By Sarwar Kashmeri
It is time for the United States to stop spending its resources, goodwill and credibility in the futile quest of trying to influence the trajectory of events in Egypt, Syria and the surrounding Arab states. Leadership now requires that America recognize, no matter how much it may wish it to be otherwise, that the Middle-East is in the midst of a region-wide civil war that will re-cast the map drawn up some 80 years ago by Britain and France to serve their colonial interests.
Take Egypt for instance where the United States honestly claims it is trying to influence the development of a democratic country in which the will of the people is supreme, and the military takes orders from politicians. But that is totally opposite to what America’s closest allies in the region want. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait, and, yes, even Israel all support the military coup that ejected Egypt’s first ever elected leader, Mohammad Morsi.
It is inconceivable that America will buck its regional allies, many of which host important U.S. military bases in the Middle East. The Egyptians know this. The citizens of every country in the Middle East know this. Yet, promoting democracy is the essence of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. It is a policy built on self-deception and quick sand. It is also a policy full of contradictions.
Consider, for instance, the dramatically different way in which the killing of civilians in Egypt and Syria are treated in Washington. Over a thousand Egyptians were killed and many thousands wounded recently by the military. The reaction from America was tepid to say the least, and $1.5 billion in U.S. military aid continues to flow to Egypt. On the other hand, last week’s killing of scores of people in Syria by a suspected gas attack has already raised calls for U.S. military intervention.
Are we to assume from these contradictory American reactions that Syrian lives are worth more than Egyptian lives? Or is the American message that it is more humane to kill men, women, and children by machine guns and snipers than it is with poison gas?
Let’s end this inconsistent and untenable policy. Let the Arab countries rework their lands and establish a new balance of power by themselves, to suit themselves. It will not be pretty, but then no civil war is. Perhaps the new order might mean an end to U.S. military presence in the Middle East. Or it might not. We simply won’t know until we let this story play out. Introducing an American dog into this fight will only get it torn to shreds.
Which leads me to my second point.
There is one Muslim country in that region in which time spent by U.S. diplomacy can reap rich dividends: Iran. It is a country of 75 million people, of enormous geopolitical importance with borders that straddle countries that are of vital American national interest. It is a country that is destined to be a regional heavyweight and to serve as one of the region’s key balance wheels.
It is also an Islamic country with its own brand of working democracy where the old “America the great Satan” order seems to have reversed itself in the recent elections. Iran’s new Foreign minister, Mohammad-Javad Zarif is a veteran diplomat and former Ambassador to the U.N. He is a fluent English speaker with a PhD in international relations from the University of Denver. He, critically, has the support of the newly elected President Hassan Rouhani, who seems determined to break the nuclear deadlock with the West. As the 21 August, 2013, Financial Times put it:
The approval… of almost all the cabinet nominees, most of whom have decades of experience in senior roles, is widely seen as an acknowledgement by the Iranian regime of the failure of its attempt to introduce a new generation of political leaders during the eight-year [inexperienced and confrontational] presidency of Mahmoud Ahmadi-Nejad.
It is time to pivot America’s Middle East foreign policy from the futile quest of trying to influence the trajectory of Arab lands to Iran, where a rapprochement will have enormous consequences for the United States, the region and the world. Let’s pivot America’s Middle East foreign policy to Iran, now.
Sarwar Kashmeri is a Fellow of the Foreign Policy Association, and an Adjunct professor at Norwich University. This column first appeared in the Huffington Post.