Global Independent Analytics
Stefan Paraber
Stefan Paraber

Location: USA

Specialization: Economy, Social politics

Middle Eastern countries turning towards Moscow

The status of American dominance in the Middle East is rapidly changing.

A redirection of who makes changes in the region being made away from Washington and towards Moscow. This has resulted from the poor style of interventionism championed by the administration of President Obama, largely stemming from his advisor’s penchant for waging a limited war against terrorism in the Middle East.  

News outlets such as Reuters had already identified that the “Obama Doctrine” was already coming apart by the end of September. The plan, laid out by Obama in a speech at the West Point military academy in May of 2014, was to reduce America’s military footprint abroad by allying with “local partners” rather than deploying ground troops. However, the “local partners” have been primarily the Sunni tribes in Iraq and Afghanistan as well as states like Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and the other GCC states against Shiite blocks like Iran and the Maliki government in Iraq. It stands to reason that the Obama Doctrine is essentially a continuation of the strategy endorsed in the final years of the Bush White House – ally with Sunni nations against Shiite in an effort to fracture the Middle East into petty, powerless rump states. This is the strategy taken by America in the Syrian conflict, where so-called “moderate” opposition to Assad is supported by America while ISIS survives moderate bombing campaigns by a US-led coalition.

When Russia intervened in Syria, with the permission of President Assad, it made it apparent that Washington no longer held the sway it once did over the situation on the ground in the Middle East. So much was admitted even by the warmonger duo of former Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and former Defense Secretary Robert Gates in the Washington Post. Russia has embarrassed the US-led coalition against ISIS by waging an unmitigated war against terrorist groups in Syria, now other nations are visibly beginning to notice.

Foreign Policy recently enumerated just a few of the changes occurring in the diplomacy of the Middle East states; the shift towards Russia is undeniable. President Assad accepting the assistance of Russia in the fight against terrorism was only the catalyst in a number of states reaching out to Moscow for some means of support. Surprisingly, Israel was one of the first states to open dialogue with Russia regarding Syria; Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Israeli Military Chief of Staff Lt. Gen Gadi Eizenkat and military intelligence Major General Herzi Haleri met with Putin on the Middle East situation on Sept 21. Saudi Arabian Defense Minister Salman visited Putin on October 11th to discuss a political transition in Syria. Traveling to Russia at the same time as the Saudi minister was a representative from the United Arab Emirates, Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who went to discuss Syria and the overall situation of the Middle East with President Putin.

Egyptian President Sisi has made no secret of his numerous visits to Moscow and, considering Washington has spurned him, is comfortably placing Egypt back into the position it was when President Nasser ruled. It was during this period of Nasserism that Egypt was able to play the USSR against the United States and vice versa that resulted in benefits for Egypt such as the Aswar High Dam; Sisi is showing signs of returning this form of governance in Egypt. Jordan, which has sided with Washington in the past, has also recently declared that they will coordinate anti-terrorism military actions from a command post in the Jordanian capital of Amman.

But perhaps the most surprising and insightful recent turn towards Moscow in the Middle East was Iraq’s open attitude towards Russia. Iraq has been under the thumb of the US since the beginning of the disastrous Iraq War in 2003 that has led the country through reeling periods of political and military. The recent shift began with the announcement of an anti-terrorist intelligence sharing and coordination center located in Baghdad. The initial reports claimed Iraqi political officials denied the cooperation, but later reports came out that the Iraqi military’s Joint Operations Command were in fact seeking a relationship with Syria, Russia and Iran regarding handling the threat of terrorism. Days later the Prime Minister of Iraq, Haider al-Abadi, indicated he would be open to Russian plans carrying over their attack on terrorism from Syria in his country as well.

Scrambling to regain control in Iraq, the US warmonger community dispatched the, now former, head of the US coalition against ISIS Ret. General John Allen to Iraq. In Iraq, Allen essentially had to coax Prime Minister Abadi back to the Americans, an anonymous source reported to Asharq Al-Awsat: “John Allen . . . informed Haider Al-Abadi that Washington was disturbed by Iraq’s alliance [with Russia], and said, to the letter, that ‘President Barack Obama is enquiring regarding his role [in the fight against ISIS] . . . Shouldn’t Iraq be thanking the US?” Allen also requested Abadi, “not to proceed” with cooperation with Russia.

Trailing Allen was the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Joseph Dunford. He was sent to ensure no change in the Iraqi leaderships’ turn towards Moscow and reported: “earlier reports that the Iraqi government wanted Russia to conduct airstrikes in Iraq are no longer in play.” It was later confirmed that Dunford had to threaten the Iraqi leadership with cutting off of US support if they were to work with the Russians.  However, these conciliatory gestures come from the Iraqi government, not from the Iraqi military, which had first confirmed it was interested in Russian bombing and is conducting the anti-terrorist coordination.

The Abadi government was encouraged by Washington and accepted with open arms. This relationship later allowed the American military to restrain the Iraqi military’s ability to effectively battle terrorism and allow Shia militias to back up anti-terrorist engagements. The gestures of the Iraqi military to Russia could be an indication that they are far more aware of what is necessary for success on the ground and less willing to play into the hands of the Americans. As if to signify awareness of needing to placate the Iraqi military in order to keep them from the Russians, Gen. Allen’s protégé and new US coalition envoy Brett McGurk recently praised the Popular Movement, a Shia militia force, in their cooperation with Iraqi Security Forces in retaking the city of Baiji from the Islamic State.

McGurk’s actions are likely a grumbling acceptance that in order to keep Iraq on the side of the West, some concessions must be made to a pro-Iranian Shia militia force. It demonstrates yet another area in which America is losing ground to Russia and her allies and potentially points to an end of the era of US dominance in the Middle East and introduction of a multi-polar world. 

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