End of empire chaos
America's Middle East policy is in confusion: on one hand supporting autocratic 'allies' and on the other espousing democracy in the Arab world.
Who exactly is in control of US strategy in the Middle East? Is anybody in control? Is there any coherent policy behind the seemingly contradictory, even chaotic, shifts and changes in policy on the ground? Take, for example, the announcement of the astronomic US military aid programme for Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the Gulf states. We are told that the new tidal wave of arms, which will now flow to the Arab dictatorships of the region, is justified by the threat allegedly posed by Iran to the stability of the whole Middle East. The arms aid programmes, we are assured, serve the traditional American concern of achieving a regional balance of military power in the Middle East. But given that the express purpose of the arms aid is to strengthen the rule of America's autocratic Arab "allies" how does this sit with the Bush administration campaign to promote "democracy in the Arab world?"
There are other obvious questions. We have been told that the US military "surge" in Iraq is the primary front in America's "war against global terrorism" than which nothing is more urgent. In which case, how are we to reconcile this with the bitter accusations levelled by senior Bush administration officials at the Saudi government for working to undermine the pro-US Maliki regime in Baghdad and the blind eye being turned to Saudi aid for fundamentalist jihadis in Iraq?
But this is only part of the maelstrom of confusion into which US policy has fallen. The Bush administration is also giving increasing priority to its efforts to persuade the Iranian government to cooperate with the Bush administration's desire to disentangle itself from the Iraqi mire. Just how Tehran can be sold on the idea of helping the US save face in Iraq, while arming Tehran's regional adversaries to the hilt, is far from clear.
The bewildering array of conflicting and in some cases clearly contradictory US policies in the region are reminiscent of the chaos into which previous end of empires descended. In their death agonies British, French and Russian imperialisms also thrashed about in an equally incoherent fashion, first backing one local satrap and then another in their colonies in a vain effort to maintain hegemony. Indeed, it was a common complaint in the final decades of the Roman empire that rival imperial power brokers sponsored different tribes and even factions of tribes, in an equally doomed attempt to preserve some sort of control over their "barbarians".
In his joint press conference yesterday with President Bush, Gordon Brown referred frequently to the "shared values" which allegedly inspire the "special" US/British relationship. It would be helpful to be told which of these common values is being served by the simultaneous attempt to arm both Israel and the Arab autocracies, while preaching the virtues of democracy in the Arab world. The prime minister might also tell us whether the latest US campaign to weaken Iran will help or hinder British attempts to hand over control of security to Iraqis in the Basra region which is dominated by largely pro-Iranian militias. At some point the Brown government will have to raise these questions publicly and demand answers from Washington? Perhaps this is the kind of thing Mark Malloch Brown meant by the hope that Brown and Bush would not be "joined at the hip" in the way that Blair and Bush so clearly were.