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Foreign Policy

The US’ Pursuit of Hegemony Has Harmed the Middle East

Oct 09, 2018
  • Yin Chengde

    Research Fellow, China Foundation for International Studies


Azaz, a city in Northwest Syria

At this year’s United Nations General Assembly, US President Donald Trump launched an unprecedentedly strong attack on Iran, pledging to impose more, and harsher, sanctions on it, and threatened to punish countries and companies doing business with it. This is reflects the US’ ultra-strong anti-Iran policy, as well as a plan to extend US hegemony in the Middle East.

In the post-Cold War era, the US has adopted a Middle East strategy aiming at exclusive US domination, helping Israel grow stronger, orchestrating regime change in various countries, and promoting all-round Westernization. It doesn’t even hesitate to topple governments of sovereign countries by force. During Barack Obama’s second term as US president, in order to shift its strategic focus eastward to the Asia-Pacific, the US’ Middle East strategy contracted somewhat, and policies tended to be pragmatic. For instance, it withdrew partially from Iraq, ending the Iraq war that had lasted nearly a decade; loosened relations with Iran, signing the Iran nuclear deal; and kept a certain distance from the ultra-rightist Israeli government. Such moves eased tensions in the turbulent Middle East. Conditions have changed abruptly since Trump assumed the presidency. He reversed Obama’s approaches, and redoubled endeavors to promote US hegemony. He withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, and restored and enhanced comprehensive sanctions. He supported Israel and suppressed Palestine, recognizing Jerusalem as the Israeli capital and moving the US embassy there, cancelling various aid programs for Palestine, including humanitarian assistance to Palestinian refugees, closing the PLO office in Washington, proposing an “ultimate solution” to the Israel-Palestine conflict that is completely in favor of the former. He carried out multiple rounds of indiscriminate bombing in Syria, increased US troops stationed there to more than 2,000, and opened a de facto exclusive US “enclave” there. More importantly, the Trump administration is racing against time to organize an anti-Iran alliance amongst mostly Arab Sunni countries in the Gulf area against Shiite nations like Iran and Syria, in order to more forcefully and effectively strike and bring down the Iranian and Syrian governments, check Russia influence, and, consolidate its position in the Middle East. No other US administration in the past three decades has pursued such a tough strategy of hegemony in the region.

The Trump administration has seriously disturbed and worsened regional conditions, sinking it in tensions, turmoil, even wars not seen for many years. First, it discontinued the Israel-Palestine peace process, and re-started their conflict. The problem with Trump’s Middle East policy is not just being partial to Israel, but bullying Palestine, disqualifying itself as a mediator, with Palestine angrily rejecting the US’ mediating role, and suing it for violations of international law. Second, it instigated and worsened confrontations between two groups in the region. By persuading Saudi Arabia-led Arab Sunni countries to intervene in the Syria war and act against Iran, the US will inevitably worsen relations between Saudi-led Sunni nations and Iran-led Shiite ones. The US strategy of fighting Arabs with Arabs and fighting Muslims with Muslims has turned the two religious denominations’ into a major source of conflicts. Third, it seriously undermined the nuclear non-proliferation regime and global security. The Iran nuclear deal was achieved through difficult, protracted negotiations by six parties. The Trump administration’s withdrawal and re-imposition of sanctions has created uncertainty for the future of the agreement. If Iran can’t receive the practical benefits it deserves for forsaking nuclear weapons, it may withdraw from the agreement and restart its nuclear program. The US move may open the “Pandora’s box” of nuclear proliferation in the Middle East. Fourth, it amplified risks of conflict between major countries. The Middle East is the focus of US-Russia geo-political competition. The US sees Iran and Syria as the only hostile and alien countries threatening US interests in the Middle East. The main goal of its regional policy is to suppress them and prompt regime change in the two countries. Russia, on the other hand, is offering strong support for both, preventing the US from fulfilling that goal. Syria is Russia’s sole strategic foothold in the Middle East, which it will do everything to preserve. With the civil war in Syria reaching its last juncture, the Russia-led Syria-Iran camp will try hard to liberate the country’s entire territory, and the US-led anti-Syria camp will not back down. The US’ illegal direct military intervention in Syria will very likely lead to military conflict with Russia.

The Middle East, as a major oil-producing area. Therefore, maintaining exclusive hegemony in the Middle East is crucial for US global hegemony, which is also a main foreign policy goal of all US administrations after the Cold War. The Trump administration’s ultra-strong Middle East policy certainly proceeds from US hegemony, but it also involves other considerations. Jewish corporate interests wield significant influence on American politics, economy, and media, Trump believes the stronger, more pro-Israel, and tougher he appears against Russia in the Middle East, the stronger America will look, and the more easily he will win the hearts of American populists and Jews. This will him get rid of the “Russia interference” issue, help the Republican Party win in the mid-term elections, and help him win a second term.

Trump assumes his extremely tough Middle East policy is the best way to demonstrate his commitment to “America First”, and is in the US’ interests, but he is actually wrong. His irrational actions have done severe harm to the interests of all stakeholders, and the US has ended up being the foremost victim. Since US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal has invited unanimous opposition from the international community, especially the other five signatory countries, the US threat to punish any country that does business with Iran and suffocate the Iranian economy will not succeed. On the contrary, the US’ image and credibility have suffered a great blow. The US finds itself in such unprecedented isolation that some international media have branded it an “international Pariah”. The US withdrawal from the deal may also worsen nuclear proliferation, posing a challenge to its own security. By suppressing Palestine and supporting Israel, the US has led to the discontinuation of the peace process, prolonged and acerbated the suffering of the Palestinians, which will inevitably sow seeds of hostility against the US in Palestinians and Arab Muslims, and international terrorism against the US may stage a comeback. Trump’s reckless moves, which he believes are smart, may end up hurting the US itself. It is thus hoped that the US government will learn from its past failures and wake up from its obsession with hegemony.

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