The Gulf Is Where It’s At

Written on February 9, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, International Conflict, Terrorism & Security, Middle East

By Ray Takeyh

A general view of the beaches of Khasab at the Strait of Hormuz, Musandam, Oman, Jan. 14, 2012. (Source: www.time.com)

The paradox of the new Middle East is that as America’s influence declines, its ability to sustain its essential interests remains intact.

Despite all the exhilarating and disturbing changes in Egypt and the Levant, the center of gravity of the region has moved to the Gulf. And while the challenges of the Gulf are daunting, they are more familiar to Washington and more susceptible to its strategies.

The strategic relevance of Egypt and Syria stems from their connection to the notion that the resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will transform the Middle East to America’s liking.

But the stalemated Israeli-Palestinian conflict is likely to remain frozen. If there were a peace treaty, it could ease some of Israel’s security concerns and relieve the Palestinians of the burdens of occupation, but it would have a limited impact on a region struggling with sectarian identities, resurgent religious parties and the specter of nuclear proliferation.

For the foreseeable future, moreover, Egypt is likely to be preoccupied with its internal political conflicts, while Syria struggles to sort out its civil war.

The Islamist assertiveness in the Arab states is likely to further challenge America’s position. But Libya and Tunisia have never been a preoccupation of American strategists, and Egypt was inconsequential to the war in Iraq. Despite much consternation in the West, none of this is likely to affect core American interests — they lie decisively in the Gulf.

The challenge for the United States remains how to maintain access to Middle Eastern oil at reasonable prices, sustain the fragile order in Iraq and prevent Iran from obtaining a bomb.

As contentious and corrosive as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may be, the fact is that it has not impeded America’s ability to execute its policy in the Middle East.

As huge as the changes in the Arab east may be, the fact is that the United States has a better track record at preserving the balance of power in the Gulf than integrating Islamists into new political structures.

The rise of Islamist militancy, from the Palestinians’ Hamas to Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, always caught Washington flatfooted. Neither urging their repression nor calling for their participation in the political process ever bridged the gap between America and the Islamists. Read more…

Ray Takeyh is a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.

As published in www.nytimes.com on February 8, 2012 (a version of this op-ed appeared in print on February 9, 2012, in The International Herald Tribune).


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