How much (not) the American withdrawal from Afghanistan weighs in Arab perception

(To Andrea Forte)
29/10/21

Many commentators believed that the poorly managed US withdrawal from Afghanistan was a prelude to one from Iraq (another country invaded by the Americans, a symbol of how the United States reacted after the events of September 11, 2001). To hold this is to imagine that for Washington the strategic weight of the two countries is equal, but this is not the case.

Afghanistan is not even a country, it is a place where empires get hurt, certainly not the place where they are made. Here they come and discover the limits of their power capabilities. Here it is evident that no empire, not even the North American global one, can implement a conflict, moreover strategically not vital, indefinitely, but nothing else.

By withdrawing from Afghanistan in that way, has the United States compromised its credibility as protectors and guarantors of its Middle Eastern customers, specifically Arabs? To some extent yes, but it comes down to soft power, the United States has not withdrawn from a decisive space. In this sense, Iraq weighs much more on Arab allies than Afghanistan.

To decide, therefore, what weight to give to one's fears about a possible failure of the stars and stripes protection from the power projections of one's local strategic rivals, Iran in the first place, the Arab leadership of the Middle East (Saudi Arabia, Jordan, United Arab Emirates etc ... including Egypt in North Africa) will look at the American posture in Iraq, beyond the rhetoric on disengagement in favor of NATO (which is, moreover, only the unofficial form of US imperiality). The reason is clear even just considering the geographical weight of the country.

Through the port of Basra, Iraq opens onto the Persian Gulf, dividing it into an Arab and a Persian (Iranian) part. Moreover, Basra does not only act as a viewpoint, but also as an Arab siren, because in itself it collects ties with the neighboring Iranian region of Khuzestan (to understand its geopolitical significance, it can be called by the old name of Arabistan), inhabited by the Arab ethnic minority of Iran. Therefore a fragile and marginalized limb, therefore exposed, of the multiethnic Persian nation.

Iraq also borders on Syria and Turkey; the USA, keeping troops in this tri-border, checks that Turkey does not exaggerate in imagining itself as a new regional hegemon, but letting it do so as long as it contains / controls the Russians in Syria (and perhaps also contrasts them in the Caucasus) and the Iranians who, again through Iraq , Syria and Lebanon seek to consolidate a Shiite geopolitical corridor in the Middle East.

Going to look even further, Iraq is a point of observation and control of the balance between the countries bordering the Suez and Bab el-Mandeb canals, or rather the route through which enormous world energy supplies pass. Guaranteeing control of this route reassures those countries, Saudi Arabia, the Emirates, Bahrain, Oman, but also Qatar and, reassuring them, protects (and dominates) them. In turn, this guarantee leads the same countries to be interested in maintaining the status quo in loco, more or less modified from time to time, but never subverted, or it leads them to support the US objective of not seeing the rise of an alternative regional hegemon. to their domain. In a certain sense, even Iraq is placed in the center between the Mediterranean and the Indian Ocean.

The same future Iran nuclear deal, although it re-discusses certain regional weights, will not affect the substance of the current construction. In this sense, the policy of military protection that the US has so far given to Saudi Arabia - a shocked exit from the Houti (i.e. Iranian) attack on its oil plants - apparently fails in the name of regional disengagement in favor of the Indo-Pacific quadrant. (in particular in Australia it seems some batteries will be moved Patriot placed in the Arabian peninsula and which have so far defended Riyadh), will actually be reaffirmed because it will apparently be replaced by the Israeli system Iron Dome or from that of Barak Er, that is, from systems of another country of the US block. The scope of this supply not only prevents the space apparently left empty by the United States in the defense of Saudi Arabia from being filled by the Russians or the Chinese, but it continues and even strengthens that American project of normalization of relations between Arab countries and Israel. , which the Abrahamic Agreements had initiated between Israel and Morocco, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan.

In geopolitics, if you have a common friend, that is the United States, and a common enemy, that is Iran, you do not necessarily become friends, but not de facto enemies, absolutely yes. Then Saudi Arabia will officially continue to oppose the historical enemy of the Islamic world, Israel, but the religious plan does not define geopolitics, at most it covers it.

All this confirms the pillars of American hegemony in the region: to continue the aforementioned normalization work, to reaffirm it by staying in Iraq and in some areas of Syria, and making sure that the Saudi kingdom is the first to still feel protected by ' American umbrella.

With this the architecture of North American hegemony in the region is outlined. That is a favorite, which is the technological-military executing arm of the military protection of Wasghington, that is Israel, a primary role that serves in turn to reassure this country and to soften its anger for the probable future renewal of the nuclear agreement between the United States and his (Israel's) existential enemy, Iran; the existence of a protégé par excellence among the Arabs, Saudi Arabia in fact. The price is the renewed burial of the Palestinian question.

The US, therefore, is not only interested in remaining in Iraq, but is interested in the current balance of regional and world influences on the country. The recent Iraqi elections have changed some electoral quotas and therefore of seats in Parliament, but they have nevertheless confirmed that the system of ethno-religious divisions holds and with it the current regional order holds up. Outgoing premier al-Kadhimi was the man who kept this kind of fragile balance in place in the country, proving that the reforms demanded by Iraqi squares in recent years have not been able to dent the geopolitical checks and balances at stake. .

An immobile and suffocated Iraq serves to shore up American hegemony, while still giving some vent to the strategic projections of others and to protect those of its own "provinces". Whatever the new Iraqi prime minister will be, he will be born from a system with the same DNA that had expressed the previous one, thereby guaranteeing the perpetuation of dynamics that are perhaps toxic for the country, but not for the projects of those who influence it.

It can therefore be said that the American withdrawal from Afghanistan, from an analytical point of view, does not compromise the geopolitical credibility of the American Middle East defense, but rather confirms its profile, considering that the United States is aware of withdrawing from an Afghan conflictual scenario that is not resolving and not solvable.

On the other hand, the logistical-managerial credibility is different. The Americans in retreating moved in an improvised way and after twenty years left a scaffolding that collapsed with a gust of wind. The rhetorical mission of the American empire, the standard-bearer of democracy, of human rights, even of good versus evil, is weakened, but for now this fracture still does not hit the heart of its power.

For the Arab - Middle Eastern countries, the US withdrawal does not weigh because Afghanistan does not weigh in itself and it does not weigh it has not undermined American protection from the region, as the American posture in Iraq demonstrates, even in the face of much more binding regional disturbances, such as a possible renewal of the JCPOA (nuclear agreement) with Iran.

Photo: US Marine Corps / US DoD / US Air Force