21/12/2021

Geopolitics

US Middle East policy: from hero to zero?

In the end of this summer the world shockingly witnessed reports from Kabul on desperate crowds of Afghani people trying to escape on the last flights from the war battered country and the rapidly recurrent Taliban rule before the last US troops left Afghanistan. In the last two decades Afghanistan and Iraq have become the main stages of the United States’ presence in the broader Middle East but its boots continue to be on the ground in several other countries in the region as well. The calamitous withdrawal from Afghanistan by the US does not only mean the long-awaited end of a “forever war” but also the end of Pax Americana, where the US is not going to be a that dominant player in the Middle East than it was before. This retreat will certainly realign the regional balance of power and leave a vacuum which is expected to be filled in soon by other great powers who have long been the challengers of the American hegemony. But why is the US ending these “forever wars” now? How could the dynamics of the region be changed by that? What could be the US’ new posture in the region?

The US’ active foreign policy towards the Middle-East is dated back to the Cold
War era. Back then the intention of this superpower was to limit the Soviet
Union’s influence in the region by aiding anti-communist regimes and backing
militias formed against the USSR while supporting Israel against the Sovietsponsored Arab countries. But in the aftermath of 9/11 the former, “controlling
from the background” – except for the Persian Gulf War in 1990 - foreign policy
of the US seemed to be changed forever, as an expanding military presence
became permanent in the Middle East in the name of the “war on terror”. After
2001 and 2003 Afghanistan and Iraq became the main stages of the US military
deployments in the broader region. The number of US troops in Afghanistan –
of a-twenty-year long campaign, known as the longest war of the US – peaked
approximately at 100 000 in 20111 while in Iraq the highest number of US troops deployed was around 158 000 in 2008.2 Since 2001, between 1.9 and 3 million
military personnel have served in these two countries, over half of them have
been deployed more than once according to the Watson Institute.3

Why the US ended forever wars
Eroding public support
Iraq
The pulling back from the Middle East did not begin this year when President Joe Biden
announced and urgently implemented the withdrawal of all US troops from
Afghanistan. However, the public demand and accordingly the political will of extracting
US troops from the region have been continuously increasing since almost right after
the invasion of Afghanistan and Iraq occurred and as they realised that the process of
regime change, counter-insurgency and nation building would last longer than
expected. The decreasing public support and the negative public opinion - not just in
the US but in all nations that engaged in these wars - were among the first causes that
shaped the political will to at least reduce the number of troops in these countries....

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