The return of the Taliban has plunged the Middle East into uncharted waters
If the US invasion of Afghanistan prompted intensified US intervention in the Middle East, then its exit from the country also signals an accelerated withdrawal from a region that has long served as a gravitational center of political tension. The dramatic scenes in Afghanistan raised alarm bells across the Middle East, raising the specter of a hasty dismantling of an economic and political order that relied on, or sought to counter, a strong American presence in the region. .
By laser-focusing on China, the Biden administration has made it clear to regional allies of the United States that they should no longer depend on the United States for their security needs. States should fend for themselves. For the Middle East, that changes everything.
“The Gulf is on the brink of enormous security and military transformations, perhaps the most significant since 1971, when the United States took responsibility for its security and made it an ‘American Gulf’, in a strategic sense.” , wrote the Emirati professor, who is said to be close to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohammed bin Zayed. “It may not be the same over the next five decades.”
The modern Middle East – whose borders were carved out by Western colonial powers and where American interests in the oil-rich region have long served as the centerpiece of regional geopolitics – barely has a clue of what a minimal western presence.
At his first press conference after becoming Iran’s new president in June, the diehard Ebrahim Raisi returned the gesture, saying he wanted to reopen the embassies in the Saudi and Iranian capitals. The two countries have held several rounds of talks since early 2021 in an attempt to ease decades of tensions.
There are also signs of abating other regional rivalries. The UAE has had high-level talks with Turkey and Qatar, which they have long accused of supporting terrorism. Saudi Arabia has made similar overtures.
Last weekend in Baghdad, a regional summit also seemed to send complicated signals about the future of the region. A meeting between Tehran’s new Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian and UAE Prime Minister Mohammed bin Rashid on the sidelines of the event has been the highest-level meeting between the two countries for years.
But Amir-Abdollahian apparently did not meet his Saudi counterpart, also present at the summit. Instead, he seemed to be doing everything he could to avoid it. Violating diplomatic protocol, the senior Iranian diplomat sided with the country’s leaders in a group photo. His post was next to Saudi Arabia’s top diplomat, alongside other foreign ministers.
“When was the last time there was a regional conference organized? [The Baghdad conference] really shows what’s going on in the area. There was no American there, ”Mohammad Ali Shabani, Iranian expert and editor-in-chief of Amwaj.Media, told CNN. “The empire is gone. Let’s go.”
At breakneck speed, the region has seen local players attempt to fill America’s shoes. Sometimes it’s literal. Images of Taliban fighters in US military uniform inspecting aircraft hangars shocked people around the world. What an extremist group will do with access to some of the best weapons in the world is not yet clear. And the wider region is at the edge of its seat as these surreal scenes flash across its screens.
This has already manifested itself in parts of the Arab world, such as Tunisia where a sweeping takeover by President Kais Saied last month, ostensibly to stamp out corruption and mismanagement, has met with virtually no popular protest. In Lebanon in crisis, which is quickly sinking into anarchy, many in the streets of the country are openly calling for a military dictatorship.
“We will turn more to less ideology and more to good governance,” Shabani added. “What this means is more tolerance for an authoritarian regime if it comes with prosperity. But if it doesn’t come with prosperity, we’re going to see even worse in the future. to come up.”