Some challenges for the US in the Middle East

 The Middle East is a challenge by itself. The region is in a turmoil which originates new problems for the US. In particular there are two important issues: the Russian successful activism in the region and the possibility of emergence of Kurdistan.

The US has been playing an important role in the Middle East since the Truman Administration (1945-1952). After so many years it continues to strive for its regional military hegemony. In the past the US interest in the Middle East was defined by oil, however because the US itself has become a large oil producer – from 8 million barrels per day to about 14 million in 2014 – and it is attempting to shift to renewable energy such as solar power, wind power etc., why does the US is still involved in the Middle East?

There are other factors which make the US to be there. Firstly, Russia’s successful bid to expand its influence and tighten its ties with the US friends in the Middle East has been a source of concern for the US officials. Russia managed to get Israel neutral over the issue for which it has been sanctioned, namely, the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Additionally, Egypt has adopted Russia’s attitude towards the Syrian crisis, that it is about to have Assad there and have greater security in the region. Lastly, Syria – another country in the Middle East – has a government backed by Russia (http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/03/07/u-s-russia-competition-in-the-middle-east-is-back/). Traditionally, the US and Russia are perceived as two competing great powers, therefore, the current trajectory can be disadvantageous for the US. Losing or having less influence in the Middle East the US will suffer from the loss of its leverages which are exercised to dictate political climate in that part of the world. If Russia managed to have Israel – an important US ally – silenced over Crimea and get Egypt to think that it is better Assad to stay in power;it effectively means that in the future Russia may soften Israel’s attitude towards Iran and this can be a real damage to the US in terms of geopolitics.

Though, it is very hard to make predictions, but it is clear that Russia is a great power with the full right to enhance its interests and the US is the same. Therefore, we should draw a conclusion that the US and Russia have their peculiar interests, to see which one will be more successful in their Middle East policy is a matter of time.

Secondly, the Middle East is about to give birth to a new country (at least de facto) named Kurdistan. At present, the unborn country is an autonomous region – in the northern Iraq– under the rule of the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG). Obviously, the US has ‘something’ to do about it. The US involvement is also encouraged by Erbil and Bagdad (http://foreignpolicy.com/2017/07/18/iraqi-kurds-want-america-as-their-divorce-lawyer-kurdistan-referendum-independence/). On the one side, Iraqi Kurds want the US to support the call for independence referendum on September 25, and then assist to achieve independence. On the other side, Bagdad asks the US to foster its support for “One Iraq” policy. To solve this conundrum will require the US to be constructive and inclusive. By inclusive I mean to consider the interests of all sides, plus the interests of regional players i.e. Turkey. Turkish interest is more than clear-cut on the Kurdish issue – they do not want to see an independent Kurdistan.

NATO excessively relies on Turkey and has its second largest army there. Some argue that NATO is an important institution via which the US implements its policies to achieve the end goals. The consequences have shaped a situation where the US has to decide whether to give more weight to a NATO ally or stand for one of the most important American values which is defined by self-determination.

One of the first priorities of the US is to prevent any side – Iraq, Turkey or KRG –  to reignite a new fight in the region. Then, (this may sound utopian) to unite all sides against terrorism, because this fragile situation is made even worse by the presence of terrorists. Nevertheless, both peace and good political climate should be established to advance the Kurdish claims of having an independent country. The US has made this clear by asking the KRG to wait as it is not a good time for independence. It seems that Trump administration will be reluctant to support the Kurdish independent during these troubled times in the Middle East.

 

Taron Pipoyan
2nd year undergraduate in ‘Politics’
Department of Political Economy
taron.pipoyan@kcl.ac.uk

 

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