U.S. domestic shale oil development has achieved results, this does not mean that Middle East energy has become unimportant. The United States can influence the Middle East, thereby affecting the supply of oil to Europe and Asia, and even the price of international oil and natural gas.

To put it bluntly, the most important part of the U.S. Middle East strategic interests is to maintain U.S. influence in the region. In order to achieve this, the United States needs to act as an external leader in major security affairs in the region, and it also needs to prevent other major powers from becoming competitors in this position of the United States.

U.S. influence in the Middle East has declined

In the past few decades, the United States has repeatedly conducted armed or unarmed interventions in the Middle East, but the result is that the Middle East is more chaotic and the United States is in an even more embarrassing situation. The influence continues to decline.

In West Asia and the Middle East, some people believe that the U.S. fleeing Afghanistan in a hurry and the Taliban’s rapid takeover of power in Afghanistan is a signal that participants in the region can no longer rely on the ever-weakening power of the United States. UAE analyst Abdul Khalik Abdullah wrote in the “National” that “it is time to reduce the dependence on Washington in the strategic field”.

The United States launched the Iraq War, overthrew the Saddam regime, and fostered the so-called “democratic regime” in Iraq. However, the current Iraqi government has moved away from Iran, which is hostile to the United States due to religious, cultural, and historical reasons. Closer. The Iraqi parliament made a resolution to allow foreign troops to withdraw from Iraq, which is tantamount to an eviction order against the U.S. military, which severely damaged the face of the United States as a major power. The transition process in Egypt and Libya has not moved in the direction expected by the United States. A series of incidents such as the tragic death of the US ambassador to Libya in Benghazi in 2012 proves that the United States is facing increasing threats in the Middle East.

Salman Sheikh, director of the Doha Research Center of the Brookings Institution, pointed out that the view that the United States will become insignificant in the Middle East is naive, but it is not noticed that the United States is a diplomatic superpower in the region. It’s also wrong that the era is coming to an end. He said, “The United States is still an important player, but it is no longer the big brother.”

The United States still promises to protect the security of the Central ASEAN countries, but practice shows that the United States can no longer protect the regime security of its allies, especially security threats from within the allies. Egypt is an important ally of the United States in the Middle East. In 2011, when the Egyptian Mubarak regime was in crisis, the United States stood by and let it fall. Later, there were large-scale demonstrations in Bahrain, the royal regime was facing challenges, and the United States had no intention of intervening. Later, Saudi troops sent troops to quell the situation. In the foreseeable future, the United States will no longer be able to deploy ground forces on a large scale for any Middle Eastern country.

At the level of the game among major powers in the Middle East, the United States failed to gain the upper hand. After Russia intervened in the Syrian war in 2015, it not only succeeded in maintaining the Bashar regime, but also mediated the conflict between Kurdish and Turkish forces in northeastern Syria. In addition, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, the two strategic allies of the United States, are constantly approaching, which has a major impact on the geopolitics and regional security of the Middle East. Russia’s influence in the Middle East has increased significantly.

At the regional level, the phenomenon of countries in the Middle East doing their own things and not listening to the orders of the United States has become more prominent, especially in countries such as Iran, Turkey, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, which have become extremely active. U.S. allies such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt all purchase S-400 air defense missile systems and Su-30 fighter jets from Russia, putting the U.S. government in a very embarrassing situation. In 2019, when Turkey aggressively marched into the Syrian Kurdish armed forces, Trump announced that the United States would withdraw its troops from Syria. He did not hesitate to abandon allies who had fought side by side with the United States in the war against the “Islamic State”. As a result, the United States lost its credibility and consumed its influence. force.

From the perspective of the Middle East countries, after more than a hundred years of gross intervention by the extraterritorial powers, the Middle East countries’ resentment and distrust of the extraterritorial powers, especially the United States, have accumulated to a certain extent. The call for self-determination of national affairs has continued to increase.

From the perspective of its global strategic intentions, the United States wants to get rid of several “mess” in the Middle East as soon as possible, so as to concentrate on the competition among major powers. However, from a realistic perspective, complex Middle East hotspot issues, such as the Palestine-Israel issue, the Iranian nuclear issue, and the Syrian issue, are all related to the major interests of the United States, making it “want to go, but difficult to go, and not willing to go.” Dilemma.

The Washington Post believes that the recent actions of the Biden administration reflect a change in its foreign policy, shifting its focus from the Middle East and counter-terrorism to the “threat” of other major powers. This transformation has become the diplomatic “pillar” of the Biden administration.

However, history has proven that it is not easy for the United States to withdraw from the Middle East. Voices against Biden’s Middle East policy have emerged in the United States. Senior Republican Senator Graham criticized Biden’s Middle East policy as “a disaster in the making”, or led to the comeback of the “Al-Qaida” organization and the “Islamic State”.

Hall, a senior researcher at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank, believes that Iran’s growing influence in Iraq is one of several reasons why Biden’s foreign policy changes may not be achieved as planned.

In addition, if the Iranian nuclear issue is not handled properly, it will be difficult for the United States to truly withdraw from the Middle East, and it will be difficult for the United States to concentrate on global strategic competition. For the Biden administration, returning to the Iran nuclear agreement is one of the labels of its Middle East policy. But this year has passed halfway, and the prospect of returning to the Iranian nuclear agreement is not clear. The election of Leahy as Iran’s president has deepened America’s anxiety. For the United States, Leahy brings multiple uncertainties, which not only add to the uncertainty of the Iranian nuclear negotiations, but also the U.S. Middle East policy and the direction of the relationship between the United States and Iran.

In general, the United States must not only reduce its strategic investment in the Middle East, but also keep its strategic interests in the Middle East from being lost. These two goals are contradictory, and the United States is in a state of losing ground.