How the West’s own problems are affecting the Middle East

by Claude Salhani

The way in which the political world has been structured in the Middle East and Europe since the end of the second world war is rapidly changing but not for the better.

Political dysfunction among leaders of Western democracies and the rise of Russia’s influence are bound to affect countries in the Middle East.

Washington, despite a foreign policy that was not always received positively in the region, played a major role in delivering a certain amount of stability. Many looked at the United States as a beacon of hope for the world’s oppressed people.

With old allies wondering how much Russia infiltrated and influenced the United States, caution is likely to be the order of the day in dealings with the Trump administration.

France and Britain, often looked at as anchors of the West’s democratic principles in Europe, are each caught up in domestic issues.

Britain is up to its neck in the mess of Brexit. Britons voted to leave the European Union but many reconsidered, saying they realised they didn’t really know what they were voting for or what the repercussions were going to be.

They said perhaps there should be a second referendum. Because UK Prime Minister Theresa May was occupied by the EU issue, foreign affairs efforts were relegated to second place.

In France, the yellow jacket demonstrations had the same effect on the priority of foreign policy.

In the United States, suspected Russian influence in the 2016 presidential campaign kept politicians occupied while the country navigated without a fully functioning federal government for more than 30 days.

During this time, burning Middle East issues such as the situation in Iraq with continued unrest were not properly addressed. Iranian interference in the domestic affairs of other countries in the region, such as Yemen, Lebanon, Syria and Bahrain, also needs more outside attention. As do the growing tension between Iran and the United States and the escalating level of violence between Iran and Israel.

Throw into the fold the continued threats posed by the Islamic State (ISIS) in Iraq and Syria, where, contrary to what US President Donald Trump said — and may wish for — that United States had defeated ISIS, regardless of advice from US intelligence community operatives, who are by any reason far more informed and educated on the matter than a president who gets most of his information from Fox News. Yet the president had the audacity to tell his intelligence chiefs that they “should go back to school.”

Trump’s theatrics have put the efforts of propelling the slow march towards democracy back 20 years, if not more. When the president of the United States calls the media “the enemy of the American people” and whenever he dislikes or disagrees with a news report, he labels the item “false news.”

In Yemen, the threat of disease spreading worries international aid workers who must contend with the potential of starvation if fighting continues.

Then there is Turkey, which, along with Russia, is playing a more important role in the Middle East.

Russian President Vladimir Putin announced he is pulling Russia out of a strategic missile treaty with the West because the United States is not respecting the agreement. America claims the Russians were the first to cross the line.

With presidential elections less than 2 years away, the United States more than ever will be focusing on internal issues, leaving the tribulations of the Middle East to an uncertain and precarious future.

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