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After the Pax Americana

Three factions vie for influence and dominance in the Middle East.

by
Jonathan Spyer

Bio

November 9, 2013 - 12:21 am
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But Saudi Arabia was infuriated by the Qatar-MB nexus, and set out to roll it back. Saudi support for Sisi’s coup in Egypt formed an important part of the latter’s success.

The Saudis are also terrified at the prospect of a nuclear Iran and subsequent domination of the Gulf and the wider region.  Saudi support for and cultivation of allies in Syria, Lebanon, Bahrain, Yemen and elsewhere should be seen in this light.

So the Saudis are engaged in a political war on two fronts, with an acute awareness of the high stakes involved.

The Iranians and their allies  have a clear-eyed view of the obstacles to their ambitions, as indicated by the appearance of this article in Al-Akhbar.

The Turks and the Muslim Brotherhood also well understand the nature of the power political game. Their current dismay reflects their recent setbacks in it.

Israel, too, has an acute understanding of the Iranian threat and is a powerful, un-declared ally to the Saudi-led bloc.

Everyone gets the nature of the game.  Until you look outside of the region.

The dominant trends in the U.S. and western Europe entirely fail to grasp the nature and the dynamic of this contest.  There, the talk remains filled with airy hopes of a new era represented by President Rouhani of Iran, focus on the insolvable, currently dormant Israeli-Palestinian conflict, nostalgia for the “Arab Spring,”  and hope that a new wave of supposedly democratizing protest may still be ahead, or simply fatigue and a desire to disengage.  In general — confusion and feeble-mindedness.

Now, the Saudis have so far done quite well, using money and political influence, against the Muslim Brotherhood.

But against the Iranians, who know how to utilize hard power effectively, as they are  demonstrating in Syria, the monarchies are in a far weaker position.  The Saudis can do politics, but have a poor record of organizing insurgencies. In the days when they were just part of a larger pro-American formation in the region, this didn’t matter much.  Uncle Sam took care of keeping the really bad guys at bay.  But Uncle Sam isn’ t quite there anymore.

This leaves Israel, the undeclared ally, as the only element with both the will and the ability to effectively deploy force against the Iranians and their allies, as it has demonstrated at least five times over the skies of Syria in the past year.

Which means that if the U.S. and the West really are determined to disengage, then the stage is set for a three-bloc fight for the regional crown.  This fight and its outcome will define the Middle East in the era following the long Pax Americana that held sway from 1973 til sometime around now.

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Jonathan Spyer is a senior research fellow at the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center, and a fellow at the Middle East Forum. He is the author of The Transforming Fire: The Rise of the Israel-Islamist Conflict (Continuum, 2011).

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Top Rated Comments   
Excellent, clear-eyed piece. Thanks
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

One of the most prominent influences on my thinking about the Middle East is Fouad Ajami's assessment that those are the lands of "I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger."

Islam is the millstone and until all those brothers and cousins figure that out, the Arabs will continue shifting their political sands much like the 7th Century (A.D. if I may) Arab culture that old Mohammed's wit and wisdom globalized under a very thin veneer of religion.

Again, Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn't include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam you don't have a plan. What you have is a hope, a 1400 year old hope.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (16)
All Comments   (16)
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Jonathan, these tangled alliances are reminiscent of Europe before WWI. Do you think that the Middle East is also building up towards a cataclysmic regional war? Or will it be more like a regional Cold War in which the major powers fight each other through proxies but avoid direct confrontation?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
It's a shame that the socialist government of France shows more spine than our big sissy Obama. President Pissypants Peacock needs to grow a set.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
We are not yet "post-Pax Americana"
In 2016, we will reassert appropriate defense of freedoms -- of the seas, of international borders, of respect for others.
There is no other fit to fill the role of "world's grown-up," much less able to challenge us for it.
As for the rogues, remember we hang "hostis humani generis."
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
As long as the Kremlin receives respect from Christians in the Middle East (and elsewhere) because they demonstrate more willingness than Obama, in protecting the interests of Christians - they will have a role.

I wouldn't rule out the Commonwealth playing a role, because what is Israel was in the Commonwealth, and Cyprus is still in the Commonwealth (even though the Kremlin would like for Cyprus to be a client state.).
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Christians? What Christians? You mean this tiny fraction in Lebanon?
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Excellent, clear-eyed piece. Thanks
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings:

One of the most prominent influences on my thinking about the Middle East is Fouad Ajami's assessment that those are the lands of "I against my brother; my brother and I against our cousin; and my cousin, my brother, and I against the stranger."

Islam is the millstone and until all those brothers and cousins figure that out, the Arabs will continue shifting their political sands much like the 7th Century (A.D. if I may) Arab culture that old Mohammed's wit and wisdom globalized under a very thin veneer of religion.

Again, Islam is the millstone. If your plan doesn't include constraining, undermining, or eradicating Islam you don't have a plan. What you have is a hope, a 1400 year old hope.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Hint: Turkey and Iran are not Arab. Kurds are not Arab.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
Greetings, meso:

I agree with your assertion. It's why I find the "globalization" aspect of Islam of such importance. They've all been drinking from the same poisoned well for a millennium or so, so in spite of some ethnic awareness and appearances, there is an underlying thought predomination in a lay down with dogs, get up with fleas kind of way. Somedays you're a brother, somedays a cousin, and somedays you're a stranger.

My father used to tell me that there are two basic aspects to human beings, biology and culture. He also used to say that your culture was the behavior you find acceptable. Similarly, Samuel P. Huntington's "The Clash of Civilizations..." provides an interesting analysis of how culture evolves into "civilizations".
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Agree 100% Islam has to go.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The most clear eyed analysis I've read. I have seen the Saudi's recent antics without fully understanding the context. I have no illusions about the current US/European narrative of making a deal with Iran. It looks to me like it is only a narrative that nowhere intersects with reality except in the press. The three cornered rivalry you describe will become the basis for watching the Mid East going forward.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
@KellyStaples

The Middle East is a competing petro-producer populated by moslems;
Why would Russia not want to cause the region to self-destruct, with
the elimination of Israel as a bonus ?
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
A cogent analysis, but where does Russia fit into the mix? They understand hard power as well as any one on the planet, and the thought of the fanatics in Tehran with apocalyptic weapons can't be reassuring.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Russians built the facilities which are enabling the Iranians to enrich uranium in the first place, so they don't seem to be concerned about the fallout.
44 weeks ago
44 weeks ago Link To Comment
Because, if "the fanatics in Tehran with apocalyptic weapons" turn them on the Russians, they are sure that the Russians will squash them like a bug.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
And you won't have much sympathy, beyond the usual suspects, for the fanatics in Teheran, by those outside of Russia & the Middle East.
45 weeks ago
45 weeks ago Link To Comment
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