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Fears Grow Over Potential Arab Pivots to Russia, China

Foreign policy watchers are increasingly fearful that U.S. policy in the Middle East is pushing long-time U.S. allies to pivot to American geopolitical rivals such as Russia and China. Tom Nichols and John R. Schindler, foreign policy scholars who make it clear that they agree on almost nothing, co-published an article this week in the National Interest that was perhaps the precise opposite of sanguine:

For nearly seven decades, American efforts in the Middle East have been based on a bipartisan consensus—one of the few to be found in U.S. foreign policy—aimed at limiting Moscow’s influence in that region. This is a core interest of American foreign policy: it reflects the strategic importance of the region to us and to our allies, as well as the historical reality Russia has continually sought clients there who would oppose both Western interests and ideals. In less than a week, an unguarded utterance by a U.S. Secretary of State has undone those efforts. Not only is Moscow now Washington’s peer in the Middle East, but the United States has effectively outsourced any further management of security problems in the region to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, for his part, was more than happy to thank Moscow for – per an AFP headline – creating a new global balance.

Longtime U.S. allies are even calling on China to play a more prominent role in Middle East affairs. During a state visit to China this week, Jordanian King Abdullah II appealed to Chinese President Xi Jinping to begin playing “an active role” in regional issues such as Syria.

The watchdog group MEMRI, which translates original Arabic-language content for Western audiences, conveyed this week an Egyptian article stressing that Cairo may turn to either Russia or China or both:

An article in Al-Ahram, titled “Egypt and the Erosion of America’s Influence,” by Dr. Yusri ‘Abdallah, a lecturer in literature at Helwan University, stated… It may be that, as a result of this, the expected and longed-for erosion of the American influence in the region will begin, particularly in light of the fact that the main role that the U.S. is playing in the world is under threat, following Russia’s powerful entrance into the arena of events – in addition to China, which is always looking to pursue its economic interests, which it might very well find in Cairo in the near future.

[Photo: Chatham House, London / Flickr]