September 19, 2022
by Walid Phares
It has become increasingly clear that since the Biden administration’s chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan a year ago and the transfer of power to the Taliban, what one might coin as “wars out of control” could spread in the Greater Middle East, causing danger to U.S. interests, national security and the security of our allies in the region.
Since the 2021 pull-out, the collapse of the Afghan army (which was trained and funded by the United States for 20 years), and the rise of a Jihadi regime, anti-American powers and forces on the continent and worldwide have been moving on the offensive, dismissing American deterrence and reactions.
The disastrous withdrawal was a dramatic foreign policy move by the Biden administration, but it was also accompanied by a sharp return to the Iran Deal talks and the reversal of the tough decisions made by previous administrations regarding full isolation of the Iranian regime. The Afghanistan and Iran “deals” were unmistakably seen as critical signs of weakness, prompting a rush by the anti-American bloc to seize the moment.
On February 24, and against all expectations in international relations, Russian forces invaded Ukraine, reaching the capital and taking the control of vast areas in the north, east, south and most of the Black Sea coast. A devastating war, devouring Western treasures and bleeding European economies, has been ongoing with no end in sight, with a paralyzed U.N. Security Council, and without clear cut U.S. policies on deterrence and solutions.
The administration’s limited position in the Ukraine war is bound by its relentless attempts to return to the Iran Deal. Russia, and later China, realizing the Biden administration is showing signs of irreversible commitment to the deal, unleashed their campaigns: Moscow in Ukraine on the ground, and China upping the ante around Taiwan.
As a result of this chain reaction that started in Afghanistan, the inability of Washington to stop either power from engaging in offensives or threats has had deep impact on the Greater Middle East, where wars could explode and America would again be unable to ensure stability. Here are the most dangerous:
Iran-Israel: Iranian-backed militias are building their offensive military capabilities from Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon to Gaza, to surround Israeli territories and target them with long and mid-range ballistic missiles. Israel’s air-force is busy with preemptive strikes across Iraq, Syria, and against Hamas, to weaken this gigantic pincer. But this confrontation risks exploding into a devastating war involving four countries — including inside Iran. The administration is unwilling to escalate pressures against the regime to deter it because it is negotiating the “deal.” Such a war would be out of control. Israeli cities would be targeted, and bombardments would hit a chunk of West Asia between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean.
Iran-Gulf: Iran’s regime has been targeting the countries of the Arab Coalition for years, mainly from Houthi-controlled areas in Yemen. Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been targeted with ballistic missiles and drones over the past year and a half without serious U.S. reaction in return. President Biden met the Arab leaders at the summit of Jeddah, but U.S. forces were not directed to silence the active missiles launchers. Why? Again, the Iran Deal.
War on Kurds: Iran is pressing Iraqi Kurdistan from the east and the south with its forces and militias. Its goal is to subdue Erbil as a vassal state via Iraq’s militias. If that autonomous province is invaded, Turkey will move from the north and dominate a security zone as well. In East Syria, the Assad regime, Hezbollah, and Iranian militias from the west and south are inching in to topple the Kurdish and minorities’ de facto autonomous zone. Turkey is threatening to invade from the north. The U.S. is present in both Kurdish areas in Iraq and in Syria, but as in Afghanistan, the Biden administration could depart overnight if the deal with Iran requires it. An endless war would ensue.
Turkey-Greece: Over the past three years, tensions between Turkey and Greece have been brewing over the east Mediterranean and, most recently, over Greek islands in the Aegean. What was a decades-old conflict stabilized by the heavy pressure of U.S. diplomacy and hopes of NATO membership is now about to reignite in the post-Ukraine invasion era. Such a potential conflict would collapse the southeastern flank of the Atlantic Alliance. Ankara, detecting weakness in Washington, has been inching closer to Russia and China. Greece fears a Ukraine-like operation over the islands. A lack of U.S. pressure to prevent such a dangerous clash would also lead to an uncontrolled war with tremendous consequences.
These potential wars due to lack of U.S. firmness overseas are also perceived by the hostile actors as more possible because of the dizzying political division at home. Dangerous American times. Dangerous times in the Middle East.