04.03.2024 Author: Salman Rafi Sheikh

Washington’s Wars Eroding its Global Clout

Washington’s Wars Eroding its Global Clout

If war is politics by other means, Washington’s ongoing wars in the Middle East and Eastern Europe are meant to buttress its global influence on the one hand and undermine its competitors on the other. But the question is: how is this politics by other means working out for Washington? Not so good. Russia’s recent military victories in Ukraine and China’s expansive inroads into the Middle East alongside the growing anti-Americanism in the region (due to Washington’s support for Israel and its inability to prevent a genocide of the Palestinians) indicate an overall American inability to shape global geopolitics in unilateral ways to the exclusive advantage of Washington and its allies in Europe and elsewhere.

Russia’s recent military gains in Ukraine, for example, have very clearly established its military credentials as a power that has been able to withstand the combined military strength of the US and its European allies assembled in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). What does this mean for Washington’s policies in Central Asia? Most certainly, Washington cannot simply present Russia as a ‘weak’ military power that can be simply ‘isolated’. But more than that, Russia is utilising its victories over NATO in various ways.

For instance, when the NATO-backed Russia-Ukraine military conflict began, most reports in the mainstream US media began to spread false messaging about Central Asia potentially moving itself out of the so-called ‘Russian clout’. The US saw in it an opportunity to push itself into the region. But this has turned out to be a fiasco. When the US imposed sanctions on Russia, many Russian companies began to relocate their businesses to Central Asia, directly contributing to Central Asia’s impressive 4.8 percent growth rate in 2023. According to the findings of the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development, the region is forecast to register an even more impressive level of growth at almost 5.7 percent in 2024-25.

In other words, thanks to Washington’s sanctions, the Russian political economy is now more deeply connected with Central Asia than it was before February 2021, which is also strengthening the Eurasian Economic Union. Now that this integration is working for the advantage of Central Asia means that the latter have little to no incentive to pay too much attention to Washington and/or the imperatives of moving decisively to Washington. It means that not only has the Biden administration’s policy of NATO expansion via Ukraine failed so far in Ukraine itself, but the ‘new’ Central Asia policy it inaugurated in the wake of the Russia-Ukraine conflict has also failed to make any impact on the ground. Russia defeated US design also by approaching relations with the Central Asian States in ways that gave them enough space to stay neutral in the conflict. While the West saw this neutrality as a sign of Russian weakness in the region and the Central Asian States’ growing assertiveness, it failed to read how this was part of Russia’s strategy to cultivate its ties in a more balanced way. This balance is also pretty evident in the ways Russia has not objected to, or even resisted, China’s growing footprint in the region, although reports in the Western media often see China’s role in Central Asia at the expense of Russia. But the West seems to have been misreading this region.

As far as Washington’s war in the Middle East is concerned, its military support for Israel plus its inability to stop genocide has eroded its credibility. Suppose Washington has been supporting Israel to maintain its dominance in the Middle East. In that case, Washington’s excessive support is now derailing its objectives, since the Middle East is now exercising a lot more strategic autonomy vis-à-vis Washington than was the case until a few years ago.

In the past few months, a flurry of Chinese activity indicates it much more clearly than anything else. China has convened leadership summits, met with Arab delegates, supported their stance vis-à-vis Israel, and held joint military exercises with one of the US’ most important allies in the region (Saudi Arabia). The UAE, otherwise a close US ally and one of the first states to sign the Abraham Accords to recognise Israel and establish diplomatic ties with it, actually withdrew from the US-led naval task force in May 2023, indicating policy and interest-based differences.

The UAE is also a country in the Middle East that has over 100,000 Chinese living there and involved in many businesses. But when it comes to the Middle East itself, and the fact that many countries in the region are involved in China’s Belt & Road Initiative (BRI), we see the region’s trade with China registering an overall growth of almost 45 percent in 2021 and 27 percent in 2022.

Given the economic integration, the Middle East is turning out to be a region where Washington’s clout is receding fast, without any signs of recovery in the immediate future at least. Although US strikes in the Red Sea on the Houthis are meant to indicate Washington’s willingness to offer a security umbrella to the Gulf states (against Iran-backed groups), the region appears to be past the point where it must have the US on its side to ensure security. Gulf states’ perceptions of Iran as an enemy are changing, thanks to Beijing’s mediation.

As far as Washington’s support for Israel is concerned and as far as the threat of a wider war in the region it is posing, Gulf states are on the edge of a conflict that might directly undermine their modernization programmes – development projects that mainly involve China in various capacities.

Therefore, if Washington’s involvement in the Israel war was meant to bring back the era of US dominance, the exact opposite is happening, both in the Middle East and Central Asia, which happen to be two of the world’s most energy-rich regions.


Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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