The US and the Battle for the Middle East

Since the late 1940s control of the Middle East has been central to U.S. global geopolitical strategy. Three decades later the US fought a proxy war with the USSR in Afghanistan, beginning in 1978. Then the USSR had been moribund and China still struggling politically and economically while trying to chart its future course.

Shortly after the demise of the USSR the neocons devised and executed a unilateral US global strategy. The invasion and occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq were its most dramatic results. Military victories corroborated the US grip on the Middle East. All of North Africa, including the tamed Qadaffi regime and most of West Asia were under control. However, Syria, Iran, and the anti-Israeli resistance in Palestine and Lebanon had to be vanquished and so the US with Israel’s aid devised plans for it. An air of triumphalism dominated US foreign and domestic political discourse until things began to unravel: (1) The resistance in Iraq and Afghanistan exploded; (2) US-Israeli strategy to defeat the Lebanese resistance ended in Israel’s defeat in the July 2006 War and later Israel failed to destroy the Palestinian resistance in the 2008 Gaza invasion; and (3) the 2008 global financial crisis had weakened the US economically and politically.

No sooner than it began to recover under Obama from the Bush II era debacles, the US had to deal with the challenge to its Middle East strategy that the Arab uprisings constituted. The US succeeded in containing the Tunisian uprising and later on the Egyptian. It proceeded with its plans to: (1) bring down the Syrian regime, eradicate the Lebanese resistance movement and contain the Palestinian resistance movement; and (2) isolate Iran from Syria before attacking it.

Those plans appeared to be within reach, given the considerable human assets and resources the US would bring to bear on those targets. The strategy for Syria was to inundate it with Islamist terrorists from across the globe, aided and abetted by pro-US regional states. In general, the US has relied on the militaries of those states to recover its losses due to the uprisings. Furthermore, it struck a deal for a symbiotic relationship with the Muslim Brothers in several Middle Eastern states.

But things did not work the way the US had hoped. The Syrian regime has been scoring strategic gains against the Islamist fighters. The mass movements have mushroomed in both Egypt and Tunisia. On June 30, 2013 tens of millions of Egyptians went to the streets demanding the end of the Muslim Brothers’ (MBs) rule. On July 3 the Egyptian military intervened to remove Morsi and the MBs presumably to honor the people’s demands. For its part, the Tunisian mass movement is calling for the resignation of the Nahda (the MBs in Tunisia) government. Recently, mass actions in Turkey followed and current signs indicate that they will increase. In Bahrain the movement continues to be energized against great odds. Across the Middle East mass opposition to US regional policies continues unabated.

Furthermore, the global situation has changed significantly. Both Russia and China have countered US diplomatic, political and military moves against Syria and Iran and more recently in Egypt. Russia has even scored at least a propaganda victory against the US in the Snowden affair. One can observe the slow, but steady advance of Russian diplomacy in the region as opposed to the jittery, unsure US policy that seems to rely on the trial-and-error approach to the extremely delicate Middle East situation.

It appears that the US is in a dilemma insofar as its Middle East policy is concerned.

Which trajectory should it take in Egypt? Would the military ultimately choose to remain in the US camp? Did the Egyptian military remove Morsi in response to the demands of the millions of protestors or was it to protect its own interests?

Should it send troops to Syria and risk wallowing deeper into a regional mire? Can it risk a wider conflagration in the region and perhaps beyond it?

What would be the future of NATO should Turkey become more deeply involved in the conflict? Would Israel survive such a conflagration? Ultimately: wither the US?

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