Did Obama lose Egypt? Did he lose the entire Middle East?
With the revolutions and protests that are sweeping the region, Saudi Arabian real estate agents have been making a fortune on American backed dictators. While it is difficult to pin down exactly what the United States desires in the Middle East, the ability of America’s number one ally, Israel, to remain defiant in its occupation of Palestine and Syria (Golan Heights) will be challenged. While the loss of Israel’s Egyptian bell boy has eliminated Israel’s partner in the Gaza siege, the fall of Ben Ali was the fall of another (relatively minor) American puppet dictator. American backed governments were also undermined in Iraq and Lebanon and challenged in Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen. As the protests in the Middle East spread, Israel and the United States are looking at more converts to the ‘dark side.’ The result is that Israel is now generally surrounded by the (increasingly democratic) resistance axis.
The rise of the resistance axis around Israel and throughout the Middle East is particularly noteworthy when compared to a decade ago. Hamas and Hezbollah were not as strong as today and had weaker ties with Iran and the United States had willing and able dictators across from Morocco to Saudi Arabia and everywhere in between. Yet today…
Fast-forward to the eve of Barack Obama’s inauguration as president of the United States, in January 2009. As a result of the Iraq war, the collapse of the Arab-Israeli peace process, and some fairly astute diplomacy by Iran and its regional allies, the balance of influence and power across the Middle East had shifted significantly against the United States. Scenarios for “weaning” Syria away from Iran were becoming ever more fanciful as relations between Damascus and Tehran became increasingly strategic in quality. Turkey, under the Justice and Development Party (AKP), was charting a genuinely independent foreign policy, including strategically consequential partnerships with Iran and Syria. Hamas and Hezbollah, legitimated by electoral successes, had emerged as decisively important political actors in Palestine and Lebanon. It was looking progressively less likely that post-Saddam Iraq would be a meaningful strategic asset for Washington and ever more likely that Baghdad’s most important relationships would be with Iran, Syria, and Turkey. And, increasingly, U.S. allies like Oman and Qatar were aligning themselves with the Islamic Republic and other members of the Middle East’s “resistance bloc” on high-profile issues in the Arab-Israeli arena — as when the Qatari emir flew to Beirut a week after the 2006 Lebanon war to pledge massive reconstruction assistance to Hezbollah strongholds in the south and publicly defended Hezbollah’s retention of its military capabilities.
On Obama’s watch, the regional balance of influence and power has shifted even further away from the United States and toward Iran and its allies. The Islamic Republic has continued to deepen its alliances with Syria and Turkey and expand its influence in Iraq, Lebanon, and Palestine. Public opinion polls, for example, continue to show that the key leaders in the Middle East’s resistance bloc — Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, Syrian President Bashar Assad, Lebanon’s Hassan Nasrallah, Hamas’s Khaled Mishaal, and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan — are all vastly more popular across the region than their counterparts in closely U.S.-aligned and supported regimes in Jordan, the Palestinian Authority, and Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, the rise of Hamas and Hezbollah came during American backed democratic pushes in Palestine and Lebanon and the current democratic wave that is likely to produce leaders less willing to dance to Israel’s song. So who is winning the battle for the Middle East? Not America or Israel…
Somehow I can’t stop thinking about John Sheehan, “Every time anyone says that Israel is our only friend in the Middle East, I cant help but think that before Israel, we had no enemies in the Middle East.”
Photo from War in Context