Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

A tripartite Middle East destruction machine starts to fade

| Dec. 14, 2018

BOSTON — This is a historic moment in relations between the United States and the Middle East, because we may be witnessing the beginning of the decline of that combination of forces that has been at once the most destructive and the most powerful in our modern history. I am speaking about the U.S.-Israel-Saudi Arabia close relationship that reached its apex, and saw its Israeli-Saudi Arabian dimension emerge into the public, in the past two years of the Donald Trump administration.

Events in recent weeks and days signal that this collaboration is eroding and being discredited. This reflects both short term developments like the Yemen war and the Jamal Khashoggi assassination, and longer term transitions that have seen the power of pro-Israeli and pro-Saudi groups slowing or even retreating within American society and Washington politics.

The important historic angle to this is that the powerful U.S.-Saudi-Israeli combine has been the most destructive force in modern Middle Eastern history due to its three component elements of Western imperialism and militarism, Zionist colonialism and endless warfare, and Wahhabi social and political extremism. Few if any other local and foreign forces have had as much negative impact — on so many lands, for so many decades — during the modern Mideast era that started around World War One.

The United States is problematic because its political and military interventions in the Arab/Mideast region reflect that older Western, mostly European, legacy of colonial controls that brought our region into the 21st Century limping and shattered, due to two main legacies: direct and constant military interventions, with dozens of permanent bases, that eventually contributed to our broken states and stressed societies that cannot withstand permanent warfare; and, non-stop support for autocratic local regimes that prohibit the emergence of credible democracies or expression of the will and interests of the Arabs and other people.

Israel is problematic because its modern legacy of non-stop war between Zionism and Arabism since the early 20th Century has heavily contributed to the prevalence of Arab authoritarian states run by military men and their families, and mostly incompetently so. A century of Arab-Israeli wars has diverted the resources and capabilities of these Arab states, eroded numerous indigenous attempts at serious, genuine, national development, and hardened the Arab power elite’s autocratic ways that also prevented pluralism, participation, and accountability from ever taking root in our societies to the point today that Israeli companies sell technology to some Arab governments that allows them to spy on their own citizens and prevent any freedom of expression, and the Israeli prime minister intervenes in the White House to promote U.S support of the embattled Saudi crown prince.

Saudi Arabia is problematic because the extremist form of Wahhabi political philosophy it exported to Arab-Islamic societies has been both the foundational anchorage and continuing fuel that have helped midwife the birth of modern militant Islamist movements, some of which ultimately evolved on their own into terrorist groups like Al Qaeda, Islamic State, and dozens of smaller ones — even though, it is critical to appreciate, the vast majority of Saudi men and women reject such criminal militancy.

Wahhabi-stoked extremism, predatory Israeli Zionism, and American imperial militarism each contributed in parallel, over many decades, to nipping in the bud any nationalist developmental movements across the Arab region, while actively or implicitly supporting the persistence of Arab authoritarian regimes.

The advent of President Trump and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman converged with several other recent dynamics: the interests of American Christian Zionists and pro-Israeli zealots that heavily influenced the White House, including through Trump’s son-in-law and Zionist settlements supporter Jared Kushner; the rightwards drift of Israeli politics under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu; and, the three countries’ shared desire to counter Iran’s influence in the region.

Yet this trilogy of mostly failed extremism now seems to have reached its peak, and is likely to be rolled back and perhaps even shattered. All three leaders have generated immense opposition to themselves and their policies, and may be charged with criminal actions or even evicted from office.

The U.S. Senate vote earlier this week to hold Mohammad bin Salman personally responsible for the assassination of Khashoggi and to demand the end of U.S. military assistance to the Saudi and Emirati war in Yemen represents a historic change. It shows the U.S. legislature playing a greater role in conducting foreign policy and checking Trump’s excesses, as they explicitly demand that Washington reduce its close links with the Saudi government until the truth of the Khashoggi killing is revealed and the assassins and their commanders held accountable. Mohammad bin Salman now faces real pushback from real power, which he has never faced before.

The tempering of U.S.-Saudi ties and the possible reduced role of Mohammad bin Salman will both weaken the ability of Netanyahu and his extremist zealots in Washington to keep promoting their aggressive, apartheid-like policies that have only generated tensions across the region. These three embattled leaderships may combine for one last, wild fling in the world of political extremism and brutality where they seem to live so comfortably — but they will also face a much more hardened opposition across the world, including in the halls of American power.

This trilateral Middle East wrecking machine probably has seen its best days behind it, for which we thank all those Arabs, Americans, Israelis and others who resisted these purveyors of destruction, and whoever else on earth or in the heavens had a hand in this. One also hopes this means the proven natural decency, moderation, and pragmatism of most American, Saudi, and Israeli people would emerge once more, and help shape policies for peace, justice, and co-existence, rather than for perpetual fear, hatred, war, and fanaticism. But being thankful for changes underway is not enough; we must all continue to work to make sure that this shift away from collective fanaticism, and towards rule of law and humanism, persists.

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow, adjunct professor of journalism, and Journalist in Residence at the American University of Beirut, and a non-resident senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. He can be followed @ramikhouri

Copyright ©2018 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global

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For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami.“A tripartite Middle East destruction machine starts to fade.” Agence Global, December 14, 2018.