Sunday, November 25, 2012

Obama 2016, China and the Middle East

 With a dramatic campaign brought to an end, it is reasonable to let loose the festivities and celebrate the second term of the 44th president of the United States. Yet, behind the stunning smile and the theatrical performances, Obama’s to do list is filling up with major challenges, and celebrating along Michelle is far from being the paramount priority of the overburdened president thus far.

From the Iranian nuclear aspirations to the growing Chinese influence in the Middle East, this short article will draw on the time urgency and contextual realities of the MENA region in order to bring the casual reader a step closer to understanding how the US policies should evolve with regard to the Arab World if the US interests are to prevail in the region.

“Iran is now 4 more years closer to the production of a nuclear bomb”, how familiar this seems given that Romney’s foreign policy hovered around this very sentence throughout his campaign, yet, as we see it today, the round of international sanctions championed by the Obama are bearing fruitful results and bringing the Iranian regime closer to a financial meltdown. While the economic sanctions might prove to be the way to salvation, regional powers dependent on Iranian oil might beg to differ on the US strategic vision to impede the ayatollahs from procuring themselves nuclear capabilities. The Obama administration is faced with the choice of continued sanctions that might prove inefficient given the continual opposition of China (resources driven) and Russia (geopolitically immersed in the safeguard of the Iranian regime), or with the alternative of striking deep down in the Iranian territory. Such military venture, as foolish it might be, is rebutted by the former national security adviser and world renown strategist Brzezinski in the following terms:

           “A war in the Middle East, in the present context, may last for years, and the economic consequences of it are going to be devastating for the average American: High inflation. Instability. Insecurity. Probably significant isolation for the United States in the world scene” Brzezinski to Newsmax TV
Two choices, neither as promising as marketed to be, puts the US administration in the embarrassing position of accepting a nuclear Iran as a reality, a reality that might serve the American interests in fact, regardless of the catastrophic image the Israelis attempt to wave in mass media in order to favor a preemptive strike.

While Israel’s ties to the US are unshakable and enhanced by a certain sense of commonality in terms of political, cultural and historical similarities, the Arab states converge with the US strategic vision only when mutual interests are involved. These interests range from security (as in the case of the Gulf countries) to economic assistance (Egypt among others), yet the critical aspect of such interests is that they are not exclusive to the United Sates, but are tightly linked to the economic and geopolitical performances of international and regional hegemon. Such regional hegemon is embodied by China, an aspiring world player with an economy large enough to have its take on international politics and regional influence. China has been absent from the Middle East largely due to the US status in the region, yet as the US foreign policy accommodates the growing needs and fancies of Israel (ultimately alienating the Arab street), and as Washington’s tight policies increase pressure on post-revolutionary governments with a leadership not ready to accept a full allegiance to the white house, alternatives start shaping and Arab states are most likely to identify regional powers who can substitute the US in the Middle Eastern chessboard. China, with an appealing financial portfolio and a reassuring posture in the world scene is prone on undertaking the role of the major player in Middle Eastern politics, a role that doesn’t stem from choice but from necessity given the growing needs in oil of the Chinese industry and economy.

            “China’s presence in the Middle East has grown exponentially over the past decade and is affecting the region’s strategic environment. Chinese influence is multidimensional, encompassing economics, defense, diplomacy, and soft power.” [1]
In such circumstances, attending to the fancies of a certain ally become less urgent than securing states whose allegiance can be lost to potential competitors, thus the Middle Eastern agenda of Barack Obama should cut on the support to Israel (not much of a political suicide given the fact that the presidential campaign is over and the super PACs are not as meaningful now that the results are out), and deploy a strategic vision preliminary aimed at accommodating the post-revolutionary Arab states through financial, political, diplomatic and military support. Such attempt would leverage the US interests on two levels: first by providing a stronger geopolitical stance in the region for American interests through US-friendly governments, and second through the establishment of a pressure regional bloc that can downsize Chinese access to oil resources.

Such US foreign policy, coupling stronger unconditional support for post-revolutionary Arab states and firm refusal to bend to Israeli appeals will inevitably disarm Iran from its main source of support in the Arab and Islamic world, depriving it from popular compassion and thus disabling proxy factions such as Hezbollah from tapping into anti-US feeling as main recourse for recruitment and military support to the mullahs in Teheran.

[1] James Chen, The emergence of China in the Middle East, Institute for National Strategic Studies