Full Spectrum Jordan: Let Jordan Be Jordan

jordan amman 2
(File photo: Jordan News)
Almost all of us now agree that there was a Middle East before October 7, and the one after. We all agree that we can never go back to the status quo ante. We also can’t move forward with the same processes, beliefs, and relationships we had before. Too much has changed. This is all easy to agree with. The question is, what does it all mean? What have the changes actually been, and how does it change the future? The humanitarian genocide in Gaza, the domestic shift in Israel, the pause on recognitions and relationships with Israel, the domestic effects of Gaza solidarity protests around the world, and the global question of defining genocide and its political implications, sparked by the ICJ case. اضافة اعلان

Recently we also have several bits of news coming from the US, which could shift neighborhood affairs. 1) That the US opened discussions with Iraq on withdrawal of US forces. 2) Donald Trump is the Republican candidate and a very possible future US President - again. 3) US action against Houthis in the Red Sea and 4) Humanitarian air drops to Gaza in the footsteps of Jordan. 5) A Washington Post report that the US approved over 100 weapons shipments and sales to Israel since October 7. 6) The US is defending Israel in the ICJ and ICC cases.

The points above reflect the complexity of making US foreign policy, and we end up with this muddle of national security, domestic lobby priorities, economic motivations, and ideological ambitions. US policy in the Middle East looks like that of a fickle friend - the retreat from Afghanistan is a glaring example and the failure to defend the Kurds a repetitive one. But maybe the US is not a fickle friend, but a fickle force - with leverage which ebbs and flows dependent on regional politics and at times lacking real legitimacy. It’s an idea worth exploring in greater depth. Here is just a start.

Three Things You Should Know 
1. Footprint, but no boot
Every few US administrations, we hear about re-strategizing, or re-orienting, or re-prioritizing away from the Middle East. Remember Obama’s pivot towards Asia? But there is also a joke that every President tries out a Middle East Peace Plan (Obama didn’t really, but he already had a Nobel Peace Prize for something and didn’t need another). But it can lead to uncertainty for local partners. The current problem is that we get the footprint but without the power of the boot. The US maintains the CAESAR sanctions that prevent trade with Syria, but don’t have ground forces cleaning up south Syria. Sanctions on Hezbollah but no heavy presence in Lebanon actually curtailing Hezbollah’s influence. Airdrops for Gaza but no clear call for full ceasefire. We want to contribute to these goals, but we need fire behind the smoke. If the US is out, then what?

2. If the US moves out, who moves in?
This is not the Cold War. There is no binary system where, if the US withdraws, the Communist rise up. Today’s Russia is not the Soviet Union. Russia seems happy to not engage. In fact, looking at Russian messaging to the Middle East it is more about discrediting the US and EU, and less about creating a political opening for Moscow. Recently official media leaders bragged that a World War III was developing in the Middle East and that the West would be busy with it and Russia could relax outside of it. China is interested in business, not governance of the Middle East. The EU will likely maintain its current level of engagement, though France likes to occasionally meddle in Lebanese leadership. Perhaps from nostalgia. 

So who will step up? Each country will need to step up to defend its domestic stability, legitimacy, and sovereignty. Regionally, actors will be Saudi Arabia, Turkey, the Gulf, and Iran. A Middle East managed by the countries of the Middle East? It almost seems unreal to consider. If this happens it would be the least US presence in the region for over two decades. If it signals a shift of attention, it would be the least US engagement in the region since the time of Carter and Brzeziński. But an absence of troops does not equal an absence of powerful leverage.

3. What does this mean for Jordan?US influence is waning in the Gulf - although maintaining warm relations and certainly energy-related relations. Jordan would become a more important hub and launching pad for US influence, as well as a possible target for anyone resentful towards a US hub/launching pad, as proved by Tower 22 attacks. 

Of course, many scenarios may not occur. We have read headlines about withdrawing from Syria and Iraq, refocusing on Yemen, strategizing on Iran, Abraham Accords, and more. These don’t always occur. Before October 7, we thought the US was moving out of Syria and Iraq. Now they are zeroed in on the region and Iranian proxies.

It also does not mean an end to US influence campaigns. Washington would not leave the Middle East. But Jordan has staked a claim with US partnership. A stable US policy for the Middle East is good news for Jordan which has skillfully managed the shifting goalposts and redefined rules for the last two dozen years. As a small state, Jordan needs a stable larger force as an ally. 

But Jordan has also excelled as a voice for mediation and could be much more than a launching pad.

My take:
Some dark geopolitical humor from years back: “The only constant of US policy in the Middle East is abandoning the Kurds”. I’m afraid that this joke is now the new reality of American Middle East Policy, but it's not just the Kurds.  Afghanistan frightened a lot of US allies. There are US promises that drove whole trajectories of policy. States like Jordan accepted hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees under the promise of support and an eventual safe return for them. That support is drying up and soon we will likely hear calls to assimilate them into our communities. Saudi Arabia has a US security guarantee but when Houthis attacked Saudi energy infrastructure, what happened?  (Didn’t Ukraine give up its nuclear weapons in exchange for a US security guarantee?)   

The US is losing the monopoly of partnership - Saudi and the UAE are signing deals with China, Putin is hosted in Arab capitals, a Saudi-Iran de-escalation mediated by China. 

Essentially, Baghdad is angry about being the chessboard that the US, Israel, Turkey, and Iran use for geopolitical games. To give credence to Iraqi sovereignty, a gesture is required. But the US will still want to limit Iranian influence there. In Syria there is no real partner there, just an expensive investment and continued risk. 

As noted earlier, an absence of troops is not an absence of leverage. The US wants to maintain a large footprint in the region - just not with a combat boot. But this footprint affects the daily lives of all of us. Of course, US influence in the region will continue, but just in a different shape. It is not the troops we need to watch (anyway the area of Syria they control is small) it is the policy. As the US becomes less decisive, the region must move forward. 

The Iranian project depends on its proxy success - US weakness means Iran is closer to its dream of a land bridge between itself, Iraq, and Hezbollah in Lebanon. It also has ideological implications for other distant proxies, most notably, the Houthis.  Anything that looks like a US wavering in the region will be framed by Iran as a triumph, and renew hope and will for the proxies. As Iran expands it will increase efforts at social engineering in Syria which could mean clashes with tribes and ISIS near the Jordanian border.  We know that there is no return to the status quo in relations with Israel. They have evolved into a Settler State that may be impossible to deal with. What Jordan needs is the status quo with the US. 

Jordan has a decades long policy or regional engagement, which it needs to double down on. Our relations with Saudi Arabia, the Gulf states, Egypt, and more external neighbors like Turkey are key to moving the region forward. Iraq is a neighbor worth investing in. Lebanon is a friend but currently too far gone to be considered a stable partner. In Syria, we won’t see stability for a while. But we need a partner we can do business with in order to stop the drugs and secure the border. Jordan excels in its diplomacy at regional engagement, trade, joint projects. If the US is moving out, it can move forward in the region by relying more on Jordan. But we are more than a hub or launching pad. We know the region. We know the risks and the opportunities. We are aware of the coming threats. By giving Jordan a free hand (yes, even from sanctions) there is a stable voice for moderation and peace in the region. There is a simple guideline. Let Jordan be Jordan. 

Katrina Sammour was first published on Full Spectrum Jordan, a weekly newsletter on SubStack. 

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

Read more Opinion and Analysis
Jordan News