Ignoring the advice of Saudi and Israeli Intelligence, soon after President Bush ordered the invasion of Iraq the administration realized that their principle reason behind the war, Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD) was an illusion contributed to by Iran, a ruse to encourage the invasion (Iran’s agent in the White House, Ahmed Chalabi, fed disinformation re WMD to the administration “corroborated” by “trusted” Iranian Intelligence. Whatever inspired the administration to invade (several motives were offered, found wanting and replaced) Iranian motives were obvious: Sadam fought them to standstill in the 1980’s and his Iraq stood between them and their ambitions to neutralize America and dominate the region.
“Make no mistake about it. If what we are seeing now is the beginning of a deep change in American foreign policy, it will be bad for the Jews, (Abraham Foxman, ADL)
Having defeated the Iraqis Bush discovered American now faced an Iran-led insurgency, against America. And once he installed a Shi’ite government Iraq came under the sway of the senior Shi’ite country sharing Iraq’s border, Iran. The US was engaged in war in defense of a Shi’ite government against a Shi’ite insurgency backed by Iran. America was trapped in a war the terms of which were dictated by Iran.
Bush totally destabilized the balance of power in the Middle East by moving Iraq from Sunni to Shi’a control. Iran, through Iraq, could now threaten the Saudis and Gulf Emirates by land, was provided a land route to Syria, Lebanon and the borders of Jordan and Israel. And, of course, Bush bluster aside, Iran was free to pursue its nuclear weapons project.
The reason Bush decided to end America’s three decades policy of withholding recognition of the Islamic Republic, the policy has never been explained. Likely it was part of a quid pro quo in which Ahmadinejad ordered al-Sadr’s Baghdad-based Mehdi Army not to attack during the “Surge.” Trumpeted as a “victory,” the Surge provided Bush a face-saving exit from Iraq.
If Bush backroom deals with the Iranians provided for an “honorable exit” from Iraq, provided Iran with her Iraqi satellite, who but Barak Obama, a politician dedicated to peace and naïve in foreign affairs would have been a better choice to continue the Bush policy of appeasing Iran? Under Obama’s watch now-Shi’ite Iraq all but ordered the US to leave; under Obama’s hesitant nuclear diplomacy Iran was provided a world stage to publicly and continuously embarrass the superpower by serially rejecting compromise. And America’s credibility declined as Iran’s soared.
An interview with Susan E. Rice recently appeared in the New York Times in which Obama’s new national security adviser laid out the administrations “new” Middle East policy:
We can’t just be consumed 24/7 by one region, important as it is,” she said, adding, “He [Obama] thought it was a good time to step back and reassess, in a very critical and kind of no-holds-barred way, how we conceive the region.”
The Times article continued by summarizing the president’s UN speech:
At the United Nations last month, Mr. Obama laid out the priorities he has adopted as a result of the review. The United States, he declared, would focus on negotiating a nuclear deal with Iran, brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians and mitigating the strife in Syria. Everything else would take a back seat.”
If this sounds akin to a child’s hopeful letter to Santa this is because, at least in the eyes of anyone not employed on the president’s foreign policy team, all three initiatives are at best extremely improbable:
The president’s goal, said Ms. Rice…is to avoid having events in the Middle East swallow his foreign policy agenda, as it had those of presidents before him.”
But even a brief look at the president’s agenda defined before the UN, beginning with the Iranian bomb describes serial failures: his five-year failure as nuclear negotiator has brought the world to a one-month threshold to weaponization as concluded by the Washington-based Institute for Science and International Security (past head of the IAEA came to an even shorter threshold). A president who, upon entering office had as his main priority to reduce nuclear proliferation instead has put the most unstable region in the world, target of America’s War on Terror, on a path to a nuclear arms race.
As regards, “brokering peace between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” anyone outside the White House with even a minimum awareness of more than a century of failure (as mandatory power England several times tried to bring the sides together only to be faced with Palestinian rejection) would be aware that as much as both sides would benefit, as much as both peoples desire peace, that each sides minimal demands (Israel: security including a demilitarized Palestine with Israeli military outposts in the Jordan Valley; the Palestinians: “return” of the “refugees” to their homes which, translated, amounts to the end of Jewish sovereignty); anyone with any sense of reality must realize that even if Obama’s “peace in our time” in nine months is serious, that regardless how forcefully presented, that the chances of the Kerry round of talks bridging the differences is highly unlikely: the peace process is dead at the gate.
And as for an Obama “policy” in Syria… Right!
If the United States, despite all indications to the contrary, intends to remain in the region then it will have to undergo a presidential structural revolution. Attacking Iraq, ousting Mubarak; these certainly resulted with approval of America’s foreign policy “brain trust.” And such flawed policy advice seems endemic to White House decision-making. The impact of such stupid or naïve, (reader’s choice) decision-making is that virtually all previous American alliances in the region are in disarray. And White House confusion regarding priorities continues. Amid leaks that the administration would use its financial aid as a way to force Egypt to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to be party to a return to Morsi “democracy” Saudi intelligence chief Prince Bandar bin Sultan met with Putin in Moscow in July:
We will continue to support the [Egyptian] army, and we will support Defense Minister Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi because he is keen on having good relations with us and with you. And we suggest to you to be in contact with him, to support him and to give all the conditions for the success of this experiment. We are ready to hold arms deals with you in exchange for supporting these regimes, especially Egypt.”
