Reshaping the Geopolitics of the Middle East

The dominant discourse in the United States becomes dominated by the belief that the Middle East has lost its central position in the superpower’s strategic calculations. US dependence on Middle Eastern oil has diminished significantly since the beginning of an era of unipolarity; in fact, the United States is now one of the largest oil exporters in the world. Although the Middle East remains an area of ​​secondary concern for the United States, since much of the world’s energy supply comes from the Persian Gulf and stability in this region is necessary to support the world oil market and ensure the coherence in terms of the international economic order.

The main focus of US foreign policy has shifted to the Asia-Pacific region and the rise of China as an economic, military and technological power. Currently, the United States maintains a presence of more than forty thousand troops on the ground in almost every country in the Middle East except Iran. US disengagement in the region is not an option, leading to a significant reduction in troops; however, the military footprint has begun, especially the defense infrastructure. According to reports, the Pentagon is reducing the eleven Patriot and THAAD anti-missile batteries of four countries in the region, including Iraq and Saudi Arabia.

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How does the United States survive in the Middle East despite reduced influence?

Politically and in policy terms, the American disengagement started with President Obama’s pivotal Asia policy and his initial refusal to intervene in the Syrian civil war after using chemical weapons and his reluctance to contain the threat of the Islamic State (IS). The disappearance of American power in the region had paradoxically begun with its invasion of Iraq. This event has compounded the security dilemma for Iran, which in turn has intensified its covert influence efforts in Shia-dominated regions of the Middle East, including Iraq. During the Cold War era, the United States practiced the offshore balancing policy.

The balance of power was already established with certain states alongside the United States, such as the Gulf States and Jordan, while Syria and Iraq joined the Soviet camp. The rise of unipolarity has resulted in unchecked American interventionism. The military and financial costs of the U.S. mission in Iraq, combined with reduced U.S. interdependence on oil, the 2008 financial recession, and the growing unpopularity of foreign intervention in domestic politics American, brought about a change in the adventurism of the Bush era.

However, the damage was already done; as the United States took a softer approach to the region, the socio-economic trap of Arab countries exploded in the form of the Arab Spring of 2011. The Arab Spring led to civil wars in Libya, Syria, Yemen and in Islam. Rise of the state as a capable expansionist non-state actor. These civil wars later turned into proxy wars between regional and extra-regional rivals. Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey have favored and sponsored their own factions in these conflicts. The instability caused by the civil wars provided a golden opportunity for these regional actors to test their weight in shaping events in the region.

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The entry of Russian troops into Syria in 2015 symbolized the weakening of US hegemony in the region

Although Moscow has become an important factor in the region, as it also enjoys the support of Iran, regional players remain the driving force of Middle East geopolitics. The current geopolitical landscape has divided the region into three blocs, one dominated by Iran, the second by Saudi Arabia and the third, somewhat smaller, by Turkey.

Current politics in the region is mainly guided by the policies, goals and designs of these powers, with the United States and Russia being more bystanders and sensitive to the whims of these actors. All three states see a role for themselves in the wake of diminishing US ability to stage events in the region. Turkey has only become an active player after the Syrian Civil War, while Saudi Arabia enjoyed full US support to counter the perceived or real Iranian threat. Tehran, for its part, was driven by the urgent sense of insecurity aroused by its history after the Islamic revolution, triggered and exacerbated by the American intervention in Iraq. American actions in Iraq naturally activated the security dilemma in Tehran.

Consequently, Iranian investments in non-state actors, proxies and militias have increased exponentially. In the case of Baghdad, these proxies, militias and power vacuum have succeeded in giving Tehran massive influence in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Yemen. Saudi Arabia and Turkey, despite enjoying conventional financial and military superiority, cannot resist Iran’s use of proxies as instruments in conflicts. Despite US patronage of Saudi Arabia, the current balance of power is in favor of Iran. In Syria and the Yemeni conflict, Iranian-backed regimes and actors have the upper hand. Despite all their maneuvering, coercion and diplomacy, the Americans seem unable to shape and control the geopolitical realities in the Middle East any longer.

The post-US-Middle East stage is already in place and Iran is likely to triumph over Saudi Arabia. In the event of a significant US disengagement from the region, the following scenarios may occur, the first being continued protracted proxy wars with Iran and Saudi Arabia vying for dominance. This outcome seems rather unlikely because, although both sides want hegemony, the continuation of the conflicts in Yemen and Syria would aggravate instability. On the other hand, the conflict could penetrate the borders of these two countries, as we have already seen in the case of the Houthi attacks on the Saudi mainland.

Read more: A New World: The Middle East Tries Cooperation Alongside Competition

The recently reformed relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia

The second is a kind of commitment between Iran and Saudi Arabia to at least disengage from active conflicts in the Middle East to avoid escalation. The third scenario could be an alliance between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Gulf states to counter Tehran’s influence. Although an agreement against Iran already exists between Israel and the Arab Gulf, the Gulf monarchies, including the United Arab Emirates, are unlikely to be in favor of this scenario because it places them directly under the wrath of the militias. and Iranian proxies, an even more glaring prospect under the absence of the United States as a benefactor.

For the United States, the admission that the heightened perception of Iran as a threat and the aggressive rhetoric and interventionist policies have in fact contributed to the quagmire in the Middle East today is key to determining the course of action. before a complete disengagement. The United States has already realized the limits of its ability to shape geopolitical events. The only option is to prevent the escalation of the regional cold war by encouraging Saudi Arabia to engage Iran with clear strategic objectives. The United States must convince Riyadh to end the conflict in Yemen and find a political settlement with the Houthis.

Read more: How the Middle East became the epicenter of Muslim religious ultra-conservatism?

Iran should also be re-engaged by reviving the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action using economic and diplomatic inducements while encouraging the country to change its aggressive tone towards Riyadh. It seems that sooner or later the United States will significantly disengage from the region to focus entirely on the geopolitical conflict with China and Russia. Cooperation between the Saudi-led bloc and the Iranian-led bloc of countries in the region is the only way to maintain stability in the Middle East.

The author is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at Abdul Wali Khan University in Mardan. He can be contacted at [email protected] The opinions expressed by the authors do not necessarily represent the editorial policy of Global Village Space

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