West Asia: the End of American Hegemony

The diplomatic breakthrough achieved by China in brokering an agreement last month between Iran and Saudi Arabia has continued to bear fruit in all of West Asia over the intervening weeks (cf. SAS 11, 13/23). On April 6, the Saudi and Iranian Foreign Ministers met in Beijing, and signed a joint statement detailing the measures the two “brotherly nations” have taken since their reconciliation, including the reopening of diplomatic missions and re-engagement in areas of commerce and security.

Progress has also been made toward ending the civil war that has ravaged the small country of Yemen, the poorest in the region, for nearly one decade now. Talks were held on April 9 between officials of Saudi Arabia, that launched and financed the war, and the Yemeni government.

The agreement betweeen Tehran and Riyadh opens the prospect of stability and reconstruction for Syria as well. Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad traveled to Saudi Arabia for a meeting with his Saudi counterpart on April 12, the first such visit in 12 long years. The two agreed to stabilize the situation in the entirety of Syrian territory, to allow aid to reach all areas, and, very importantly, to “support the institutions of the Syrian state” to end “the presence of armed militias and external interference in the Syrian internal affairs”.

Just two days later, the foreign ministers of the Persian Gulf countries, Egypt, Jordan and Iraq met in Jeddah where they discussed the same issues, as well as the readmission of Syria into the Arab League.

Where does all this leave American diplomacy in the region? That question was addressed at the April 15-16 Schiller Institute conference (cf. above), by Chas Freeman, a former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and former U.S. chargé d’affaires and Deputy Chief of Mission to China. He noted that Washington had no interest in brokering a reconciliation between its ally Saudi Arabia and its proclaimed enemy Iran, due to its “exclusive reliance on coercive approaches to international relations”.

As for the Chinese, “Beijing had long treated the Middle East as an American sphere of influence in which it could play no active political role”. But U.S. efforts to prevent China’s economic and technological development, and to stir up the conflict with Taiwan, eliminated Beijing’s “reluctance to assert its own influence there”. And it has proven it is “up to the formidable challenge of supporting a serious peace process in the Middle East. The contrast with decades of American failure to do so in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is striking.”

Now, according to Chas Freeman, China is committed to supporting implementation of “the principles it helped Riyadh and Tehran to agree upon. All this marks the effective end of American hegemony in the Middle East and the emergence of Chinese influence as a credible and constructive factor in the region.” He concluded that it would be in the interest of the United States, Europe, and other external powers to assist China in “producing a sustainable peace in the Persian Gulf”.

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