[Column] Can the US really fight on 3 fronts at once?

Posted on : 2023-10-24 16:39 KST Modified on : 2023-10-24 16:39 KST
The US says it can walk and chew gum at the same time, but shouldn’t the US contemplate what brought about the current situation in the first place?
Locals in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza gather outside the ruins of buildings brought down by Israel’s air strikes on Oct. 23. (Reuters/Yonhap)
Locals in Khan Yunis in southern Gaza gather outside the ruins of buildings brought down by Israel’s air strikes on Oct. 23. (Reuters/Yonhap)
By Jung E-gil, international news editor

In his opinion piece “A Saudi-Israel Peace Deal Isn’t Worth It,” Harvard University professor and realist international political scientist Stephen Walt claimed that such negotiations would prove to be a serious strategic error.

Arguing that Israel is a powerful nation that no country in its region can dare attack, Walt pointed out that it was an open secret that Saudi Arabia joined hands with Israel to contain Iran. Moreover, he criticized the US administration of Joe Biden for wasting its foreign policy and military assets by guarding the security of Israel and Saudi Arabia despite the fact that these two countries fouled up the US’ alliance portfolio the most.

The US has promised security assurances to these countries on the condition that the two establish diplomatic relations.

The US has earned the bad name of “Israel’s lawyer” due to its unconditional support of the country despite its abrogation of the agreement to establish an independent Palestinian state. Following the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Saudi Arabia has also been frustrating the West’s sanctions against Russia by carrying out equidistant diplomacy between the West on one side and Russia and China on the other, expanding Moscow and Beijing’s influence in the Middle East.

In her contribution to World Politics Review titled “The Saudi-Israeli Normalization Deal Doesn’t Add Up for the US,” Emma Ashford, a senior fellow at the Stimson Center, argued that the most likely outcome of such a negotiation was the US becoming responsible for Saudi Arabia’s security and China remaining the kingdom’s most important economic partner — a lousy deal in her opinion. More than anything, Ashford criticized that Biden and Blinken were helping solidify Israel’s apartheid by pushing for the normalization of Saudi-Israeli relations.

On Oct. 7, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh said, “All the normalization agreements you signed with that entity cannot solve this [Palestinian] conflict.” Palestine’s isolation and anger following negotiations to establish diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Israel, along with the US’ strategic error of turning a blind eye to the Palestinian conflict, has prompted conflict to spread across the entire Middle East once again.

The US’ Middle East policy has lost its way ever since the Iraq War. After the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, US neoconservatives carried out a targeted invasion of Iraq even though the country had nothing to do with 9/11. The US daydreamed that once Israel’s main enemy, the Saddam Hussein regime, was overthrown, pro-US democracies would spread across the Middle East in a domino effect. However, once the Hussein regime was eliminated, a big power vacuum opened up, and Islamist forces developed into the Islamic State. Iran’s influence grew as well.

The Syrian civil war, which attempted to topple the Assad regime, an ally of Iran, had the effect of bringing about Russian influence instead. After scrapping the Iran nuclear deal, the Donald Trump administration promoted the Abraham Accords project to establish diplomatic relations between Israel and Sunni Arab countries like Saudi Arabia. This was succeeded and expanded by the Biden administration.

Let’s look at the Middle East as it is today. The Palestinian conflict has brimmed over Gaza and made its way to nearby regions. If Israel goes through with a ground invasion of Gaza, anti-Israel forces like Hezbollah will not look on idly.

In 2005, Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza and sealed off the area, and in 2006, it invaded Lebanon. This was to strengthen its blockade of Palestine, but Israel lost militarily and strategically. Hezbollah started treating Hamas in Gaza as if their survival was intimately tied together, and it will interfere in Israel’s invasion of Gaza.

Surprised by the rekindling of anger within the Middle East triggered by Hamas’ attack, Saudi Arabia has stopped negotiating with Israel regarding the establishment of diplomatic relations, cold-shouldering Biden during his visit. Instead, the kingdom is having dialogues with Iran, conducting independent diplomacy to prevent the conflict from spreading.

Having grown their influence in the Middle East, China and Russia are trying to restrain the US. Although they have been improving their relations with Israel, the recent outbreak of conflict has prompted them to resume their “pro-Palestine neutrality.” A war in the Middle East coming behind a war in Ukraine is especially a nightmare. Vital issues like energy and refugees will get worse.

Following the Iraq War, getting out of the Middle East and competing against China in the Asia-Pacific has been the biggest through line in US foreign policy. Ivo Daalder, a US strategist and the country’s former ambassador to NATO, proudly told the Wall Street Journal, “We can walk and chew gum at the same time [. . .] We have the capacity and we are the global power that can do all three.” While it’s unclear whether this is true, shouldn’t the US contemplate what brought about the current situation in the first place?

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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