by Salman Rafi Sheikh, with New Eastern Outlook, Moscow,…and the Institute of Oriental Studies of the Russian Academy of Sciences, a research institution for the study of the countries and cultures of Asia and North Africa.
[ Editor’s note: The Patriot Missile roulette shuffling is continuing in the Mideast. We at first thought that these batteries were also moved to Iraq to add to US air defenses there, but it now seems they were brought back to the US for technical upgrades that have to be done in-country.
Certainly the US might have gotten a double benefit for taking them out while the sting of Prince Salman’s amateurish ploy to kill US oil shale ended up killing the world oil business. He has been so quiet since that yours truly is suspicious that he may already be under arrest for taking SA over the waterfall.
Mr. Sheikh gives a good run down below on how the Persian Gulf States no longer seem to be worried about Iranian aggression, a safe bet as it has not invaded anyone in 2000 years. And certainly Trump is lining up his re-election campaign bogeyman cards to get his biggest bang for the buck, which is of course with China and Russia.
The current US Navy deployment to challenge China in the South China sea was both an attempted diversion from Trump’s comic Covid blundering, and possibly jealousy of the Chinese economy not taking the beating like in the West, due to President Xi’s early moves to contain the virus.
Proof of that can be seen in the stellar Covid numbers of S. Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Singapore and other Asian countries who have not had to resort to financially devastating lockdowns, which Trump was forced into after his “It’s all a hoax” and “It will just go away someday” plan crashed and burned around us … Jim W. Dean ]
– First published May 15, 2020 –
The phone conversation between the US president and Saudi King Salman reportedly ‘reaffirmed strong ties’ between both countries, but the oil crisis and the subsequent US decision to withdraw patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia, particularly those that were guarding Saudi oil facilities, indicate that there’s a lot of geo-political activity taking place under the surface.
Things do not seem to go well as far as US-Saudi relations are concerned. The oil crisis—and the way the Saudis, as many in the US believe, tried to ‘destroy’ US shale oil industry—and even subsequent withdrawal are, however, neither isolated incidents, having nothing to do with each other, nor are these events solely about US-Saudi relations.
In fact, these events need to be placed against the changing geo-political dynamics of the Middle East and an increasing US focus on China and Russia as the biggest threat to its interests. Although this is not something new, the fact that the US is focusing on its global rivals at the expense of the Middle East does speak volumes about the changing geo-strategic dynamics.
The biggest manifestation of the changing dynamics of the Middle East is the way Iran is no longer being seen as ‘the only source of threat’ to the US and even Israel. This is apart from the fact that a number of countries even in the Middle East, including an otherwise close Saudi ally, the UAE, have started improving their relations with Iran, positioning themselves as future interlocutors and power-brokers.
Other countries like Kuwait, Oman and Qatar are equally no longer pushing the US into a confrontationist policy, grounding their policies well into the realism emerging out of the increasing disillusionment with the high level of inconsistency of the US policies in the region.
A Wall Street Journal report, quoting US official sources, said that the decision to remove missiles marks “end of recent military build-up to counter Iran”, adding that this withdrawal is part of an official US plan “to realign military resources according to a U.S. national defense strategy that defines the U.S. principal global competitors as Russia and China, less the Middle East.”
This is also evident from the White House budget requests for 2021. The Pentagon intends to arm its Marines with versions of the Tomahawk cruise missile now carried on the US warships, as the White House budget requests for 2021 and congressional testimony in March of senior US military commanders indicate.
The budget request document says that “The Budget prioritizes funding for programs that would deliver warfighting advantages against China and Russia.”
It adds “While the American people still face dangers posed by Islamist terrorists and transnational criminals, America also faces challenges by resurgent rival nation-states, including China and Russia. The Budget reflects the need for a new American posture to match the realities faced in this new era.”
As a part of the US efforts related to ‘prioritising great power competition’, “A total of $30 million is included in the Budget for the Global engagement Center dedicated to countering foreign state and non-state propaganda and disinformation from China.”
Significantly enough, the same document is almost silent about Iran and/or its so-called ‘malicious’ activities in the region. This tends to reaffirm the WSJ report that the US officials do not consider Iran posing any immediate threats to their interests (and those of its allies as well).
What adds more credence to this lowering of threat perception on Iran is the way Iraq, which had turned into yet another bone of contention between the US and Iran soon after the killing of Soleimani in a US air strike, is now becoming a country where US-Iran interests seem to be converging. The coalescing element appears to be Iraq’s new prime minister, Al Khadimi.
Although Al-Khadimi is close to the US, he has appointed an interior minister who is close to Tehran. Besides it, no sooner did Al-Khadimi win a parliamentary approval on May 7, Washington announced yet another waiver of sanctions against Tehran by allowing Iraq to continue to buy electricity from Iran.
Now, unlike previous monthly waivers, Washington has given a 120-day waiver up to September, indicating its ‘soft approach’ towards Iran in Iraq, even though the strategy of “maximum pressure” remains in place as the US continues to push for UNSC arm embargoes on Iran.
China is not unmindful of these developments about its elevation to the biggest threat to the US interests. In fact, this elevation is as much rooted in domestic political expediencies as in the global geo-politics. Responding to US allegations, China told Reuters that the US should “stop moving chess pieces around” and “flexing its military muscles around China.”
As such, at the end of the day, it is all about new US rivals and reprioritising of US resources with a greater focus on ‘great power competition.’
However, if Iran still does anything ‘malicious’, it can always be directly linked back to the close ties between Iran, China and Russia and the overall threat that these countries pose, as events in Syrian indicate, to the US political and economic interests anyway.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.