The recent showing of a captured American drone by Iran embarrassed Washington so much that President Obama had to ask politely for the expensive piece of machinery to be returned. The insult to injury is that the drone was not crashed – it was landed. This simple detail holds all the implications for the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East. It is reflective of a trend in the Middle East that seems to leave America behind, with up and coming players, like Iran, Turkey, and Pakistan filling the void.
As far as nuclear powers go, Pakistan already possesses them, and potentially, Iran might feel justified to militarize its nuclear program, should the latest drone incident provoke American aggression in the short-term; this is why restraint must be one of the virtues in the State Department and the Pentagon. The purpose of NATO’s mission in Afghanistan is not to consolidate or create an Afghan state – it is to present a hard power deterrent to Iranian regional influence; it becomes even more important with the American withdrawal from Iraq and the opening of Iraq to Iranian influence. Losing the emirates in the southern peninsula is directly related to whether the Keystone XL pipeline is built: Simple supply and demand of oil will reduce the stakes of securing Saudi oil – conversely, the emirates might come under the control of the nuclear Iranian-Pakistani duo. As far as hard power goes, the fact Iran managed to hack a sophisticated drone is a hint that hacking an aircraft carrier based in Bahrain is now possible.
The recent recognition of the Armenian genocide by France is a calculated move to distance Turkey from Europe further. Turkey has a rapidly growing economy and a powerful military, which combine with the distancing from Europe to give Ankara its own version of Ostpolitik, to make up for an ongoing century of Ottoman stigma and relative absence from Mideast affairs. It might be said that the Turkey-Iran relationship may be one of the most important regional dynamics during this century, and with a policy of re-approachment, Washington will carry relatively less clout with Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan.
Syria is a yet unknown variable – President Assad might yet survive the unrest, once it ends, with great human cost. In Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood’s newfound political power can also be used to sour relations with Israel, if the call for revision to the 1979 peace treaty comes to fruition. Tel Aviv is following these events closely, but its relative international isolation will be deepened if the above dynamics intensify.
The confluence of these dynamics also marginalizes America’s influence in the Middle East. President Obama’s request to Iran to give the drone back demonstrates the highly unfavorable position of Washington to affect the changes it wants in the Middle East. Indicative is also the decision to send 250 American soldiers to Australia in 2012 – in simplest terms, it is symbolic of America’s strategic defeat in the Middle East and the reshuffling of the cards toward the Pacific to shore up a diminishing global presence.
It is a mysterious thing about empires – one day, the world is theirs. On the next, it just moves on.
Photo Credit: familymwr