Vladimir Putin’s attack on Ukraine is testing the health and strength of the American alliance system. In Europe and Asia, U.S. allies like Germany and Japan have rallied to defend an order that underwrites their security. In the Middle East, not so much.
When asked to increase energy production to help offset the consequences of sanctions on Russia, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman told French President Emmanuel Macron that Saudi Arabia prefers to stick to its production agreements with Moscow. The United Arab Emirates, another longtime American ally in the doghouse with the Biden administration, has been similarly cool, abstaining from the United Nations Security Council resolution condemning Russia’s aggression before supporting a less consequential resolution in the General Assembly. Israel, which must coordinate its anti-Hezbollah and anti-Iran military activities in Syria with Russian military authorities and has deep ties to both Russia and Ukraine, seeks to avoid alienating either the U.S. or Russia as it navigates the chaotic interface between them.
The Obama administration was a catastrophe for the American alliance network in the Middle East. The premature withdrawal from Iraq; the failure to develop a constructive policy toward the Arab Spring, especially in Egypt; the miserable aftermath of the intervention in Libya; and the serial miscalculations in Syria that ended by putting Russia and Iran in the driver’s seat at the cost of a brutal civil war and the collapse of Lebanon created a deep impression of American incompetence and unreliability across the region. President Obama’s frenetic dash, as regional powers saw it, for a nuclear deal with Iran that sacrificed core security interests of longtime U.S. allies to facilitate America’s exit from a region it no longer wished to defend deepened the sense of despair.
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