Saturday, May 30, 2015

The Middle East's Future Looks a Lot Like Iraq

(RCW) Today's Middle East is arguably more volatile and more dangerous than it has been for centuries. The rise of Islamic State and the prospect of a nuclear Iran each represent an unprecedented threat to global security. All the while the West appears increasingly at a loss as to what to do about any of this. Britain and America's influence in the region has weakened, and this newly emerging reality looks set to create some strange and previously inconceivable alliances.

Reports have been emerging from Middle Eastern news agencies of a secret meeting recently held in Jordan. What was particularly intriguing about this previously unpublicized gathering was that it reportedly brought together Israeli diplomats with those from Arab countries that officially have no dealings with the Jewish State; we can assume that figures from the Gulf countries were among those in attendance.

All the more interesting, it is being widely reported that the meeting was essentially convened to plan for a Middle East from which America has more or less retreated. Other reports claim that some of the Sunni states expressed openness to entering into security cooperation with Israel. If true, this indicates just how concerned the Sunni states are about the rise of a nuclear Iran, and just how little faith they have in U.S. President Barack Obama's strategy for negotiating Iran's nuclear program away.

Of course, we don't know that the approach adopted by Obama will outlive his presidency. But the worries of many of America's traditional allies in the region are clear. If America does continue to retreat from the Middle East, the vacuum left behind will quickly be filled by others. That could lead to an entire region that looks much as Iraq does today. Since Obama pulled U.S. forces out of Iraq at the end of 2011, the country has been lost to a tug-of-war between the Iranian-backed, Shiite-led government in Baghdad, and the Sunni Islamists militants who are now largely expressed through the Islamic State.

No one would deny that Iraq went through some dark days during the era of former U.S. President George W. Bush. But following the surge strategy launched in 2008, order was being restored, and it looked like there might be good reason for optimism. Now, as the Obama administration increasingly disengages from the Middle East, the region is slipping into turmoil, hurtling from one crisis to the next. Desperate times indeed call for desperate measures, and if the Gulf states are now reaching out to Israel, we know just how desperate things have become.