Opinion: Waning US Influence Means Chaos in Middle East

America's talking loudly, but how big a stick are they carrying? Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

America’s talking loudly, but how big a stick are they carrying? Illustrative. Photo Courtesy of Official White House Photo by Pete Souza

It was 2005, and the world was looking brighter. Lebanon kicked out Syria’s army, Ukraine had a pro-West, pro-democracy revolution, Libya was in the midst of deconstructing their weapons of mass destruction and the world’s powerful bad guys seemed to be isolated into a two-nation axis of evil. It was a good year for the West and America.

Now it’s 2014. Lebanon is home to a powerful Iranian-led terror militia known as Hezbollah. The Iranians are popular with corporations racing to get a piece of the pie as sanctions disappear. North Korea has made multiple nuclear tests and Ukraine is under Russian threat. What’s a key element to all the bad news? America’s inability and disinterest in influencing world affairs. It’s a new world order now: fend for yourself. Goodbye Middle East stability.

The long-time consistency of American influence didn’t make everyone happy and things weren’t exactly peaceful in the Middle East. But it did keep a lot of the bad guys occupied and oil prices manageable. More importantly, it gave a sense of certainty about who was in charge and who would do what.

Now, with the Americans disengaging from the region and the world, the new situation is entirely uncertain. The Daily Beast last month reported that Saudi Arabia appears to be more interested in the process of uranium enrichment for nuclear fuel.

Considering the cost involved, The Daily Beast noted that developing local nuclear fuel capacity is typically a sign of a budding nuclear weapons program.

It gets better from there. The Daily Beast said Turkey has requested an out-clause in their nuclear deal with Japan in which Turkey could also develop their own nuclear fuel ability.

Sounds like the warnings from Israel of nuclear weapons proliferation in the Middle East are coming true.

But why now? Iran, the main threat to Saudi Arabia in the region, has been seeking a nuclear weapons program for decades. And now the Saudis are more serious about their own program?

It’s because Saudi Arabia’s plan A for stopping Iran, American pressure and/or a US military strike, are going up in smoke. The US doesn’t want to fight anymore, as evidenced by the debacle in Syria when President Obama had to save face with Russia’s help. Obama had threatened military action if Congress approved, but Congress didn’t.

And there have been news reports and concerns that that sweet deal in which Syria gives up its chemical weapons may not be so sweet. Syria, it turns out, appears to be stalling.

So is anyone surprised the Saudis and Turks are contemplating taking nuclear matters into their own hands? If Iran is allowed to get close to the bomb, they will too.

Egypt is more of the same. The Americans expressed concern about the Egyptian authorities crackdown on protesters and rightly expressed their disapproval. But the public way in which it was done—and the confusing sanctions unofficially slapped on Egypt that had little to do with the crackdown—now has Egypt looking to Russia for weapons.

Everywhere in the Middle East, the US seems to be losing power. With Turkey improving ties with Iran and Iraq under Iranian sway, it’s looking like a new Axis of Evil led by Iran is growing in power, and with a lot more prospective participants on the evil side.

As the US tries to figure out what to do about Russia’s quasi-invasion of Ukraine, the American government needs to take this opportunity to rediscover how to restore some of its influence around the world.

It doesn’t always require war to make peace. And power isn’t always needed to wield influence. But engagement, trustworthiness, courage and some risk-taking are necessary.

Let’s hope President Obama figures this out soon. Then we can party like it’s 2005.

(By Joshua Spurlock, www.themideastupdate.com, March 2, 2014)

What do you think?