(An early 17th century Chinese map of part of the Indian Ocean, using data gathered by Zheng He’s voyages of 200 years earlier. The Arabian Peninsula is at the left. Source.)
Over the past couple of months, in my essays here at Globalities I’ve been tracking the current crumbling of the decades-old system of Washington’s global hegemony and its gradual replacement by a China- and BRICS -led system of multipolarity—and also some of the effects of that shift, in West Asia and elsewhere. Most recently, we’ve seen China’s President Xi Jinping pushing forward his previously announced readiness to help resolve the conflict in Ukraine. If successful, this initiative could bring about a further large diminution of U.S. power in the world.
We should all continue watching the progress of the China-led peace initiative for Ukraine very closely. In today’s essay, however, I want to explore some of the impact that this “West to the Rest” shift has already been having in West Asia (the region formerly known as “the Middle East”), and especially in and around the Arabian Peninsula.
Until recently, all the states of the Peninsula, with the exception of some substantial quasi-state actors in mountain-haven Yemen, have been unambiguously pro-American. The other states on the Peninsula are all wealthy petro-states. They have long maintained strong relationships with Washington under an arrangement whereby the United States promised to give them military protection provided they would continue to underwrite the U.S. military-industrial complex by buying large (and often quite unusable) inventories of U.S. weapons, and to support the role of the U.S. dollar in the global economy.
But in recent years, and even more rapidly since last year’s start of the big conflict in Ukraine,that “devil’s bargain” has started to fall apart. As Jon Alterman wrote recently about the region in Defense One:
The above photo is of Saudi Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan bin Abdullah during his meeting with Pres. Bashar al-Asad in Damascus.
Suddenly, within the past few weeks, there has been a flurry of diplomatic activity that provides real hope that the civil war that’s devastated Syria for 12 years may be headed toward a negotiated peace and a chance for rebuilding. These moves have involved a number of key West Asian governments though there’s a potent global underpinning to them, too.
The past week has seen reciprocal visits by Syria’s foreign Minister to Saudi Arabia, and by the Saudi foreign minister to Damascus, where he met Pres. Bashar al-Asad. Last month, too, Pres. Asad made a state visit to the United Arab Emirates where he was greeted with a 21-gun salute and held talks with UAE president Sheikh Muhammad bin Zayed. Given that Saudi Arabia and the UAE were for many years—along with Qatar, Türkiye, and the United States—the main financiers and strident advocates of the regime-change push in Syria, these visits signal that the war may finally be winding down.
Lovers of peace and justice from around the world should welcome this trend, and should also unreservedly support calls for all three of the foreign governments that still maintain hostile military forces within Syria to withdraw them immediately. These three are:
Israel, which has occupied Golan since 1967;
Türkiye, which has occupied parts of northwest Syria since 2011-12; and
the United States, which has occupied parts of northeast Syria since 2014.
The map above, showing UAE military bases in and around Yemen, is from The Cradle, an excellent news source on West Asian diplomacy.
I have long had a lot of respect for the work of Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, whom I first came across, briefly, when we both working as journos in Beirut in the early 1980s and whom at a personal level I like. His work is generally pretty smart and well-informed. And though he has long been eager to be close to the centers of power, especially at the highest echelons of the U.S. military and intel agencies, many of the opinion pieces he has written over the years that explicitly or implicitly conveyed the views of those officials did two helpful things: (1) They provided an informative view into the thinking of those officials. (2) They put the snippets of info he provided about those officials’ views into a generally smart and sometimes slightly critical context. (Though never quite critical enough for him to lose his access?)
Today, he had a piece in the WaPo that had neither of those qualities and that instead just seemed to be full of hyper-defensive and deeply misleading analytical blather. Lest anyone be tempted to think he is still a smart analyst and thinker, I thought I should comment on some of what he wrote, point-by-point.
Globalities is currently releasing its new content in audio format. What follows is the text of the podcast episode I released April 14. Seen above: Brazil’s Pres. Lula Da Silva and China’s Pres. Xi Jinping, in Beijing yesterday. ~HC
Today is April 14, 2023. In today’s episode I’m going to, first of all, present a quick review of some of the key developments this past week has seen in international affairs and what some of them might mean. Then, I’m going to reflect a little on the longer-term historical significance of the seemingly rapid shifts we are currently seeing in the global balance…
But first: My survey of the major developments this balance has seen over the past week, and what they might mean more immediately:
Today is April 7, 2023. In today’s episode I’m going to present my review of the key shifts in the global balance that we’ve seen over the past week:
NATO-Russia contest in Ukraine
If we start by looking at the ongoing contest between NATO and Russia over Ukraine, there have been two main developments there: Finland was finally admitted to NATO, which brought to an end a lengthy period in which there has been increasingly close military cooperation between Finland and NATO and then, the year-long process of Finland’s accession to the alliance. The big change with its final admission to NATO is that Finland now receives protection under Article 5 of NATO’s charter which states that an attack on any full member of NATO is considered an attack on all of NATO, and that other NATO states will then assist it to repel the attack using any means deemed necessary, including the use of force.