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Source: Telegraph

Aug 16, 2023

The Iran nuke deal and Biden’s Afghan disaster have left the Middle East open to China

America must decide if it really wants to hand the region over to its worst enemy


The most common argument against the United States’ involvement in the Middle East today is that it’s not our business. The West, we are told, should allow the governments of the region to sort things out as they see fit.

Unfortunately, we’re seeing the consequences of this approach play out in real time – and they aren’t pretty.

The United States is now losing on multiple fronts: countries like the UAE and Saudi Arabia are restoring relations with Iran, the nation which made “Death to America!” its unofficial slogan, as well as expanding their dealings with America’ fiercest competitor, China.

How did this happen? Well, the US began losing ground with Gulf states after the introduction of the unpopular Iran nuclear deal, which was viewed as having gone behind the UAE’s back against the wishes of our allies. Then came the disastrously mismanaged withdrawal from Afghanistan, which suggested that America would no longer stand by its allies if an endeavor overseas became inconvenient or no longer served its interests.

More than two-thirds of young Arabs in the Middle East now see Turkey and China as a strong or somewhat strong ally for the region, while the United States has slumped to seventh place behind Germany, France and India.

A lack of stability in the region is the norm, not the exception. Since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the Middle East has often leaned upon major foreign power players to aid domestic stability, whether that be the pre-WWI Turks or the mid-century alignment with the United States. China is now positioning itself as another stabilising ally. 

We have reached a point at which no one knows who will eventually come out on top: China or the United States. If all other factors are equal, it’s natural that consistency and stability will be prioritised - and that is something that undemocratic China can give. Like it or not, dictatorships offer an unflinching, if unethical, consistency. 

Authoritarian regimes care about one thing: consolidating and solidifying their power and influence. China has never claimed to occupy the moral high ground, but it is interested in strategic alliances that benefit it. Paying lip service to concepts like human rights and democracy while simultaneously undermining the average Middle Eastern citizen’s chances of living a safe and prosperous life will make the general public in the Middle East distrust America

Some may claim the Gulf States are asking for too much when, in reality, our relationship with them is driven by their oil and how their natural resources might benefit the United States’ economic position. But as America is now energy independent, why must we protect them when they don’t share our values? Once the well dries up and we no longer need them, we retreat. More and more people in the region are beginning to realize that the US has a tendency to be a fair-weather friend at best and hypocritical at worst. 

We must ask ourselves whether we want Russia and China to have unfettered access to the wealth and resources from the richest oil region in the world. That same region is home to more than 300 million people poised to be easily radicalised against the West and its interests. 

The US alliance with the Gulf States is one worth preserving. We might not see eye-to-eye on everything, but we cannot fool ourselves that untangling from relationships that are still very much in the West’s interests is a good idea. A US world order may not be perfect, but it is orders of magnitude more desirable than a Chinese one. 

A regime that tolerates millions of Uyghur Muslims being interned in camps or constantly monitored via surveillance technology, is not what the 300 million people in the Middle East should accept. Regardless of how the leaders of Gulf States choose to align themselves, a massive proportion of their citizens still maintain a favorable perspective towards the Western world.

The citizens of countries like Iraq deserve a chance to forge positive change for themselves, and that chance will all but disappear as dictators forge stronger bonds with their governments. 

When the US withdraws support from a place, it is almost never the case that the vacuum will stay unfilled, particularly not when nefarious actors who have been patiently waiting for their opportunity to strike are lurking. As the US continues to cede ground to foreign adversaries, powerful competitors are filling those gaps, marking an ominous turn for the worse in developing countries that once relied on our support.

America should rise to the challenge and reclaim its place as the leader of the free world. 

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