Hasty US Pullout from Afghanistan Invokes Regional Talk of Post Pax Americana

America’s allies in the Middle East are weighing options to avoid meeting the fate of the Afghani government, as regional scholars talk of the post Pax Americana era.

Photo: US airmen load passengers aboard a U.S. Air Force C-17 at Hamid Karzai International Airport in Afghanistan. (US Air Force/Master Sgt. Donald R. Allen)

During a long piece on one of the Amnets, the ‘host’ of an in-studio chat went on and on for ages talking about the ‘casualties’ before finally realizing that he had only mentioned the American deaths.

It was truly embarrassing.

And so telling. While the main thrust of the story in the West centers on the optics and this not being Saigon, much of the rest of the world is seeing -and remembering- a quite different narrative.

It is painful for some to admit, but as I have said elsewhere, in the media, there is largely only discussion about the differences, (between Kabul and Saigon) but no mention of the fact that both incidents were perpetrated by the same country for the same reasons with the same results.’

That repeating narrative could be coming to an end.

James Porteous | Clipper Media

Hasty US Pullout from Afghanistan Invokes Regional Talk of Post Pax Americana

27 August 2021 |  RIAD KAHWAJI | Breaking Defense

DUBAI: The chaotic withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan has sent shockwaves throughout the Middle East, where America’s allies are weighing the impact on the region’s security amidst talk from scholars of the post Pax Americana era.

Footage of Afghans begging for entry into Kabul airport, with some of them dangling from the sides and wheels of US military transporters, were played on and on by regional media outlets and circulated on social media platforms with comments that mostly ended with questions about US credibility and reliability as a security partner. Those questions are only set to intensify after the deadly attack on Kabul’s airport that left 13 Americans dead.

Of course, Iran and its allies — including the powerful Hezbollah group in Lebanon — were quick to capitalize on this precious moment as evidence of the fading power of the United States and a sign of things to come.

“Let all the allies of America watch the fate of all those who put their faith in it,” said Mohammed Raad, head of Hezbollah Parliamentary Block, who told a crowd of party supporters at a recent ceremony in Lebanon that all America’s allies will face the same fate of the Afghan government.

For US allies in the Middle East, especially in the Gulf Arab states, there was little official reaction to the American exit from Afghanistan. In fact, military transporters from the UAE, Bahrain, Qatar and Saudi Arabia as well as other Arab countries participated in Washington’s massive effort to airlift thousands of foreigners and Afghanis, who had worked for Western agencies and NATO forces, out of the country.

But it is impossible to ignore the public statements from political commentators, scholars and, via social media, the public. And those comments make is clear that there are new doubts about America’s ability to keep its promises.

“The US pullout from Afghanistan was hasty and chaotic, with catastrophic consequences on the image and reputation of America,” said Abdulkhaleq Abdullah, a UAE political science professor and commentator. “The world has entered the post Pax Americana phase and the Gulf Arab States have to be prepared for this.”

In a recent Arab News op-ed, Nadim Shehadi, a prominent scholar and associate fellow at the Chatham House think tank in London, wrote: “We are again in a bipolar world — not that of the Cold War, but a psychological one. At one pole are the triumphalism, ecstasy and jubilation of America’s enemies; at the other are denial, disbelief and allies [lamenting] another sign of the end of Pax Americana.”

Put more bluntly: “Don’t count on the US any more, and don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” said Abdullah Alshayji, Political Science Professor at Kuwait University.

Alternative Options

The question now facing Gulf leaders is what alternative options they have. After all, these elites have tied themselves closely to the United States for years; a decoupling isn’t as easy as simply flipping a switch.

“Leaders of the Gulf Arab States do sense the declining interest of US officials in the region as an area of vital interest, and therefore have to explore new options like developing their own defense capabilities and not repeat the Afghani model of building a paper-tiger army that fell apart in the first real confrontation with the Taliban,” Abdullah said.

“In light of Washington’s failure or reluctance to deal with the Iranian threats and attacks in the Strait of Hormuz, the Gulf Arab States should seek to secure a bigger military presence for other powers such as Britain, France and the EU, as well as other Eastern powers such as China, India and South Korea,” Abdullah added. “Internationalization of the Gulf security is one of the options in the post Pax Americana era.”

Kabul police, before the city fell. (Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)
Kabul police, before the city fell. (Paula Bronstein /Getty Images)

In Abdullah’s opinion, Gulf Arab leaders should end their differences, close ranks and consolidate their military capabilities.

“Priority should be given in the near future to unify the Gulf armies and to integrate them operationally and institutionally, and this can only happen if a strategic political decision is taken by the leadership,” he said. “We have to become more self-reliant defensively, with more allies in the East and West.”

Regional analysts found it notable that there have been several high-level visits to Turkey, Egypt, Jordan and Qatar in the last week from the UAE’s National Security Advisor Sheikh Tahnoun bin Zayed Al Hahyan. The high-profile talks with the Qatari Emir in Doha were particularly interesting; that represented the culmination of months-long efforts to mend the strained relations between the UAE and Qatar, along with its strategic ally Turkey.

All told, the moves seem to be steps taken to consolidate the Arab and regional front against Iran, under the assumption the US may not be as study a wall against Iranian activity as previously hoped. That’s not directly on the Afghanistan situation, of course; Washington’s frequent foreign policy changes and contradictory approaches in dealing with Iran’s threats have shaken US relations with its Arab allies and undermined the trust between the two sides.

The current US Administration is yet to make clear its strategy to deal with the many complex issues in the volatile Middle East region, and has recently revealed plans to pull out some of its forces in Iraq.

Whatever moves the Gulf Arab states make, however, unilateral action against Tehran seems unlikely, as the remaining American forces in the region still provide a security blanket against Iranian actions. Unless Washington makes any credible moves to alter this reality, its regional allies will most likely maintain the status quo.

And that, says Albadr Al Shateri, a professor at National Defense University in the UAE, is a key thing to remember: even if the American focus is shifting to the Pacific, there’s no need for Arab leaders to assume that America is truly abandoning the region.

“The Middle East represents a vital and primary interest to the United States. Israel’s safety is part of the US political culture and protecting the flow of oil in and out of the Gulf is crucial for the global economy that is dominated by Washington.”

Ultimately, Al Shateri said, “The US has too many grand strategic interests in the Middle East region that prevent it from abandoning it.”


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