The Jerusalem Post published an in-depth piece this week analyzing the changing oil geopolitics of the Middle East. Political Editor Ilan Evyatar takes a look at the implications of demand for Middle East oil shifting dramatically over the next few decades from the West to the East. I argue that the US should remain engaged in the region based on a broader economic and strategic relationship in order to counter-balance rising Chinese influence, given Beijing’s track record in the rest of Africa. This entire dynamic is going to be extremely important to medium-term regional politics and there is not nearly enough discussion about this reality here in Washington. The article is excerpted below and I encourage you to read the full piece.
WHILE THERE appears to be a consensus that China’s rapidly growing energy needs mean it will need to nurture a stable environment and adopt a more proactive foreign policy in the region, not everyone shares Biran’s far reaching vision of a Pax Sinica.
“Surging Chinese demand for energy resources over the next several decades will make their more prominent role in the Middle East inevitable. China is now second only to the United States in consumption and importation of oil, a trend that will only continue as the Chinese continue to urbanize their population and bring millions more cars on line. No country can afford to remain uninterested in a region that it will be so dependent upon,” says Bradley Bosserman, a foreign policy analyst and director of the Middle East program at the NDN New Policy Institute, a center-left Washington think tank.
Bosserman, however, cautions that there has been consistent divergence between the US and China on regional issues, from Iran to Syria and elsewhere. “While a peaceful and agreed-upon settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian dispute would contribute to regional stability, China has never shown much interest in investing diplomatic energy… in other parts of the world where it had economic interests.”
He points to the potential lessons to be learned from China’s engagement in Africa, and warns that while the optimists may believe that China’s growing energy interdependence with the Middle East will lead to Beijing becoming more interested in productive diplomatic engagement, its record in Africa gives “little indication that it will pursue that path.”
“For the past half-century,” says Bosserman, “China’s policy of non-interference has provided capital and investment to corrupt governments who have been more than happy to avoid the complicated work of economic and political reform that is often demanded by the United States and Europe. Throughout Africa, China has consistently valued preferential trading terms, lopsided leasing deals, and short-term profits over the kinds of lasting investments in good governance, political reconciliation, and poverty alleviation that lay the groundwork for real stability. It seems more likely that it is that model that they will try to export to the Middle East rather than some other idealized version.”
During his fifth State of the Union, President Obama articulated a foreign policy vision that can pretty accurately be described as modest. On nearly all fronts he displayed a preference for restraint and moderation, rather than bold engagement abroad. There was one notable exception, however: Trade. The President outlined a second-term trade agenda that is as ambitious as anything we’ve seen since the 1990’s. Completing negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and launching a new round of US-EU FTA talks holds the potential to bring about the broadest and most robust expansion of economic liberalization, harmonization, and engagement since the Uraguay round. For a President who has spent four years trying to constrain the scale and scope of traditional hard power, he appears much more comfortable allowing economic statecraft to be the face of American leadership overseas. In that way, Obama’s second term foreign policy may end up looking very Clintonian, and no I don’t mean Hillary.
NDN’s MENA Initiative welcomes this latest essay from guest contributor Tristan Dreisbach. Tristan is a Middle East specialist who recently traded in his perch at a think tank in New York City in order to conduct field work in Tunis. He blogs at http://tristanintunis.blogspot.com and lives on Twitter as @theonlytristan. We will be running some of his writings periodically.
Photo by FETHI BELAID via Global Post
On the morning of Wednesday, February 6th, everything changed in Tunisia. Anti-Islamist opposition leader Shokry Belaid was gunned down outside his home in Tunis, introducing brutal political violence to an already tense environment. While much remains unclear, including identities and affiliations of the assassins, the dynamics of a new phase for post-revolutionary Tunisia seem to be taking shape.
The Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED) last week issued a new report full of recommendations on ways that President Obama could adjust his Middle East policy in his second term. In “Moving Beyond Rhetoric,” POMED collected the succinct and varied suggestions of 15 ideologically diverse MENA experts which, when taken together, offer a vision of a more bold, engaged, and robust approach to the region. POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney summarized the report’s common conclusions as three central take-aways:
Take Bold Steps: Avoid the timidity, caution, and “tinkering around the margins” that have thus far characterized the U.S. response to dramatic and historic changes. Take assertive steps to help inﬂuence the outcomes of transitions at this critical moment.
Engage More Broadly: Reverse the longstanding tendency of relying primarily on narrow, government-to-government relationships. Strengthen relationships with a diverse set of actors across the region—not just the new faces in power.
Use Leverage and Incentives: Demonstrate a willingness to use leverage and oﬀer concrete incentives to positively inﬂuence the actions of key actors in the region, including U.S. allies. Don’t just declare a desire or an expectation that governments will take constructive steps—clearly identify rewards and consequences to encourage such actions.
