The Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British, and even the Second French Colonial Empires. What they all have in common is their control of the Middle East. Thee who controls the Middle East, controls the world. The Middle East is conveniently and strategically located between Asia, Africa and Europe. Nowadays, it is the center where the United States, Russia and China all lay their foundations in their race to hegemony. The three countries continue to compete for influence and power, in hopes to become (or remain) the most powerful nation in the world.
Generally speaking, American foreign policy in the Middle East, for the most part, has centered around three main debates; the question of whether to withdraw US troops from the region, reexamining arms sales to Middle East countries due to their human rights track records and the fear of sparking an arms race, and reducing dependency of Middle East countries on China and Russia, creating a holy trinity. You can’t have all three of them at once.
If we remove our military footprint from the region, we must compensate by transferring weapons and systems, otherwise those countries will go shopping for them in China and Russia. If we chose not to sell weapons and systems, we must send troops to fulfill those functions for the same reason mentioned above. Unless we decide to abandon our mission of weakening the dependency on China and Russia, in which case sending troops and arms sales are unnecessary.
It was clear that the Trump administration chose to advance weapons sales in exchange for bringing troops home. The administration was skillful in tying these arms deals with other American interests in the region, such as the Abraham Accords.
The Biden administration, on the other hand, has not made a clear indication as to what they will do with our military presence and arms deals. They want to recalibrate relations with the Middle East, resulting in the pause on the UAE arms sale for quite a while and announcing delays and changes to the withdrawal of troops from Afghanistan. It is possible that the Biden administration is deliberately keeping these decisions vague so they can use it as a tool in the future, as they attempt to relaunch talks with Iran. However, no country in the Middle East has the luxury of waiting for Iran and the US to finally begin negotiations in order to understand Biden’s stance on these issues. At some point they will shop elsewhere for weapons since their national security threats are only growing with time. Not to mention the possibility of negotiations leading nowhere, or being insufficient for the American allies, such as Saudi Arabia and Israel.
The optimal policy for the Biden administration is probably a mix of having American soldiers in key locations in the Middle East, and at the same time, bringing home troops from areas where our allies can provide security themselves, using US military systems and weapons. The advantage of arms deals, beyond the economic benefit for the US, is the ability to tie them into other foreign policy goals across the region – similar to what the Trump administration did. For example, we would be able to tie arms deals with Egypt into the solution to their conflict with Ethiopia over the Nile river.
If the Biden administration ultimately decides to withdraw US troops from the region and nix any sales of weapons to our ally countries, all it will be doing is pushing them into the Chinese and Russian arms—just look at how involved the Chinese and Russians are already. There are negotiations to sell Russian S-300/S-400 systems to Syria, Iran, and Turkey. Chinese drones are taking over markets in the Middle East and the massive USD 400 million deal with Iran, building ports across the region, including in Israel – the closest ally to America. The optimal long-term policy for the US is that combination of US military only in key areas and providing systems and weapons to allies to do the rest. If we want to provide stability in the Middle East, the US will likely have to maintain presence in the region for the foreseeable future and no recalibration of relations in the region can ever undo that.
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