Understanding United States (US) foreign policy in the Middle East following its withdrawal from Afghanistan has become a big question for world political activists, especially in the Middle East. This question has given more ambiguity to the issue than the nature of the question. Is the United States looking to get out of the Middle East? Do regional actors gain the ability to breathe and catch more? Rising China is becoming an economically strong rival for the United States and thus, it has changed the equations of politics inside and outside the Middle East.
Many economists believe that given China’s current rate of economic growth and consequent capital surplus, China’s economy will overtake the US economy in 2026-2028 and conquer the hegemonic peak of the world economy. The discussion of this factor has been able to prepare the confrontation between the two countries and convince the senior US thinkers and decision-makers that in the first place, China should be restrained and then that country should be pushed back from its conquests and advances. From the US point of view, China is a threat to the United States’ attraction to the world, so it must be confronted.
Contrary to the Chinese view, which considers this confrontation to be technological, in the US’s view, this confrontation has a strategic connotation. Rejection of this strategic confrontation can be considered at national, regional, and international levels, which includes three areas geo-economics, geopolitical and geo-cultural aspects.
Now, considering that one of the confrontation fields between the two countries takes place at the regional level, therefore, the impact of this strategic rivalry on the political-military processes in the Middle East, which is ironically very important primarily for China and secondarily for the United States, can be seen. The US politicians argue that China has implemented a zero-sum cost-benefit strategy in the Middle East. In simpler terms, the United States bears the costs of security in the Middle East, while China reaps the main benefits. Now the issue of the discovery of shale oil and the former non-dependence of the United States on oil in the region has added to the importance of the issue.
In the aftermath of Donald Trump’s decision to exit from Afghanistan and Iraq, Biden administration has shown that it is also concerned about the United States and its own country. It must be said that the approach and method of US foreign policy towards the Middle East have changed, but its essence remains the same.
With the mindset of its strategic rivalry with China, the United States has devised a way to force China to spend in the Middle East. In the meantime, it can be said that from the US’s point of view, this country incurs huge expenses in the Middle East. However, China wins the competition with the least cost and maximum benefits. Therefore, the United States seeks to both maintain its management and authoritarianism in the region and force China to spend. With these interpretations in consideration, the US withdrawal from Afghanistan and Iraq has been fully engineered and done with a roadmap that can be identified using the keywords Outsourcing and Digital Authoritarianism.
The United States has military bases in the Persian Gulf, including Iraq, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, and Saudi Arabia. Besides, through its active diplomacy and the theoretical management of Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan, the country is shifting chess pieces in the Middle East to focus on strategic competition with China. Using its great wealth, investing, and rebuilding Iraq, the United States will return the country to the Arab circle. It also urges more Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel in order to keep it satisfied, and urges them not to normalize relations with Syria. In the case of Pakistan, dissatisfied with the Quad deal, which seeks strategic cooperation between India and the United States, it means Afghanistan is left as a sphere of influence for Pakistan. In addition, with the advent of low-cost, low-loss drones and satellite technology, digital management is gaining a foothold in US military policy in the Middle East. The United States, through its bases in Pakistan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Kazakhstan, dominate the Afghan skies through technology and monitor the Iraqi skies through digital management through its bases in Jordan to destroy any point and any goal in conflict with its interests without ground and physical intervention with the least cost and losses.
In conclusion, as a result, the nature of US foreign policy toward the Middle East has not changed, but due to its strategic rivalry with China and given the desire to repair the domestic economy, it has taken the approach of outsourcing (with digital management) due to its low cost and low profile. In general, the fact that the United States is said to be leaving the Middle East and that the Middle East countries will be the main players indicate the obsolescence of the criteria for measuring US foreign policy in the Middle East. Rather, the key to the success of the new US approach to the Middle East is ambiguity. This ambiguity, if ignored, will lead to a lack of understanding of the facts and ultimately the adoption of ineffective approaches by regional actors, and if this component is identified and understood, it will give more insight for regional actors.
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About the author:
Amin Bagheri is a Research Fellow at the International Studies Association in Tehran. His primary research interest lies in international relations, transnational governance, international peace, and conflicts in the Middle East.