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article imageOp-Ed: The US is losing the Middle East game to Russia and Turkey

By Paul Wallis     Dec 17, 2019 in World
Ankara - America’s vague, blurry Middle Eastern geopolitical strategy has always been a bit iffy. Now, The US is losing ground in the Middle East as Russia takes Turkey effectively out of NATO, with US nukes on the ground in Turkey.
Turkey is playing a simple but logical game. The Turks are threatening to shut down a US base with nukes. Turkey is a nominal NATO member, but after the Cold War things have changed. Turkish leader Erdogan is closer to Russia than any Turkish leader since the Ottoman Empire.
He’s also annoyed with Donald Trump, whose clumsy threats and tinpot diplomacy against Turkey have failed miserably. This may seem like a relatively passing thing, but the Turkish move towards Russia has broken the ring around Russia created in the Cold War.
Putin has yet again outwitted the verbose, inattentive Trump. Russia has always had influence in the Middle East, particularly in Syria, but not actual combat troops on the ground and a working military operation.
On a regional basis, America’s commitments in the Middle East are looking even more fragile. Russia doesn’t need to do much to win Brownie points with the fed-up Middle East. America’s unquestioning support of the Saudis, often ridiculed with good reason, for example, commits America to an open-ended involvement with arguably the primary driver of the most appalling wars in Middle Eastern history.
Saudi Arabia is the home of the anti-Western Wahabis, the hideous Darfour Wahabi "crusade", Al Qaeda in its initial form, the current actors in a genocidal war against Yemen, and alleged financiers of Islamic terrorists throughout the region. Saudi Arabia is supposedly a “bulwark” against Iran. In practice, the Saudis and Iranians usually just glare at each other, but the US has taken the Saudi side, while also pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal.
Middle East geopolitics right now
Geopolitics is defined as international relations as defined by geographical factors. The geographic factors in the Middle East include a death grip on international shipping thanks to Suez, the oil sector, mass production of global terrorists, and lots and lots of people living in absolute squalor for generations.
The US has been progressively getting into Middle Eastern wars and general political and economic chaos for about 70 years now. The anti-US rhetoric of terrorists against the US is spin, largely based on its perceived support for corrupt, tyrannical governments. Whatever the intentions of the United States, however, that image has stuck. The commitment is largely a liability. So far that liability has eaten up trillions of dollars, and achieved very little, if anything.
Iraq is still a mess.
Syria is a disaster area.
The Turks have moved in to fight American allies, the Kurds, with no opposition from the US.
Gaza is still a horrible place, and near-human life is still an unattainable dream for the Palestinians.
Lebanon is nearly bankruptand in chaos.
Israel continues to dictate foreign policy to the Trump administration.
Yemen is a mess. 5 million kids have been said to be at risk of starvation. Nobody will ever know the true cost of this hideous war.
Do you see/ have you seen in the post-Cold War era any coherent US position on these issues, in a supposedly critical geopolitical flash point. The US fought two major wars against Iraq, another against IS, and the winners are Russia and now Turkey. The Middle East has been dictating policy for the US, to the detriment of the US.
Not all is lost – Yet.
The US, still however, has a few cards to play. Without US support, many of the largely cosmetic local governments in the region will fall. Russia can’t match US capital on the higher levels. That’s a major issue, because most Middle Eastern governments and business sectors are very capital-intensive.
Militarily, letting the Russians and Turks enjoy the wonders of undiluted Middle Eastern hospitality for a decade or so might be good aversion therapy. The modern Russian military is capable, but nowhere near on the scale to replace the US in a theatre-wide scenario. There’s a point at which “power projection” simply becomes an expensive, endless process and the Middle East is the classic example.
There is no such thing as “Middle East peace”, and may never be. Wars make people rich in this region. Politics generates wars and a lot of related business. The geopolitical reality is that the US may have lost a major decades-long liability and gained an actual asset if it simply ends its unilateral blank check approach.
This is a region where quid pro quo (“this for that”) is very well understood. If the US starts demanding sanity for dollars, and peace for trade, it might see some of both, for a change. America could also remove the blank checks to nations which have basically never done a damn thing for it but take American money for doing nothing.
The alternative for the Middle East is endless wars, and shattered economies. The jihadis would be in full cry, with any excuse they need to attack the failing governments. Russia can’t support countries from Libya to Iraq by itself.
Chinese interests in the Middle East, and there are many, would also be at risk without American support of the various governments. China can and probably would protect those interests, and edge out the Russians with more cash. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it?
It’s an interesting picture. Imagine Turkey, Russia and China committed up to their eye teeth in managing the Middle East and its ever so charming genocidal hobbies. Trying to manage Iran. Working with the Saudis. About 10 years of this thankless idiocy should do the trick. For once, the US could win a few points against Russia and China, and leave Turkey holding the bag for its regional and territorial issues. (The Kurdish areas are hardly a holiday zone for combat troops, particularly for long periods of time.)
My bet would be that just learning the basics would be a very expensive process for anyone. Paying for it would be an acquired taste, and the utterly indigestible local Middle Eastern politics could make an anorexic out of an elephant. Even if you’re used to the rather tasteless and toxic Russian and Chinese politics, this region is Salmonella City by comparison.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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