US war games take Mid­dle East from volatile to brink of war

Daily Sabah (Turkey) - - Columns - Sadık Ünay

These have been tough times for both the po­lit­i­cal ac­tors and so­ci­eties in the Mid­dle East as well as the wider Mus­lim world who are fol­low­ing the crit­i­cal de­vel­op­ments un­fold­ing daily with in­creas­ing anx­i­ety. In re­cent months, the in­ten­sity, scope and fre­quency of suc­ces­sive po­lit­i­cal, geostrate­gic or eth­no­sec­tar­ian crises in the re­gion have rapidly es­ca­lated. The neo-me­dieval or­der associated with com­pet­ing claims to na­tional sovereignty and re­gional dom­i­nance have sparked civil wars, eth­nic-sec­tar­ian rad­i­cal­iza­tion, weak­en­ing re­gional norms, the use and abuse of para­mil­i­tary or ter­ror­ist groups and throne wars, cre­at­ing con­stantly wors­en­ing se­cu­rity.

In ret­ro­spect, this neo-me­dieval or­der did not emerge by hap­pen­stance or as a re­sult of spo­radic de­vel­op­ments, but as a re­sult of a de­lib­er­ate, flex­i­ble and long-term re­gional trans­for­ma­tion strat­egy con­ducted by the U.S. and its in­ter­locu­tors. The chain of de­struc­tive de­vel­op­ments, which started with the U.S. in­va­sion of Iraq un­der the veil of lib­er­a­tion from au­to­cratic lead­ers such as Sad­dam Hus­sain in 2003, have con­tin­ued un­abated to this day, leav­ing only car­nage and specters of re­gional war be­hind. Start­ing in Iraq, sen­si­tive bal­ances be­tween com­pet­ing po­lit­i­cal, so­cial, eth­nic and sec­tar­ian groups were de­stroyed; ex­ist­ing se­cu­rity and gov­er­nance in­fras­truc­tures were de­lib­er­ately weak­ened; na­tional lead­ers with anti-Western rhetoric were elim­i­nated; para­mil­i­tary ter­ror­ist groups were se­cretly sup­ported; and the ground­work for per­pet­ual con­flict was laid across the re­gion.

While Iran was the main re­gional player in the list of fore­most tar­gets of for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s ad­min­is­tra­tion via his rhetoric on the “axis of evil,” the con­duct of the re­gional trans­for­ma­tion strat­egy ex­pe­ri­enced a rad­i­cal turn af­ter for­mer U.S. Pres­i­dent Barack Obama. The process of regime change across the re­gion was not sup­ported in an open and pro­nounced fash­ion, but var­i­ous so­cial move­ments and do­mes­tic op­po­si­tion groups, es­pe­cially in Sunni coun­tries in the re­gion, were ma­nip­u­lated over the course of the Arab Spring.

Con­se­quently, the Arab Spring, which started with le­git­i­mate so­cial de­mands, was turned into an ap­pa­ra­tus for the con­trolled po­lit­i­cal elite’s trans­for­ma­tion in Tu­nisia and Egypt while Syria, Iraq, Libya and Ye­men were left be­hind as failed states. Turkey also ex­pe­ri­enced var­i­ous il­licit at­tempts to top­ple Pres­i­dent Re­cep Tayyip Er­doğan, in­clud­ing the Gezi Protests, the Dec. 17 to Dec. 25 op­er­a­tions and the July 15 coup at­tempt, all with tacit Amer­i­can sup­port.

The Syr­ian war be­came a crit­i­cal turn­ing point. One where Wash­ing­ton did not hes­i­tate to leave some of its strong­est re­gional al­lies, in­clud­ing Turkey and Saudi Ara­bia, in the cold for not shoul­der­ing the ma­te­rial and hu­man cost of fight­ing on be­half of the U.S. there. Part of the U.S.’s re­sponse was open­ing new ar­eas of in­flu­ence for Iran, which in­cluded Iraq, over the course of its po­lit­i­cal re­con­fig­u­ra­tion, Le­banon through Hezbol­lah and north­ern Syria. The ex­pan­sion of Iran’s re­gional in­flu­ence was a provoca­tive move that pre­dictably aroused re­ac­tions from Saudi Ara­bia and other Gulf coun­tries, which gave the U.S. a per­fect pre­text to sys­tem­at­i­cally raise ten­sions on the Sunni-Shi­ite axis among the main play­ers and po­si­tion it­self as the main ar­bi­tra­tor. Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump started to play war games in a blunter and more un­re­served fash­ion with the help of his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and Pen­tagon, per­fectly aware that an es­ca­la­tion of risk with the help of his son-in-law Jared Kush­ner and Pen­tagon, per­fectly aware that an es­ca­la­tion of risk per­cep­tions in the re­gion would play into the hands of per­cep­tions in the re­gion that would play into the hands of the mil­i­taryin­dus­trial com­plex through in­creased arms sales, as well as con­sol­i­da­tion of the in­ter­ests of the U.S.-Is­raeli al­liance.

Against this back­ground, I be­lieve that we need to take stock of the cat­a­log of re­cent crises in the re­gion, in­clud­ing the Qatari cri­sis to the Kur­dis­tan Re­gional Gov­ern­ment’s (KRG) in­de­pen­dence ref­er­en­dum, the res­ig­na­tion of Le­banese Prime Min­is­ter Saad Hariri, the failed mis­sile at­tack on Riyadh and the clam­p­down on sev­eral princes, prom­i­nent busi­ness­men and bu­reau­crats in Saudi Ara­bia in light of the larger hege­monic projects fo­cused on the Mid­dle East. It is ex­tremely wor­ry­ing for the peo­ple and in­tel­lec­tu­als from Is­tan­bul, Cairo, Bagh­dad, Doha and Me­d­ina to watch Mid­dle Eastern pol­i­tics con­tinue to be rapidly en­gulfed in es­ca­lat­ing ten­sions, overnight op­er­a­tions and tit-for-tat war­mon­ger­ing rhetoric among the main re­gional play­ers. Ob­vi­ously, when Saudi Ara­bia, as the main an­chor of the re­gional sub­sys­tem around the Gulf and spir­i­tu­ally the cus­to­dian of the two holy mosques, is drawn into do­mes­tic power strug­gles, as seen this week, the level of anx­i­ety in the re­gion and the wider Mus­lim world tends to spike.

Re­gard­less of the un­der­ly­ing mo­ti­va­tions and na­tional in­ter­est cal­cu­la­tions, we need to un­der­line that an all-out war be­tween ma­jor re­gional play­ers that the U.S. caters to will trig­ger a lose-lose sce­nario for all sides. Le­banon seems to be the next po­ten­tial stage for ag­gra­vated proxy con­flicts, but past ex­pe­ri­ence shows us that con­tin­ued in­sta­bil­ity and con­flict in Le­banon pro­duces re­gion-wide ram­i­fi­ca­tions. Western strate­gies for in­sti­gat­ing regime change, frag­ment­ing ex­ist­ing sov­er­eign au­thor­i­ties, cre­at­ing po­lit­i­cal power vac­u­ums and us­ing sub-na­tional ac­tors and ter­ror­ist groups for ma­nip­u­la­tion must be re­sisted through re­gional sol­i­dar­ity.

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