30 years on US needs to let regional leaders take over

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Osama Al Sharif

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

The US has carried a series of retaliatory airstrikes against pro-Iranian militias in Iraq and Syria in response to a fatal drone attack that killed three of its soldiers and injured more than 30 last week at a base in northeastern Jordan. Announcing the strikes, US President Joe Biden said the US was not looking to engage in a broader conflict in the region. اضافة اعلان

The Pentagon said that more airstrikes can be expected. At the same time, National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan announced that the US airstrikes were just the beginning of a sustained response but refused to rule out strikes on Iranian soil itself.

Meanwhile, American and British fighter jets and ships carried out another round of bombings against Houthi positions in Yemen in a bid to stop the group from disrupting shipping in the Red Sea. The Houthis, as well as Iraqi militias associated with Tehran, vowed to retaliate. Also, Israel launched another attack against suspected Iranian targets in the Syrian capital, Damascus.
Despite the US response, Republican and conservative pundits in Washington were not satisfied and called on the Biden administration to strike deep into Iran, something that the White House is not willing to do at this time.
After more than 30 years of direct military involvement in the region, it would be naïve to think that airstrikes will change the geopolitical reality. The Houthis, pro-Iran proxies in Iraq and Syria, will be able to regroup and rebuild their arsenals. After all, this is what a proxy war, orchestrated by the Iranians, is all about a long and costly war of attrition. 

Pro-Iranian militias in Iraq are part of the Popular Mobilization Units (PMU), which is now functioning under the Iraqi army and whose leaders are represented in the Iraqi parliament. It doesn’t get more complicated than this.
The Houthis have a firm grip on most of Yemen and, despite the US-UK strikes, remain capable of disrupting shipping lanes in the Red Sea.
Both Iran and Iraq have condemned the US strikes, with Tehran calling them a “strategic mistake” and Baghdad saying they represented a “blatant violation of sovereignty.” Any direct attack on Iran will almost certainly result in a wider conflagration and sink the US deeper into the region’s quagmire at a time when the strategic US thinking for the past decade or so centered on the need to pivot from the region toward South Asia and the Pacific Rim.
The lesson the US should have learned by now is that no amount of military power and munitions can achieve self-serving political objectives. The invasion of Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, and the Libyan debacle are a few searing examples.
So, one should ask the Biden administration about America’s endgame from this latest escalation and in the long run.
The sad fact is that US diplomatic resources never matched its military presence in the Middle East. Like Israel, the US put deterrence ahead of diplomacy when dealing with regional challenges. 

Israel’s deterrence collapsed on October 7 and it took over 170 attacks on US bases in Iraq and Syria to deliver the message to the Americans that their deterrence had been dented as well.  
America’s bombing campaign will also prove short-sighted. It may contain the proxy war and curtail the capabilities of pro-Iranian militias for some time, but it will hardly change the geopolitical realities on the ground.

The symptoms have been there for a long time: The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal and the re-imposition of US sanctions on Tehran, the uneasy relationship between Baghdad and the US over America’s military presence on Iraqi soil, the occupation of eastern Syria and the alliance with Syria’s Kurds and the indifference to Israel’s most right-wing government’s provocation and persecution of Palestinians.
Then October 7 and Hamas’ attack on Israel, which catapulted the entire region into a vortex of violence and chaos. Israel’s war on Gaza triggered reactions across the region. US diplomacy showed its limits when it came to stopping Israel’s genocidal war in Gaza. The US enabled Israel’s embrace of a military solution to resolve a seven-decade-old conflict, which, after more than 120 days of horrific bombing and carnage, achieved nothing.
America’s bombing campaign will also prove short-sighted. It may contain the proxy war and curtail the capabilities of pro-Iranian militias for some time, but it will hardly change the geopolitical realities on the ground.
And so US Secretary of State Antony Blinken embarks on his 5th tour of the region since 7 October carrying many files, all interconnected and all getting more complicated by the day. He is said to be seeking to pressure Israeli Prime Minister Benyamin Netanyahu to accept a long-term pause in the war on Gaza in return for a deal to release some of the Israeli captives while facilitating the uninterrupted flow of aid to Gaza. He will also seek to cement assurances that Hezbollah and Israel will not engage in an open war, details of which remain unclear.
Blinken will also discuss ways to commit Israel to a Palestinian state, hoping to revive the path toward further normalization deals. He may also be seeking to restore some line of communications with Tehran through Qatar to defuse tensions in the region and restore regular shipping activity in the Red Sea.
That’s a lot on Blinken’s plate. But if he had listened to America’s regional allies before, his mission would have been much more manageable. For immediate tensions to subside, the war in Gaza must end. This is something that the US had refused to do, i.e., call for a ceasefire. Instead, the US was manipulated by Netanyahu in a way that strained America’s ties to its regional allies.
The US has the necessary leverage to apply on Netanyahu, but it has lacked the political will so far. America’s diplomatic resources have been circumvented by its bias in favor of Israel and by its blind reliance on its military superiority. Both have undermined its credibility in the region and beyond.

It is time that the US allows the region’s leaders to fix a broken Middle East with as little interference as possible

More than three decades since US soldiers set foot in the region, the Middle East looks more fragmented and more volatile than ever. The US has turned national states into failed states, triggered sectarian violence, and enabled religious fundamentalism and non-state actors who today dominate the scene. What three decades of US domination of the region has done is unforgivable. On the other hand, we don’t have a two-state solution, and Israel today is on the verge of liquidating the Palestinian issue and erasing Palestinian identity.
The US has failed to listen to its regional allies and heed their warnings. It has appeased a psychopath, Netanyahu, who unabashedly rejects anything to do with Palestinian statehood.
It is time that the US allows the region’s leaders to fix a broken Middle East with as little interference as possible. This week, the influential Foreign Affairs magazine ran an article titled: Only the Middle East Can Fix the Middle East--The Path to a Post-American Regional Order. The writers, Dalia Dassa Kaye and Sanam Vakil argue that the US is not in a position to resolve the multi-layered problems of the region and local leaders “will have to step up and define a collective way forward.” They add, "It is well past time for the Middle East to have a standing forum for regional security that establishes a permanent venue for dialogue among its own powers.”
Several regional leaders have the means and the intellect to forge such a forum. We have seen mature attempts to resolve conflicts through dialogue; the Saudi-Iran rapprochement is a clear example. The US was not a party to this diplomatic breakthrough. Other countries like Oman, Qatar, and Egypt are also playing a key role in resolving regional conflicts.
The time has come for the US to start listening to its regional allies about managing the region instead of dictating a vision based on a legacy of broken promises and weak political will. The war on Gaza has uncovered the depth of US complicity, bias, and lack of moral rectitude when it comes to embracing what is fair and right not only for the Palestinians but for the people of this region. The US must disengage its Middle East strategy from that of Israel if it wants to secure its interests.

Osama Al Sharif is a journalist and political commentator based in Amman.

Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not necessarily reflect Jordan News' point of view.

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