A Better Way in the Middle East

Convinced that the U.S. has lost faith in the strategic value of the Middle East, prime ministers and kings alike are scrambling to find their strategic footing in the region. Amidst the confusion and uncertainty of a world without American protection, two models are emerging. One is represented by the fledgling Iraqi effort to promote inclusive regional diplomacy. The other is manifested in the Abraham Accords, with its emphasis on facilitating the reconciliation between Arab dictatorships and Israel in order to counter Iran’s influence. The former emerged and evolved without American involvement. The latter depends on the U.S. and necessitates continued American military commitments to the Middle East.

Perhaps counterintuitively, America’s interest is best advanced by the Iraqi-led Baghdad dialogue, precisely because it aims to make the Middle East stand on its own legs and end the draining dependence on the United States.

America’s withdrawal spurred regional diplomacy

Regional diplomatic efforts in the Middle East have intensified dramatically in the past year, though they have garnered little attention in the United States. The Turks are talking to the Egyptians again, the Emiratis are patching things up with TurkeySaudi Arabia and the UAE are burying the hatchet with Qatar, and Syria is resuming dialogue with several of its neighbors. The most consequential dialogue, however, is arguably that between Tehran, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi, courtesy of Iraqi facilitation.

Secret talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia actually started under President Donald Trump, for reasons that Washington’s foreign-policy elite may find problematic. The Saudi leadership was shocked when Trump opted not to go to war with Iran after an Iranian-attributed attack on Saudi oil fields in 2019. Trump essentially abandoned the Carter Doctrine, much to the chagrin of Riyadh and many of Washington’s foreign-policy elite, who had long asserted that without American hegemony, the Middle East would descend into chaos. Recognizing that the U.S. military was no longer at their disposal, the attacks prompted Saudi Arabia and the UAE to try secret diplomacy with Iran instead. “It made Riyadh understand that they have to diversify their relationships and reduce their reliance on the United States,” a well-placed Saudi source told me.

Read the full article in The American Prospect.