China’s Growing Interest in the Middle East is Anything but Benign

While Beijing insists officially that its rapidly growing involvement in the Middle East—arms sales, trade deals, technology-sharing agreements, and massive infrastructure projects—is purely economic and politically neutral, Ilan Berman discerns something more sinister. As an example, Berman points to the muted reactions of such Muslim rulers as Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s Muhammad bin Salman to China’s massive and brutal persecution of the Muslim Uighurs of its northwest, noting that China has invested heavily in both Turkey and Saudi Arabia:

[W]hen the region’s most influential leaders have chosen to weigh in on China’s anti-Muslim offensive, they have done so in support of Beijing, rather than in opposition to it. . . . The result is tantamount to an abandonment of Chinese Muslims by their Middle Eastern co-religionists for economic reasons. The signal sent to Beijing is that its domestic policies, no matter how repressive, will be considered off-limits for criticism or inspection so long as the price is right. That, in turn, is likely to fuel Beijing’s current offensive of forcing assimilation and subservience among its Muslim minority by any means necessary.

Arguably the most profound effect of China’s expanding presence in the Middle East, however, has been its adverse impact on governance throughout the region. Today, the digitally enabled authoritarianism that China’s government has used to great effect to reshape its own society in a more rigid, censored, and compliant direction has begun to proliferate in the countries of the Middle East. Most blatantly, Chinese companies have long helped Iran’s clerical regime to repress its own people, [sometimes] doing so in violation of U.S. sanctions.

Egypt has similarly allowed the PRC to obtain a major stake in its communications sector and to disseminate technologies that have strengthened President Abdel Fatah el-Sisi’s grip on power at the expense of freedom of expression there. . . . Other regional states could soon head in the same direction. . . . The “China model” of social control could thus easily become an export commodity in Beijing’s dealings with the Middle East—much to the detriment of prospects for pluralism and democracy in the region.

Read more at Middle East Quarterly

More about: Bedouin, China, Israel-China relations, Middle East, Technology

An American Withdrawal from Iraq Would Hand Another Victory to Iran

Since October 7, the powerful network of Iran-backed militias in Iraq have carried out 120 attacks on U.S. forces stationed in the country. In the previous year, there were dozens of such attacks. The recent escalation has led some in the U.S. to press for the withdrawal of these forces, whose stated purpose in the country is to stamp out the remnants of Islamic State and to prevent the group’s resurgence. William Roberts explains why doing so would be a mistake:

American withdrawal from Iraq would cement Iran’s influence and jeopardize our substantial investment into the stabilization of Iraq and the wider region, threatening U.S. national security. Critics of the U.S. military presence argue that [it] risks a regional escalation in the ongoing conflict between Israel and Iran. However, in the long term, the U.S. military has provided critical assistance to Iraq’s security forces while preventing the escalation of other regional conflicts, such as clashes between Turkey and Kurdish groups in northern Iraq and Syria.

Ultimately, the only path forward to preserve a democratic, pluralistic, and sovereign Iraq is through engagement with the international community, especially the United States. Resisting Iran’s takeover will require the U.S. to draw international attention to the democratic backsliding in the country and to be present and engage continuously with Iraqi civil society in military and non-military matters. Surrendering Iraq to Iran’s agents would not only squander our substantial investment in Iraq’s stability; it would greatly increase Iran’s capability to threaten American interests in the Levant through its influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon.

Read more at Providence

More about: Iran, Iraq, U.S. Foreign policy