Behold the New Middle East—Same as the Old Middle East

Feb. 22 2017

Over the past decade, America has withdrawn from the Middle East, states have collapsed, governments have been overthrown, Iran has rapidly expanded its influence, and a significant détente has come into being between Israel and the Sunni Arab states. But, writes Michael Singh, much more remains unchanged and could be changed for the better:

The economic and political stagnation that birthed the 2011 uprisings has, if anything, worsened. . . . Those countries that were doing reasonably well in 2008—for example, Jordan, Morocco, and the United Arab Emirates—are today continuing to prosper despite the region’s turbulence, due to sound leadership and patient, low-key U.S. and international cooperation. The biggest change in the region has arguably come from the outside, starting with the role of the United States. There is no American alliance in the region that stands stronger in 2017 than it was in 2009. . . .

It is tempting to see Middle East policy in terms of “solving” Syria, Iraq, or the Israel-Palestinian dispute, but such solutionism tends not only to fail but to crowd out attention and resources for endeavors that are just as important in the long run but less high-profile.

Thus, as vital as the fight against Islamic State in Syria and Iraq will continue to be, there are three other changes to U.S. policy in the region that President Trump could make that would serve our interests well over time. First, he should act firmly to counter Iran. Doing so would not only help to . . . end the conflicts in Syria, Iraq, Yemen, and elsewhere, but would [also] put the U.S. back on the same page . . . as our allies, who consider Tehran’s regional ambitions to be their top threat. Second, he should seek to rebuild U.S. alliances in the region, focusing not merely on improving bilateral ties but on forging a more capable and useful multilateral grouping of likeminded regional partners.

Finally, he should help our [Arab] allies, where they are willing, to engage in economic, security, and political reforms. The objective should not be to remake them in our own image, but to help them take actions that benefit our mutual interests by making them more resilient to regional threats and responsive to their own populations.

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More about: Arab Spring, Middle East, Politics & Current Affairs, U.S. Foreign policy


The Syrian Civil War May Be Coming to an End, but Three New Wars Are Rising There

March 26 2019

With both Islamic State and the major insurgent forces largely defeated, Syria now stands divided into three parts. Some 60 percent of the country, in the west and south, is in the hands of Bashar al-Assad and his allies. Another 30 percent, in the northeast, is in the hands of the mostly Kurdish, and American-backed, Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF). The final 10 percent, in the northwest, is held by Sunni jihadists, some affiliated with al-Qaeda, under Turkish protection. But, writes Jonathan Spyer, the situation is far from stable. Kurds, likely linked to the SDF, have been waging an insurgency in the Turkish areas, and that’s only one of the problems:

The U.S.- and SDF-controlled area east of the Euphrates is also witnessing the stirrings of internal insurgency directed from outside. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, “236 [SDF] fighters, civilians, oil workers, and officials” have been killed since August 2018 in incidents unrelated to the frontline conflict against Islamic State. . . . The SDF blames Turkey for these actions, and for earlier killings such as that of a prominent local Kurdish official. . . . There are other plausible suspects within Syria, however, including the Assad regime (or its Iranian allies) or Islamic State, all of which are enemies of the U.S.-supported Kurds.

The area controlled by the regime is by far the most secure of Syria’s three separate regions. [But, for instance, in] the restive Daraa province in the southwest, [there has been] a renewed small-scale insurgency against the Assad regime. . . .

As Islamic State’s caliphate disappears from Syria’s map, the country is settling into a twilight reality of de-facto division, in which a variety of low-burning insurgencies continue to claim lives. Open warfare in Syria is largely over. Peace, however, will remain a distant hope.

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More about: ISIS, Kurds, Politics & Current Affairs, Syrian civil war, Turkey