Jordan cannot defeat ISIS from the air, and its use of ground troops would destabilize the kingdom. Certainly, King Abdullah understands reality. He needed to put on a big show over the skies of Syria to appease his domestic Bedouin constituency, and he did just that. He’ll probably continue his airshow for the foreseeable future in order to harvest more of the security “rents” that he lives on. But in the long run, ISIS cannot be defeated without a political plan for Syria that does not include Assad, and the king knows it.
Jordan has become an economic and political basket case, and its long-term stability is now in serious doubt. Unemployment is high (especially among Bedouin youth), and the political divisions between the majority Palestinians and the Bedouin tribes have intensified. The Muslim Brotherhood (Palestinian dominated) boycotts legislative elections and has recently called for the rollback of all the recent constitutional amendments which greatly enhanced the king’s power. Meanwhile, the Palestinians have become the elite of the Amman private sector, and those young Bedouins without access to the military or the security establishment remain mired in rural poverty. Within this political-economic demography, a ground war in Syria (or anywhere else) becomes impossible. In such a scenario it would be the Bedouin who would do the fighting and dying, while the Palestinians would gain tremendous strength domestically.
Jordan cannot escape the Palestinian reality of its kingdom. It has been that way since 1948, and it remains that way today. Even though it has a “peace treaty” with Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood (Palestinian dominated) assures that the so-called peace between the kingdom and the Jewish state stays frozen. The best terminology for such a peace would be an “ambassadors’ club”. Only on the highest levels of power does any kind of meaningful exchange take place. Even in the field of energy, where Jordan is especially vulnerable, the prospect of trade with Israel for natural gas is highly unpopular. The Palestinian population as a whole views Israel as a usurper. The Bedouin fear not only the Palestinians, but also the hundred of thousands of Syrian and Iraqi refugees who have engulfed the country. Jordan, as a Bedouin-based monarchy, is a fragile entity. Its ability to extend its power in any direction is extremely limited.
But within the king’s polity, the Palestinians remain cautious. They don’t want to rock the boat too much. Above all else, they remember the events of Black September in the early 1970’s. Any attempt to overthrow the king would be met with a violent reaction by internal and external forces alike. In other words, Jordan has become a stalemate. The two political camps which divide the kingdom remain in fragile opposition to one another. But as the Sunni world of the Levant goes, so too does Jordan. The future of Jordan will be decided in concordance with Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and even Saudi Arabia. The war for the future of the Arab mind has become a war of ideology, and in this vital war, the so-called moderates are losing.
Why are they losing? Because their vision for the future is muddled in a kind of pro-American status quo without a concomitant commitment to liberty and democracy. In addition, they don’t know how to incorporate Israel into a viable Islamic narrative for the future. They seem enfeebled by a past which has failed, and they are without a blueprint forward. Meanwhile, US foreign policy under the administration of Barack H. Obama can be best characterized as unintelligible. No one in the region understands why the administration appears to be tilting toward Tehran, but for the moderate camp the evidence of American perfidy is overwhelming. This so-called policy only further burdens the moderates’ dilemma. In a war of both arms and ideas, to the vast Sunni camp, a US-Iran rapprochement would be like a thousand-pound piece of straw on an already overburdened camel.
The king of Jordan needs a serious economic relationship with both Israel and the West Bank. His people need jobs and economic opportunity. This can only be accomplished through bold political action. Only through the dynamics of politics (leading to a much brighter economic future) will the war for the hearts and minds of the entire Arab world be won. Freedom, liberty and economic empowerment are the only ways to beat the strangulating philosophies of Islamism. Who other than the king of Jordan can lead the way forward? Saudi Arabia seems too mired in Wahhabism to move forward. In addition, they have mountains of oil money to buy off their population. Egypt defeated the Muslim Brotherhood with brute force, but a return to authoritarianism without a return to civil rule has, for the present, extinguished the flame of liberty. The generals in Cairo aren’t the answer. The little Gulf states are simply too small. Although Tunisia is interesting, it is certainly not as important as Egypt, and it is not in the Levant.
Jordan has become the answer because Iraq has been bequeathed to Iran by the Obama administration, and Syria is flat on its back. Only Jordan holds the very key to the destiny of the region. The king must create and lead a vibrant democracy with all the rights and liberties inherent in a totally free society. If there is to be a broad-based moderate reformation within Islamic culture, Jordan can and must lead the way. This will mean empowering the Palestinians, but not at the expense of the peace treaty with Israel. This empowerment cannot be used to subjugate the Bedouin East Bank minority by a democratic despotism of the majority Palestinian citizenry. In other words, the king must build a true constitutional monarchy, built on a formula whereby the monarch remains head of state, but not the head of government. The king must carefully weigh his options. He could continue with the perplexing path of current events (the anarchy of the status quo), or he could move boldly forward with open political challenge to the entire Islamist camp (ISIS, al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood). A moderate Islam within the context of political liberalism could become the lever that the Sunni world needs to alter Obama’s disastrous plan with Iran. This must also include an economic confederation with Israel and a type of federal political relationship with the Palestinian community on the West Bank. An Israeli-Palestinian peace is impossible without a Jordanian component. The king’s father was wrong on this account, but not his uncle, Prince Hassan.
But dramatic events like these cannot be isolated from both regional and global politics. They must become part of a broad package which involves not only the future of Middle East weapons of mass destructions and the terrifying potential of a nuclear arms race, but also a global UN Security Council commitment to regional stability. This stability must be enshrined as a firm, new institutional and international policy that disallows any structure directed toward empire (hegemony) while equally demanding the withdrawal of foreign bases and troops from the Persian Gulf and the region as a whole. Jordan can begin the all-important ideological war, and Israel can follow with an alternative to the moribund Oslo process, but a regional peace within a non-hegemonic framework must become the cooperative effort of all the world’s power centers. The Middle East is no longer an American island whereby Washington decides which authoritarian regimes will be allowed to synchronize policy with the White House. Whether Washington realizes it or not, Obama’s policy tilt toward Iran has empowered both Moscow and Beijing within the region. In fact, it is in Obama’s interest (and in the interest of all parties in the Middle East) to stabilize the region within the context of a new global cooperative order. Anything less spells future confrontation and escalation.
Jordan has always been an important buffer zone for Israel and Saudi Arabia. Its geographical position has allowed it to become an important US-allied security state. But as the US tilts toward Iran, the entire region (especially Israel’s and Jordan’s futures) become engulfed in a most unusual desert fog. If the US continues its creeping cooperation with Iran and the Shiite militias in Iraq, ISIS and its al Qaeda allies will continue to grow within the Sunni Arab world. Jordan, Israel and Saudi Arabia cannot stop this phenomenon. The future course of Syria and Iraq will most likely decide what happens to Jordan if Jordan stands pat. Therefore Israel (whether it likes it or not) is involved. Current US policy is not helping. In fact it is dangerously contradictory because Obama’s answers seem to lie with Iran, and not Amman or Jerusalem.
Jordan and Israel need to take the bull by the horns with bold new plans for the West Bank, the East Bank, and the future of both conventional war and nuclear weapons in the Middle East. King Abdullah’s place in history can only be achieved by showing the world that Islam is truly “a religion of peace”. As the Guardian of the Haram al-Sharif and a descendant of Muhammad, the king has the credentials. But does he have the courage and the will to lead the Sunni Arab world in a war of ideology for the very soul of Islam? The answer to that question might just mean the difference between a bright and historic policy future in Jerusalem, or a creeping dead end in Amman.