Remaking the Middle East: How the US Grew Tired and Less Relevant
30 November 2015
By Ramzy Baroud
US Secretary of State John Kerry is often perceived as one of the ''good
guys'', the less hawkish of top American officials, who does not simply
promote and defend his country's military adventurism but reaches out to
others, beyond polarizing rhetoric. His unremitting efforts culminated partly
in the Iran nuclear framework agreement in April, followed by a final deal, a
few months later.
Now, he is reportedly hard at work again to find some sort of consensus on a
way out of the Syria war, a multi-party conflict that has killed over 300,000
people. His admirers see him as the diplomatic executor of a malleable and
friendly US foreign policy agenda under President Barack Obama.
In reality, this perception is misleading, although Kerry is not a warmonger
as George W Bush's top staff were, such as Vice-President Dick Cheney and
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. The two were the very antithesis of any
rational foreign policy such that even the elder ex-President George H W Bush
described them demeaningly, according to his biographer who was quoted in the
New York Times. Cheney was an ''Iron-ass'', who ''had his own empire
marched to his own drummer,'' Bush the Elder said, while calling Rumsfeld
''an arrogant fellow'' who lacked empathy.
Yet, considering that the first President Bush was rarely a peacemaker
himself, one is left to ponder over whether or not the US foreign policy
ailment is centered on a failure to elect proper representatives and to
enlist anyone other than psychopaths. If one is to examine US foreign
policies in the Middle East fairly, for example, comparing the conduct of the
last three administrations Bill Clinton, George W Bush and Barack Obama
one would find that there are abundant striking similarities. In principle,
all three administrations' foreign policy agendas were predicated on strong
militaries and military interventions, although they applied soft power
In essence, Obama carried on with much of what the younger Bush had started
in the Middle East, although he supplanted his country's less active role in
Iraq with new interventions in Libya and Syria. In fact, his Iraq policies
were guided by Bush's final act in that shattered country, where he ordered a
surge of troops to pacify the resistance, thus paving the way for an eventual
withdrawal. Of course, none of that plotting worked in America's favor, with
the rise of Daesh/ISIS among others, but that is for another discussion.
Obama has even gone a step further by deciding recently to keep thousands of
US troops in Afghanistan well into 2017, thus breaking a commitment to
withdraw next year. Of course, 2017 will be Obama's last year in office, and
the decision is partly motivated by his administration's concern that future
turmoil in that country could cost his Democratic Party heavily in the next
In other words, US foreign policy continues unabated, with business as usual
often guided by the preponderant norm that ''might is right'', and by
ill-advised personal ambitions and ideological illusions like those
championed by neo-conservatives during Bush the Younger's era.
Nevertheless, much has also changed simply because American ambitions to
police the world, global politics and the excess of $600 billion a year US
defense budget are not the only variables that control events in the Middle
East and everywhere else. There are other undercurrents that cannot be wished
away, and they too can dictate US foreign policy outlook and behavior.
Indeed, an American decline has been noted for many years, and Middle Eastern
nations have been more aware of this than others. One could even argue that
the latter Bush administration's rush to war in Iraq in 2003, in an attempt
to control the region's resources, was a belated effort at staving off that
unmistakable decay, whether in America's ability to regulate rising
international contenders or in its overall share of the global economy.
The folly of George W Bush, Cheney and company is that they assumed that the
Pentagon's more than $1.5 billion-a-day budget was enough for the US to
acquire the needed leverage to control every aspect of global affairs,
including a burgeoning share of the world economy. That misconception carries
on to this day, with military spending already accounting for about 54 per
cent of all federal discretionary spending, itself nearly a third of the
country's overall budget.
However, those who are blaming Obama for failing to use US military strength
as a lever for political currency refuse to accept that the president's
behaviour hardly reflects a lack of appetite for war, but a pragmatic
response to a situation that has largely spun out of US control. The
so-called ''Arab Spring'', for example, was a major defining factor in the
changes of US fortunes and it all came at a particularly interesting time.
First, the Iraq war has destroyed whatever little credibility the US had in
the region, a sentiment that has also reverberated around the world.
Second, it was becoming clear that US foreign policy in Central and South
America an obstinate continuation of the Monroe Doctrine of 1823, which
laid the groundwork for US domination of that region has also been
challenged by more assertive leaders, armed with democratic initiatives, not
Third, China's more forceful politics, at least around its regional
surroundings, signaled that the traditional US hegemony over most of East and
South East Asia is also facing fierce competition. Not only have many Asian
and other countries flocked to China, lured by its constantly growing and
seemingly more solid economic performance, if compared to the US, but others
too are turning to Russia, which is filling a political and, as of late,
The Russian military campaign in Syria, which was welcomed half-heartedly by
the US, has signaled a historic shift in the Middle East. Even if Russia
fails to turn its war into a major shift of political and economic clout, the
mere fact that other contenders are now throwing their proverbial hats into
the Middle East ring is simply unprecedented, at least since the
British-French-Israeli tripartite aggression against Egypt in 1956, the
so-called ''Suez Crisis''.
The region's historians must fully understand the repercussions of all of
these factors, and that simply analyzing the US decline based on the
performance of individuals Condoleezza Rice's hawkishness vs. John Kerry's
supposed sane diplomacy is a trite and trivial approach to understanding
current shifts in global power.
It will take years before a new power paradigm emerges fully, during which
time US clients are likely to seek the protection of more dependable powers.
In fact, shopping around for a new power is already under way, which also
means that new alliances will be formed while others fold.
In the meantime, though, the Middle East will continue to pass through this
incredibly difficult and violent transition, for which the US is partly
Dr. Ramzy Baroud has a PhD in Palestine Studies from the University of
Exeter. He has been writing about the Middle East for over 20 years. He is an
internationally-syndicated columnist, a media consultant, an author of
several books and the founder of PalestineChronicle.com. His books include
'Searching Jenin', 'The Second Palestinian Intifada' and his latest 'My
Father Was a Freedom Fighter: Gaza's Untold Story'. Visit his website: