First Published: 2017-11-08

US Losing Ground and Prestige to Iran, Russia and China
America’s old allies realise the United States is not about to change for the better and are looking at alternative sources of support, writes Claude Salhani.
Middle East Online

There are tectonic shifts occurring in the world of politics affecting the Middle East. The relative stability that prevailed throughout the Cold War — though at times tense and on the brink of conflict — has long disappeared, replaced by chaos and uncertainty with the risk of serious conflicts at least as strong as it was then. Just look at Syria, Yemen and Libya.

The leadership previously offered by the United States to counterbalance the undemocratic tendencies that surfaced when many countries in the Middle East found independence after centuries of occupation or colonialism appears to have been sidelined and the void is being filled by Iran, Russia or China.

At a time when the president of the United States should be addressing burning issues such as Iran’s growing influence in the Middle East, pushing American importance out of the region, Donald Trump is wasting precious minutes tweeting, an exercise that might have worked well in the world of Donald Trump the businessman but is not working for Donald Trump the politician.

The American political machine that directed foreign policy from Washington to Cairo and from Baghdad to Seoul is bogged down in petty rhetoric that is keeping American policy-makers busy at home and ignoring the rest of the world, much to the regret of Washington’s allies. Saudi Arabia, for example, has developed growing relations with Moscow, something that would have been unthinkable not too long ago.

Well, if Washington’s time is spent analysing and dissecting every silly tweet sent by the American president, Iranian leaders are not wasting time.

The hours spent by the president tweeting — as he shoots from the hip much to the horror of his close associates — and the time wasted by his staff trying to clean up the confusion caused is time that Trump could have spent on issues of international importance, such as the problems with Iran’s increasing influence in the Middle East and the expansion of the Islamic State (ISIS) in Africa.

The trend is frightening because the pillars of yesteryear’s stability — the United States and major European countries — do not seem to have a map for the future. The world’s first superpower, the United States of America, is failing as the shining light it used to be.

Oppressed people around the world looked up to America as the example of democracy. That America is changed. How can US diplomats around the world champion the values of Western-style democracy and persuade peoples and leaders in countries such as Iran, Syria or Egypt and call for these countries to turn to ideals such as transparency in government and respect of a free press when the US administration in Washington calls the media the “enemy of the people” and is all but transparent?

The Trump administration has been accused of lying on a wide range of issues — from allegedly plotting with Russia during the 2016 presidential elections to attempts to dig up dirt on Hillary Clinton, who ran for president on the Democratic Party ticket.

Bickering in Washington continues unabated while the Iranians infiltrate agents into Iraq, where they are indeed most influential. The Iraqis who prefer dealing with the Americans complain that, when they request weapons, it takes about three years to process the request and then only a fraction of what was requested is delivered. The Iranians deliver the full orders within three days of a request.

Whom do you think the fighters will turn to?

Then there are the Chinese, who have been working behind the scenes, and the Russians, who have been operating on centre stage, deploying their military to assist Syrian President Bashar Assad in his civil war. In a recent meeting of the Chinese Communist Party, Chinese President Xi Jinping mentioned that the era of US influence was a thing of the past and that China was the future.

It may not be too late for the United States to regain its oomph in the Middle East but, if it is to do so, it cannot afford to delay. America’s old allies understand that and realise the United States is not about to change for the better and are looking at alternative sources of support.

Claude Salhani is the Opinion section editor of The Arab Weekly.

Copyright ©2017 The Arab Weekly


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