Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan |
Arab–Islamic Summit is scheduled to take place next week in Riyadh. In a clear sign of the reversal of US policy – disengagement from the Middle East – the US President Donald Trump has chosen Saudi Arabia as the first destination of his international tour abroad. There, he will have three engagements: bilateral between Saudi Arabia and the United States, a GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council), and US Summit and the Arab-Islamic US Summit that will bring together 56 Islamic States with the US on one platform.
Being not able to resolve the old wars how would it prevent the new ones from shaping up?
Besides demonstrating that ‘the US and Arab-Muslim countries can form a deep and enduring partnership’, what else can this unique and first of its kind summit achieve? Will the US be willing to carry out political and military investments in the Middle East? Having right sized its footprint thereby extricating from Iraq and not participating in Syria (boots on the ground), would it again want to reset power politics in the region that is dominated more by proxies and interventions? According to a report published by Jeff Desjardins in the United States Business Insider, the US contributes over 200,000 troops to 177 countries with major deployments in Japan, Germany, South Korea, Afghanistan, and the Middle East, which includes Iraq, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Turkey, Jordan, and the UAE.
With an increase of $54billion in the 2018 defense budget and a decrease of its contribution to the UN (slashed by $10.1billion; a cut of 28%), it is difficult to understand how can the United States, in the coming days and years, contribute towards peacekeeping in the world? Being not able to resolve the old wars how would it prevent the new ones from shaping up? With its contribution to the UN peacekeeping gutted (it has 38% contribution towards UN Refugees Agency and 35% towards UN food program), would the risk of famine and war in various parts of the world not maximize? On one hand Trump Administration lives up to its electioneering slogan of ‘America first’ by pulling back from the world and on the other hand demonstrates reaching out to it (increase in the defense budget, approval of troops surge in Afghanistan and participation in Arab-Islamic Summit in Saudi Arabia).
Over 7000 Yemeni’s have died in two years of war. Out of a population of 27 million, 7 million are going hungry and 3 million have fled their homes to neighboring Djibouti.
On the face of it, the best thing that this summit is doing is giving hope to a scared world – Muslims by most standards. It provides an opportunity to the leadership of the Muslim world together with the USA to repair, rebuild, reinforce, and reconstruct the battered and bruised image of the Muslims and their religion Islam. The gathered leadership would not have to look far and away – Yemen will provide them a classic example of what is going wrong in the Middle East and how religious polarization, state collapse, and dearth of able leadership is not willing to see beyond its narrow selfish interests in creating an environment where violence and jihadism grows and the common people suffer.
A country that has an almost equal population of Shafis, Sunnis, Zaydis, and Shias, who used to pray side by side, have now picked up arms and fighting. Over 7000 Yemeni’s have died in two years of war. Out of a population of 27 million, 7 million are going hungry and 3 million have fled their homes to neighboring Djibouti. Both military intervention and proxy wars are going on in Yemen. The Muslim leadership is well aware of the primary drivers of jihadism in the Middle East.
Arab-Islamic Summit: the importance of Iran and Israel
As far as the United States is concerned, it has remained deeply implicated in a failed Middle East order, supporting autocratic governments.
For the construction of a stable regional balance of power in the Middle East, the Arab-Islamic Summit will have to find room for two further seats, Iran and Israel. Unless this happens, the root causes of the political problems and crisis will remain unresolved and there would be the least likelihood of a reduction in violence in the Middle East. Iran’s nuclear program, Arab-Israel conflict, the threat from the ISIS, ongoing civil wars in Syria and Yemen, and many proxies being fought including the one in post-war Libya are all drivers of instability in the region.
Iran and Israel are two important stakeholders in the region and without their participation, no summit can claim to have even come near to changing the existing Middle East order for good. As far as the United States is concerned, it has remained deeply implicated in a failed Middle East order, supporting autocratic governments and was not until millions of Arabs that took to the streets in the 2011 Arab spring, that it stopped influencing the political environment in which the Middle East autocrats survived and thrived. Since then what it has on its worrying plate is the host of political wars kicked up by newborn nationalism being fought on religious, sectarian, and ideological lines.
The Arab–Islamic summit may be remembered for a unique get-together of the Islamic world with the United States on one platform but for many, it will be remembered more for the inability of the Muslim world to invite and accommodate Iran on that platform.
The US strategy of disengagement in the Middle East has maximized risks and has shown that as its interest wanes, Russia takes over to reassert its image of a global power broker. Thomas Hobbes wrote in the Leviathan that ‘convents without the swords are but words’. This sword has been created in the form of 56 Muslim countries (NATO like) military alliance and it seems that to bring order in the Middle East, this alliance will provide the military option which may well be used as a means of solving the problems. With the majority of Muslim countries getting together under one banner and led and supported by the United States, Saudi Arabia may just well be able to lead and initiate an era of transformation and reform in the Middle East. An era in which the Muslim world may unite to utilize a combination of ‘pressure and engagement’, ‘containment and deterrence’ or ‘military action’ to mitigate and resolve many issues that mar the political climate in the Middle East.
All in all, the Arab–Islamic summit may be remembered for a unique get-together of the Islamic world with the United States on one platform but for many, it will be remembered more for the inability of the Muslim world to invite and accommodate Iran on that platform.
Dr. Muhammad Ali Ehsan did his doctorate in International Relations from Karachi Univ; where he also teaches. His Ph.D. work is on ‘Civil-Military Relations in Pakistan’. He served for 25 years, in Pakistan Army, and remained an Instructor in Pakistan Military Academy. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Global Village Space’s editorial policy.