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20 January 2024 - 17:25
The end of the Anglosphere age in the Middle East

Empires are often unable to absorb valuable lessons without first suffering a major humiliation. This is why the U.S. and the UK are unable to see that bombing Yemen will backfire rather than achieve its objectives.

After all, the U.S. should have learned — from its various Middle Eastern wars, from Israel’s wars, and from the Ukraine War — that there are limits to what technology and aviation can achieve. But this does not seem to register with American leaders and their British followers. Strangely, their hubris has only grown since Iraq and Afghanistan.

There has been an Anglosphere-Sunni Muslim alliance since the mid-1800s, when Britain first partnered with the Ottoman Empire against French and Russian influence. After World War I, this alliance morphed from Ottoman–British to Saudi–British, and then to Saudi–American. That partnership delivered the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, helping to win the Cold War. It also prevented the Arab world from revolting against its humiliation by Israel, ensuring that Arab resources would be controlled by “moderates” — that is, states not committed to the Islamic-Jewish conflict in Palestine.

The British drew the borders of the Middle East, from the Gulf to Iraq, Jordan and Palestine. The British and the Jews imposed the state of Israel on the Arabs. This led to the series of wars — 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973; the Lebanon wars of 1982, 1993, 1996 and 2006; and the endless Gaza wars.

The wars from 1948 to 1982 ended in decisive Israeli military victories. This discredited traditional, meek Arab monarchies such as those in Egypt, Libya and Iraq, leading to their replacement with secular strongmen. Eventually, after Israel’s lightning invasion of Lebanon in 1982, which successfully expelled the Palestine Liberation Organization, the Arab secular governments and movements were also discredited. Only the Gulf monarchies aligned with the U.S. thrived.

The wars fought by the Shi’a in Lebanon and their Sunni allies in Gaza, on the other hand — the wars fought from 1982 onwards — were wars in which Israel failed to achieve its objectives. These wars involved movements, not states, which had a different strategy. Rather than promising victories, they sought to impose a high cost on Israel while working towards steadily building greater capabilities and a believing, religiously committed society, convinced that was the key to victory.

This strategy’s success is most evident in Lebanon. Israel’s forced withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000 was historic. Israel abandoned land that it would have otherwise settled, and it did so without any security assurances. Israel’s withdrawal allowed Hezbollah to grow further. Now, Hezbollah is helping lead the confrontation with the U.S. in Yemen, Iraq and Syria. The spiritual awakening that Hezbollah led among Lebanese Shi’a has had obvious material effects, shown in Hezbollah’s ability to deter Israel, despite conducting attacks against it for three months.

After taking over Britain’s imperial responsibilities in the Middle East, and especially over the last two decades, America gave up on humility, adopting extreme hubris instead. Let us review some of America’s recent ambitions.

First, there was the post-9/11 plan to democratize the Middle East. Before George W. Bush, American policymakers understood that their Sunni allies had to be authoritarian to maintain peace with Israel against their people’s will. Was Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat not killed for making peace? In promoting democracy, Bush showed that Americans would undermine the stability of their allies just to validate Bush’s vapid and incorrect beliefs.

The U.S. then backed the Muslim Brotherhood-led 2011 protest movement, earning the enmity of the militaries and monarchies that were traditional American allies. America ignored them, certain that democracy would make everyone friends, a belief shared by both the supposed simpleton Bush and the alleged genius Barack Obama.

Next, apparently hoping to switch from an alliance with the Sunnis to an alliance with the more radical Iran-led Shi’a, the U.S. under Obama made a nuclear deal with Iran, thereby antagonizing Saudi Arabia.

To appease the Saudis, the U.S. supported them in Yemen, but not enough to achieve a Saudi victory. And to show how clever its Iran strategy was, the U.S. backed the jihadis in Syria, but not enough to overthrow Bashar al-Assad, and was both unable under Obama and unwilling under Trump to give Iran the agreed upon sanctions relief. Having secured a reputation for unreliability and incompetence, the U.S. cemented the hostility of both the Saudis and the Iranians, who proceeded to reconcile under Chinese auspices.

For the old Middle Eastern allies, the most telling sign was the American establishment’s hounding of President Donald Trump, who had tried to restore the old Sunni alliances that had served America and Britain so well. The media, the Democrats and a good chunk of Republicans accused Trump of cozying up to dictators, and proudly proclaimed that they would never been seen alongside such types. Then President Biden humbly came to Saudi Arabia, seeking higher oil output, only to be rebuffed.

American weakness and inconsistency had been exposed, not in minor issues like human rights, but in the actual practice of power.

Now, Iran and its allies are engaged in a major war intended to push U.S. influence out of the region, stripping the Sunni Arabs and the Jews of their historic protector. That, in summary, was the objective of the Oct. 7 attack and subsequent aggression. The entire edifice of British and U.S. power in the Middle East, ranging from borders to leading families to the existence of the state of Israel, is now at risk and may fall apart in the next 10 to 20 years.

Israel’s commitment to ethnically cleansing the Palestinians, however, makes it impossible for the Sunnis and the Jews to stand together. As the U.S. and UK choose to bomb Yemen — the Middle East’s poorest country — rather than impose a ceasefire on Israel, relations with regional allies are set to worsen further.

Perhaps America’s allies would be forgiving if the Americans could win in Yemen, but they cannot. American bombs have been falling on Ansar Allah, also known as the Houthi movement, since 2004.

The U.S. is sending reinforcements to Iraq and Syria, thinking these will make a difference. They will not. The Iranians’ tolerance for casualties among Iraqi militias is much higher than the Americans’ tolerance for casualties among American soldiers. This war, like Vietnam, Algeria, Afghanistan and the 2003-2011 Iraq War, will be lost politically, regardless of the size of the bombs that America can drop, and even if America, in another fit of hubris, decides to attack Iran.

The bombing campaign in Yemen will humiliate the Anglosphere. The Yemenis will keep attacking international shipping regardless of what the U.S. and U.K. air forces do, raising the question of what the point is of spending billions on aircraft carriers if they are unable to achieve political objectives against an impoverished country like Yemen.

The more the U.S. and UK bomb Yemen, and the more the Houthis attack shipping, the greater the proof that the Anglosphere cannot defend its key national security interests in the Middle East: securing energy flows and protecting freedom of navigation.

“The emperor is naked” was quietly whispered after the Iranian attacks on shipping in 2018, and the attacks on Saudi Aramco in September 2019. President Trump’s presence prevented the world from assessing what these attacks meant. But the smartest man in the Middle East, UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed, subsequently sent a delegation to Iran to discuss “maritime security.” He saw through American security guarantees.

Soon, if the Israel-Gaza war is not ended, Yemen will make everyone realize that America is not a reliable security guarantor for its own interests, let alone those of others. This will be doubly so when the Gaza War ends with Hamas still in power.

Then “the emperor is naked” will become a deafening roar.

Firas Modad is the founder of Modad Geopolitics and has been a Middle East analyst for 20 years.

Source: The Hill

News ID 196928


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