The message to Obama, clear from the independence demonstrated by the formerly dependent Saudis, is now openly adopted by Egypt. Al-Sisi responded to the Obama threats to limit aid by inviting Russia to take America’s place.
Lt. Gen. Vyacheslav Kondrashov, Russian Deputy chief of staff and head of GRU military intelligence, spent the first day of his visit to Cairo, Tuesday, Oct. 29, with Egyptian military chiefs, going through the list of Russian military hardware items they want to buy … The Egyptians asked Moscow to supply the sort of advanced weapons withheld by the United States, and topped their shopping list with medium-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that cover Iran and most of the Middle East.
And so, on the unlikely assumption that the past thirteen years of consistent and persistent policy misadventures represent simple “amateurism” based on the advice of America’s “brain trust” then a complete foreign policy housecleaning, including the State Department, is the only way to reverse the decline of America as “superpower.” Idealistic platitudes such as “freedom” and “democracy” may work as domestic public relations; on the ground success is determined by Realpolitik. And that would have left Sadam in place in Iraq, Qadafi in Libya and Mubarak in Egypt! Perhaps not the “democrats” so desired by the west, but certainly preferable in spilled blood and spent treasure achieved to date!
With America’s role as regional hegemon coming to an end, what are Israel’s (and the Arab state’s) options for a post-America Middle East? To even approach this question demands a prior question: since the region is too volatile to simply be abandoned to itself, too strategic to be ignored by aspiring “superpowers,” who will likely replace the United States?
There are two obvious possibilities, China and Russia. While China has made major inroads into American interests in Africa and Afghanistan/Pakistan, she does not yet have the navy to assert control over a region half a world away. And so, three decades after the US ejected the USSR from EgyptPutin is positioning Russia to return the favor. And since already patron to Iran and Syria, Russia’s return to the region without firing a shot is a nothing short of spectacular.
Conventional Wisdom (and American analysts) holds that Russia is too weak militarily and economically to challenge the United States. But this is true only if the United States continues to view the region a “national interest.” But is that the case? And if not, how explain the US withdrawing from the Middle East with its strategic oil reserves and Suez Canal? Perhaps the discovery of an abundance of oil shale deposits outside the region? Simple economics might be behind Arab oil fast losing importance to American policy-makers.
Regarding the region as “strategic real estate:” the Obama has made no secret of pivoting from Middle to Far East. Frustratingly for the president the chaos which the United States played so large a part in creating continues as distraction. Obama’s policy of “benign neglect” as national course change from Bush “interventionism” has, rather than achieving status quo on the ground accelerated regional instability. And Iran, masked by the smokescreen provided by its Syrian intervention continues its relentless march to nuclear weaponization.
Measured against US policy over the past thirteen years the US will continue its regional retreat all the while blaming the Syrians and the Iraqis and the Egyptians and the Jews for obvious American failures. And so Russia, militarily and economically far inferior inherits the region by default, realization of a centuries-long dream. And Europe the result of the Russian Navy to the south, the Russian Army to the north; already dependent on Russian natural gas to fuel its factories and heat its homes: Europe, as the Middle East, will be forced to leave the American orbit.
Returning to the question this article’s title: how does Russia replacing America impact Israel? I numerous times addressed this question over the years while tracking America’s retreat from Iraq to Syria into isolationism. So beyond providing links to those discussions (see below) I will limit myself to this: For decades Israel served America’s interests in the region, contrary to the imaginings of American pundits of the left and right. For decades Israel served to stabilize the region by threatening forces challenging stability, threatening American interests in Arab oil and the Suez Canal. Over the decades Israel saved the US many billions of dollars which otherwise would have be allocated to directly protect those interests.
One obvious example: when Jordan was threatened by Soviet-backed Syrian tanks in 1970 American troops were not deployed to protect Jordan because Israel was able to threaten Syria’s flank forcing it to retreat. And the world was spared the possibility of a US-USSR nuclear showdown. And while the history of Israel/US military and intelligence cooperation is yet to be fully written Israel almost always defers to the American president assuring American interests are not endangered by Israeli independent action. The United States, the major party to the “special relationship,” achieves its interests at far less cost, minimal risk, and zero visibility.
Russia, successor to the Soviet Union, is aware of Israel’s role and value to the US during the Cold War and forward. But even beyond Israel’s not insignificant value as counter-threat to forces threatening regional stability and US/Israel interests, Russia has other interests in an already developing alliance with Israel.
Putin is courting Israeli as technology innovator to assist in expanding her own technological base. Russia is partnering with Israel in the area of natural gas deposits off Israel’s coast. And Israel and Russia share a common enemy in Islamist terrorism, Chechnya one such example. Russia and Israel are already allied in significant strategic areas. Certainly the instability of the Islamist Spring recommends Israel as continuing to provide the same regional stabilizing influence for the future regional hegemon.
Several earlier articles on this topic: