Egypt and Jordan want to try to wean Syria and Iraq, the twin pillars of the Arab state system, away from Shiite Iran. Egypt also wants to export its gas to Lebanon, and cash-strapped Jordan wants to re-establish once-lucrative trade ties with Syria. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. even took their relations with Turkey out of the deep freeze, hoping to bring it back into the regional fold as a Sunni counterweight to Iran.
Iran, though, is probably thinking that the United States, while it will maintain sanctions, has lost any stomach for military action to curb Tehran’s push to enrich enough uranium to become a threshold nuclear weapons state.
“The U.S. is not pulling out entirely, but it is pulling back, and all of its Sunni Arab partners are now acting to protect themselves — and to stabilize the region — in an era when the U.S. will no longer be dominant there,” argued Martin Indyk, a longtime U.S. envoy in the Middle East, whose new book, “Master of the Game: Henry Kissinger and the Art of Middle East Diplomacy,” is a gripping history of how the United States used peacemaking to supplant the Soviet Union as the dominant foreign power in the region. “But the U.S. will still be needed to deter Iran, should it develop a nuclear capability — and to defuse other conflicts.”
But the power to shape this region comes in many forms.
In keeping with the theme of Indyk’s book, I’d argue that just as we once supplanted the Soviets as the dominant shaper in the region, Mother Nature is now supplanting America as the dominant force.
In Mother Nature’s Middle East, leaders will be judged not by how much they resist one another or great powers, but by how much resilience they build for their people and nations at a time when the world will be phasing out fossil fuels, at a time when all the Arab-Muslim states have booming populations under the age of 30 and at a time of intensifying climate change.
The United Nations recently reported that Afghanistan has been hit with the worst drought in more than 30 years. It is crushing farmers, pushing up food prices and putting 18.8 million Afghans — nearly half of the population — into food insecurity. Over to you, Mr. Taliban: You broke it, you own it.
On top of stresses from Covid-19, Iran last summer experienced deadly water riots in its parched southwest — and its climate is predicted to get hotter and drier. Egypt is trying to contend with a rising Mediterranean pushing salty seawater into the irrigation systems of its Nile Delta breadbasket. Egypt and Ethiopia could actually go to war over the water-trapping dam that Ethiopia has built upstream on the Nile.