For US, national interests remain important in the Middle East

For US, national interests remain important in the Middle East

August 7, 2015 11:05 AM (UTC+8)

 

President Obama’s strong defence of the Iran deal comes with a lot of geo-political baggage, is deeply rooted in the U.S.’ ‘new’ approach towards the Middle East, and strongly reflects continuation of the old principle of international order and inter-state relations: there are no permanent enemies or permanent friends. The only permanent thing is national interest.

Secretary of State John Kerry with his counterparts from the Persian Gulf states Monday during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar
US Secretary of State John Kerry holds talks with his counterparts from the Persian Gulf states during a meeting of the Gulf Cooperation Council in Doha, Qatar

In a carefully constructed speech, Obama was quick to invoke history—the Iraq war — and present the case of Iran deal as a way to avoid wars in the future. That Iraq war was a mistake and the Iran deal a correct decision and that supporters of Iraq war were again supporting war with Iran was the logic he used to criticise opponents of the deal. To quote him, “Let’s not mince words, the choice we face is ultimately between diplomacy and some form of war. Maybe not tomorrow, maybe not three months from now, but soon.”

Which war President Obama was referring to in his speech? Certainly, he was pointing out and, at the same time, strongly rejecting the possibility of starting a war with Iran, or imposing it on Iran, as the final solution to the nuclear issue. However, while the U.S. is certainly not going to wage a war with Iran to permanently settle the nuclear issue, it is certainly creating such conditions in the Middle East as conducive to creating and maintaining sort of controlled instability. i.e., mini wars.

On the other hand, the trumpeted mantra of defence deals and security agreements works as an antidote to President Obama’s “no-war” attitude. The speech, therefore, certainly falls short of explaining ground realities of the Middle East. Basically, it crucially falls short of telling the audience that there may not be a US-Iran war, but there are going to be more wars in the Middle East as the U.S. will keep feeding the power hungry Arab States with weapons to maintain “security” and to enable them to face any trouble in the near future.

This mantra of bi-lateral and multi-lateral defence co-operation was more than visible during the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s recent visit to the Gulf States. On Monday, August 3, Washington agreed to speed up arms sales to Gulf States, the U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry announced after talks in Doha on their concerns over the Iran nuclear deal. His Qatari counterpart, Khalid bin Mohammad Al-Attiyah, told a joint press conference with Kerry that the nuclear deal was `the best option among other options`. Kerry said the U.S. had `agreed to expedite certain arms sales that are needed and that have taken too long in the past`.

Following talks with foreign ministers of the six-nation Gulf Cooperation Council, Kerry said Washington and its Arab allies in the region would also step up efforts to share intelligence and increase the number of joint military exercises.

‘We talked about the possibility, not the possibility, the reality of increasing the number of exercises that we are conducting together’, Kerry said. “These are a few examples and ways in which we believe the security of the region can be strengthened and cooperation enhanced,” he further added.

Even a cursory look at the President’s speech and Kerry’s statements reveals the dualism being practised by the U.S government. The decision to avoid war with Iran and the decision to speed up sale of weapons of war to Iran’s enemies not only contradict each other but also tend to reinforce the contention that the U.S. is actually creating a sort of ‘controlled instability’ in the region. Only by doing so can the U.S. balance its own relations with two rival blocks (Iran and Saudi Arabia) simultaneously.

Apparently, the aim of Kerry’s visit to the Gulf States was to convince them of the feasibility of the Iran-deal. He certainly seems to have won their cautious approval. However, the price being paid for this approval and the consequences it would have in the long run are also certainly not beyond anybody’s comprehension.

The U.S.’ zig-zag strategy notwithstanding, certain reports have also come out claiming that the US-Iran deal would create a bonanza for the U.S. defence contractors who stand to gain the most from the US government’s efforts to assuage the Gulf States’ concerns by offering deals for more than $6 billion in military hardware.

“In theory, an Iran deal could lead to a reduction in tensions in the region that would reduce the demand for advanced weaponry,” said William Hartung, director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy in Washington. “In the short-term, a deal could actually boost the demand for arms.” This is exactly the scenario currently taking shape in the region.

The U.S. defence contractors, and by default the U.S. economy stand to gain the most not only from defence deals with Gulf Stats, but also from the possible Iranian military shopping spree that would become possible for the latter to do once an estimated $100 billion in Iranian oil revenue, now frozen by sanctions, find a way out in the open market.

The U.S. defence contractors, in fact, are already hugely benefiting from this strategy of ‘controlled instability.’ According to one report, the U.S. “administration and Congress in May approved a $1.9 billion arms sale to Israel that analysts said probably was meant to offset Israeli objections to an Iran nuclear agreement. The sale included 3,000 Hellfire anti-armor missiles, 250 AIM-120C Advanced Medium Range Air-to-Air Missiles, and 50 BLU-113 “bunker-buster” bombs. Among contractors benefiting were Lockheed, General Dynamics Corp., Raytheon and Elwood National Forge.”

As far as the U.S.’ so-called commitment to the security of Gulf States is concerned, the “Congress already has approved billions of dollars in pending arms contracts to the Gulf. The United Arab Emirates has one valued at $130 million for 1,100 laser-guided bombs, parts and logistics from Boeing and Raytheon.”

Similarly, “the Saudi government may pursue a contract for as much as $1.9 billion in potential sales of 10 United Technologies Corp. Sikorsky MH-60R helicopters, radar and spare parts; another potential contract valued at as much as $1.75 billion is pending for as many as 202 Lockheed PAC-3 missiles and associated equipment.”

By following this particular strategy, not only does the U.S. government help its industry and economy, but also win political support for many key policy matters, such as the Iran deal. Details outlined above hardly leave any doubt about the potential business defence contractors are doing in the wake of this deal. Not only do they stand to gain from the sale of weapon systems, but also from annual maintenance of these weapons which is estimated to be at least 10 percent of the purchased value. Hence, “controlled instability.”

Barak Obama’s highly charged pro-deal speech, therefore, becomes meaningless when placed against the backdrop of larger mid-eastern geo-politics.

Salman Rafi Sheikh is a freelance journalist and research analyst of international relations and Pakistan affairs. His area of interest is South and West Asian politics, the foreign policies of major powers, and Pakistani politics.

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