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There's a New Sheriff in Town in the Middle East

Russia may lead Iran and Israel into a new alliance based on their common secular and religious values

This post first appeared on Russia Insider

It appears there is a new sheriff in town called Middle East. The ease with which previous cowboys, gamblers, adventurers, or bandits, be it Turkey, Saudis, or Israel operated under the benevolent gaze of the corrupt old sheriff called Uncle Sam seems to be over.

For some time now, the alliance between this corrupt sheriff and his buddies, also known, as “our SOBs,” was very stable, successful and seemingly permanent: backed by his side-kicks the sheriff eliminated anyone who would challenge his way of running the town. All other figures of authority, such as cruel, corrupt or simply independent ranchers backed by their private militias were methodically eliminated according to the script dictated by the sheriff. “We came, we saw, he died” as the former leader of the State Department declared.

The elimination of rivals, such as Saddam, or Ghaddafi, of all the potential forces that could have challenged the activities of the sheriff – was progressing successfully, the necessary degree of lawlessness having been introduced, as suited the big guns – ISIS, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Israel and others whose transgressions were tolerated as long as none of them challenged the old sheriff.

Maintaining the status quo by all possible means was the task the Old Sheriff had set for himself. Referring to the provocative analysis by Roger Stern, an economic geographer at Princeton University, the Pulitzer prize winning reporter, Mark Thompson, observed that

“the U.S. has ‘mis-allocated’ — others might say ‘wasted’ — $8 trillion since 1976 protecting the oil flow from the Persian Gulf that fuels much of the global economy. Especially since in 2010, when the U.S. was the destination of less than 10 percent of the oil flowing out of the Gulf.”

The sum appears excessive from a purely economic perspective.

How are we to understand this mad investment of trillions in what constitutes only 10% of Gulf Oil that US exports? One explanation, suggested by Roger Stern, is the legacy of the so called Carter doctrine which insisted on the national security importance of Gulf oil, coupled with the most significant post-Carter innovation, the Wolfowitz Doctrine of 1992, which asserted that “the US must preempt the regional hegemonic power that would emerge if one state were to control the resources of its neighbors.”

In other words, while not making too much sense economically, this investment makes a lot of sense militarily. Maintaining absolute power surely is expensive. For Roger Stern, the need to protect gulf oil exports is clearly outdated:

“The idea of a vulnerable supply is the central illusion of our policy over the past hundred years or so…There is a risk of disruption, but not nearly so high that we should have had an aircraft carrier battle group continuously on station in the Persian Gulf for the past 21 years.”

It is obvious, therefore, that the reason for keeping this wasteful, dangerous, and provocative course of action is military and political: to preserve US dominance in the Middle East via its allies.

This state of affairs, this myopic search for hegemony, is about to be challenged. The two big landowners in the areas adjacent to the town, Russia and Iran, feel that if the Old Sheriff’s policies continue, they will be squeezed out of the area, their estates robbed by the lawless bandits, mediated only by the old sheriff’s sanctimonious preaching about the importance of law and order. Resistance is clearly growing and is here to stay. Despite some ideological differences between these estate owners, it is clear that the old Russia - Persian alliance that has been challenging the Ottoman Empire since the 16th century is bound to reassert itself.

Western pundits, of course, are desperate to prove that this alliance will not last, but I am no longer surprised to hear myopic statements from such visionaries. Indeed, a number of astute observers of the scene have challenged these assumptions.

It’s obvious to most of the people in the Middle East that the US has failed in the role of sheriff. Rather than being above the fray and showing a modicum of objectivity, it preferred to side with one set of players. A recent highly detailed and informative essay by Andrew Cockburn amply demonstrates the follies and dangers of such persistently misguided policy.

A new set of alliances is emerging, which will require a different set of rules. And complaints are being heard all over mainstream that the friendship with the Saudis has gone too far. This is significant, since until recently, complaints about this blatantly contradictory and potentially destructive relationship were mainly restricted to the alternative media, the mainstream continuing to hide behind platitudes on the Saudi’s need to improve their human rights record. No longer.  

Consequently, the Turkish desire to assert itself in Iraq, to use its connections to the sheriff to rob one of the estates decimated by war and interference, all of the sudden has met with resistance. To such a degree that Turks are now afraid for the safety of their citizens. Iraq’s Prime minister has been complaining about it for a while, and recently served an ultimatum to the Turks, something that would have been unimaginable a year ago. It is clear that neither Russia nor Iran is ready to challenge the old sheriff and replace him in the role of legal guarantor. But these countries can form an important alliance that would and should insist on offering the job of maintaining law and order to a third party, like the UN, for example.

All this is not terribly controversial and has been discussed in one way or another by others, but I would suggest that this re-alignment puts tremendous pressure on Israel, which does not really like some of the old sheriff’s buddies. Israeli diplomats have loudly denied any chance of improving Israeli-Turkish relations, while many Israelis are increasingly skeptical about sheriff’s traditional friends, and their commitment to its cause.

Given various cultural and historical pressures, Israel might eventually side with Russia and Iran. I believe this is bound to happen not only because Israel finds some of its current allies suspicious and hostile, but also because there is also something about the cultures of these three countries, their religiosity in particular that might bring them together.

The West and the Sunni states have one thing in common: they appear to be either secular, or the very opposite of secular: fundamentalist. Two sides of the same coin.

Of course, Israel, Iran, and even Russia have their share of fundamentalists, yet I believe these countries share a religiosity that transcends the secular/fundamentalist divide – the one that puts the US, Western Europe and Sunni States together. I refer to the uncanny combination of a deliberately anti-fundamentalist, yet simultaneously anti-secular approach to the issues of politics and religion. It is this feature of politics that is not fully devoid of religion yet not fully into it, that might provide a new dividing line in the world, especially in the Middle East.

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