The full report is available for download on their website, and it’s a must-read for anyone interested in the near-term future of US policy in the region.
NDN’s MENA Initiative welcomes the following essay from guest contributor Tristan Dreisbach. Tristan is a Middle East specialist who recently traded in his perch at a think tank in New York City in order to conduct field work in Tunis. He blogs at http://tristanintunis.blogspot.com and lives on Twitter as @theonlytristan. We will be printing some of his writings periodically.
Arriving in Tunisia almost exactly two years after the revolution, it’s hard to imagine that political speech here had been suppressed for decades. Every Tunisian I meet effuses political opinions and fascinating new perspectives on the state of affairs, and my understanding of the country’s post-revolutionary journey changes, often drastically, with each conversation. Where there had been a handful of media outlets walking in lock-step with the president, there is now a ballooning number of television stations, newspapers, and websites providing an immense public space for political discourse. To someone brought up with a thoroughly American sense of the hallowed role of free expression in a vibrant democratic republic, it would seem that things are on the right track.
I published an essay today analyzing the pockets of resistance to Chuck Hagel’s nomination to serve as Secretary of Defense. Later this week he will make his case to his former colleagues on the Hill while a handful of shadowy groups make big ad buys attempting to smear him. In this essay, which originally appeared at PolicyMic, I tackle some of the context.
Long-time Republican Senator Chuck Hagel is set to testify before his former colleagues this week in order to secure their consent to serve as President Obama’s new secretary of defense. Despite Hagel’s long tenure as a respected voice on national security issues and his credentials as a decorated war hero, his nomination has not been without controversy. Shortly after his name was leaked, he was attacked for being insufficiently supportive of Israel, too soft on Iran, and too supportive of constraining the defense budget.
The Israel hawks on the Democratic side of the aisle are likely to fall in line after Senator Schumer offered his seal of approval and AIPAC decided to take a back seat. But some Republicans — both naked partisans and neoconservative ideologues — have decided to saddle up and go to war over Hagel’s nomination.
A shadowy but well heeled group called Americans for a Strong Defense has recently been formed and has declared their intention to make a major ad buy in at least five states indicting Hagel’s “out-of-the-mainstream” views and calling on the Senators in those states to reject his nomination. Hagel’s views, though, are eminently mainstream, as judged by the opinions of both the public and the foreign affairs establishment. What’s really happening is that opposition is coming largely from a small but vocal group of right-wing neoconservatives, whose rise and subsequent fall after the last Bush administration have left them terrified of becoming permanently marginalized.
Polling indicates that a plurality of Americans believe that the current level and nature of U.S. support for Israel is appropriate. Hagel’s reticence about pursuing an unnecessary military confrontation with Iran is a view shared by the American people in addition to the Israeli defense and intelligence community. And as for the defense budget? The public, the Joint Chiefs, and the majority of the foreign policy establishment all publicly share his and the president’s opinion that real and reasonable reductions in the growth of Pentagon spending can be achieved without compromising U.S. national security.
In many ways, the most bipartisan and popular foreign policy position in America today is support for Obama’s campaign to unwind the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, a patent rejection of the two enterprises which now stand as the most high-profile symbols of modern neoconservative adventurism. The attacks on Chuck Hagel are not coming from people who believe he is outside of the mainstream. They are coming from neocons who fear that his nomination lays bare the shortsightedness of their neoconservative ideology and threatens their monopoly on defining strong national security strategy. It is Americans for a Strong Defense who are now outside the mainstream, not Chuck Hagel. And they are absolutely terrified of obsolescence.
Bradley Bosserman is a foreign policy analyst at NDN and the New Policy Institute where he Directs the Middle East and North Africa Initiative. He lives on twitter as @BradEEB
Click to Watch the Video
On Monday, January 28th NDN’s Bradley Bosserman hosted an interactive discussion about the foreign policy implications of the recent Israeli elections. He was joined by two other Middle East analysts and writers. You can watch the video here.
Grant Rumley is a Visiting Fellow at Mitvim – The Israeli Institute for Regional Foreign Policies, and Editor in Chief at the Jerusalem Review of Near East Affairs.
Allison Good is a freelance writer, analyst, and contributor to the Daily Beast’s Open Zion. They live on twitter as @Grant_Rumley and @Allison_Good1 and @BradEEB
A few of the issues covered were the possible new governing coalition, the impact on Israeli and US policy toward Iran, and we address whether the latest Israeli statements on striking Syria should be understood as bluster or warning.
This discussion is part of an ongoing series of video Spreecasts designed to provide the NDN community with diverse insights – in new and interactive formats – on unfolding events in the Middle East and North Africa. Last month featured a conversation about the elections in Egypt, which you can view here.