After Ukraine - reappraising US role in the Middle East
Exclusive analysis by Peter Ford, former UK Ambassador to Syria and Bahrain
By Peter Ford
But the seismic impact of Russia's invasion of Ukraine requires the United States to reconsider its role not just in Europe, but in that perennial graveyard of foreign policy, the Middle East. While the bar for success in the region is low, the Biden team has made no irretrievable mistakes, responded well to its one crisis (the 2021 Hamas-Israel outbreak), and embraced Trump’s biggest success (the Abraham Accords). It has withdrawn troops where it should have, from Afghanistan, however messy the execution, and kept them where needed: Iraq, Syria and in the Gulf States. - James Jeffrey
Writing in Al Monitor, James Jeffrey, Mike Pompeo’s point man on Syria and now strap hanger in a pro-Israeli Washington think tank (where else?), pontificates on the need for the US to refocus on Middle East issues in light of Ukraine. Predictably this centurion of the American empire draws the opposite of any sensible conclusions.
Any objective policy adviser would be asking whether poking the Russian bear and eventually providing Russia with another opportunity after Syria to confront and make gains against what Jeffrey calls euphemistically the ‘US collective order’ (i.e. empire) was a great idea. But no, Jeffrey, in common with most of Washington, sees Ukraine on the contrary as an illustration of the validity of the ‘US collective order’, and the setback in Syria as a reason to double down. ‘With Ukraine has the world not now come together to realise how important it is to belong to the US-led ‘global order’?
Actually no, outside Western Europe not by a long chalk, and Jeffrey is forced to concede that those pesky Gulf states (and Turkey) which have been conspicuously refusing to join in the hybrid war against Russia must be brought to heel, because collective security is a two way street. They must be brought ‘to vote the right way’ at the UN, join in imposing sanctions, and help in the West’s boycott of Russian oil and gas.
In return, the US should be more attentive to the Gulf states’ concerns over Iran and stop nagging them over human rights.
Raising briefly our hopes of a little realism kicking in, the former ambassador to Turkey goes on to say that the US in the new post-Ukraine environment should dial back on seeking ‘transformational interventions’ in the Middle East, which he acknowledges have largely failed and brought (‘inadvertent’) devastation to Iraq, Syria and Libya.
Ah, so does this mean pulling US troops back from North East Syria and halting efforts to balkanise and destabilise Syria? Far from it. Jeffrey applauds the Biden administration’s leaving of troops in both Syria and Iraq and sees a need to keep America’s knee on Syria’s neck, not least to thwart Iran.
Jeffrey lets his pro-Israeli views come further into focus when he advocates halting the expenditure of efforts on bringing Israel and the Palestinians to some form of agreement (as if any serious such efforts had been going on!).
He has warm words for the Abraham accords, whereby the Gulf states have washed their hands of the Palestinians and pacted with Israel against Iran. It does not occur to Jeffrey, or Washington generally, that poking Iran might have consequences too.
The former ambassador advocates in fact abandoning efforts to revive the nuclear accord with Iran (JCPOA) allegedly because with the passage of time its value has declined. He does not consider what conclusions Iran might be drawing from Ukraine. After all, with much of Washington visibly salivating at the possible prospect of a debacle in Ukraine leading to regime change in Russia, and Russia only protected in the last analysis by its possession of nuclear weapons, might Iranians not reasonably draw the conclusion that the sooner they get their own the better?
Washington of course has long been way out at the end of the autistic spectrum in terms of appreciating that other countries might see things differently, and might not relish the prospect of becoming another cog in a global order designed always to put America’s interests and obsessions first.
There never was much chance that Washington would draw any cautionary lessons from Ukraine and Jeffrey’s article only goes to confirm that.