Analysis: As US focus wanes, Mideast turns inward for talks

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After years of searching abroad for answers, countries in the Middle East are now talking to each other to find solutions after two decades defined by war and political turmoil.

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US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq has played a part in that change. Once ousted autocrats such as President Bashar Assad in Syria, and former top figures such as the son of Moammar Gaddafi in Libya, are back in the political arena amid the still smoldering ruins of the 2011 Arab Spring uprising.

Much remains unsettled and this inner search may not give the most desired answer. There are no quick solutions to Lebanon’s unprecedented economic freefall, from the plight of Afghans desperate to flee the country’s new Taliban rulers and Iran’s tough stance on its nuclear program.


But the diplomatic maneuver signals a growing realization across the region that America’s interest is heading elsewhere and it is time for talks that were unimaginable just a year ago.

The United States still maintains a strong military presence, including bases in the wider Middle East. Tens of thousands of US troops operate tanks in Kuwait, flying missions through the Strait of Hormuz and into the Arabian Peninsula.

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But its Arab allies were also stunned as desperate people favored abandonment of US military cargo jets during America’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan after a 20-year war and Taliban takeover of the country. Decisions from both the Trump and Biden administrations led to that moment – and carried forward strategic thinking tempered by the Cold War and subsequent conflicts of the September 11 attacks.

US analysts now talk about the competition of the “great powers” and point to Russia’s building up of forces on Ukraine’s borders and China’s stance towards Taiwan. Those flashpoints, he says, need some personnel and equipment long stationed in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, talks in Vienna aimed at restoring Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers appear to be failing. With Iran’s uranium enrichment at levels never seen before, threats of military action by Israel have rekindled tensions and fears that an ongoing shadow war could escalate into open conflict.

And with the border-locking chaos of the coronavirus pandemic largely behind them, Middle East leaders are now shuffling, talking face-to-face amid a flurry of diplomatic meetings, eager to hedge their bets.

The United Arab Emirates sent its national security adviser on a rare visit to speak to Iran’s staunch president, possibly hoping to counter any further sea attacks off its coast. Saudi Arabia, which cut ties with Iran in 2016 after attacks on its diplomatic posts sparked by the state execution of a prominent Shia cleric, has also held talks with Tehran held in Baghdad.

However, it is not just about Iran. An intra-Gulf dispute that saw Qatar boycotted for years by four Arab countries ended in January. Years of iteration for the image of Qatar’s ruling Emir, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and the emirate’s national security adviser were photographed smiling and relaxed next to each other in board shorts.

Later in December, the Gulf Cooperation Council, which also includes Bahrain, Kuwait and Oman, is scheduled to hold its first non-brittle meeting since the boycott. Prince Mohammed has embarked on a tour of the GCC states ahead of that summit, US intelligence agencies said to re-establish his own influence after approving the 2018 assassination and dismemberment of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. expected.

While each of the Gulf Arab countries conducts its own diplomacy, a unified GCC front could prove valuable if tensions with Iran escalate. There are far-fetched thoughts. Turkey, which has long been viewed with suspicion by the Emirate and Egypt as a haven for Islamists, has sought warmer ties as an attempt to prevent the collapse of its currency, the lira.

A decade after the Arab Spring movements, the closure of ranks aimed at toppling the autocrats in the region marked the return of real politics in the region.

Syria’s Assad has carved his way out of the cliff. Although the northwestern Syrian province of Idlib is under the control of opposition forces, Assad controls the rest of the country. Now, he is slowly being brought back into the fold of the same Arab countries that once called for his ouster – even as the US opposes his rule and a small army near the border with Iraq in the country’s east. Maintain both presence.

Another person on the scene is Seif al-Islam Gaddafi, the son of the slain Libyan dictator. Although still wanted by the International Criminal Court over the killing of Arab Spring protesters, Seif al-Islam has re-emerged as a candidate in the country’s upcoming presidential election.

In Tunisia, which saw its first of the Arab Spring protests, President Kais Saied sealed the country’s parliament and seized executive powers in July. It sidelined the country’s Islamists in a move criticized by opponents as a coup.

And in Sudan, where a popular uprising and coup toppled long-time autocrat Omar al-Bashir in 2019, a more recent coup ditched fragile plans for the transition to democracy.

However, this new Middle East re-evaluation appears to have limits on what it can solve.

The Middle East is in no hurry to adopt Taliban rule in Afghanistan and international recognition is still far away. grinding…

Credit: / Bashar Assad

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