Washington’s History of Surrealpolitik in the Middle East
US policy in the Middle East has a long history of repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results. Although each new US administration ignites new hopes, we have seen the same results for decades.
Washington’s foreign policy – frequently contextualised in the labyrinths of American hegemony, great power competition and the Cold War equation throughout the 20th century – has been relieved of these burdens in the new millennium. The result, however, has not changed.
The US foreign policy and security establishment has continued to pursue interests in the Middle East and to make grave mistakes. For decades, realpolitik acted as a saviour for these poor decisions, pushing the US to give unconditional support to Israel, offer an insurance policy to dictators, occupy Afghanistan and Iraq, and obsess over Iran while handing it Iraq and Syria. The list goes on.
The Khashoggi case
Years passed, and after two decades, policymakers in Washington finally woke up and realised what they really needed to focus on was countering Chinese “coercion” and Russian “recklessness”. While US policy on the Middle East was ostensibly realpolitik, in reality, it was pure surrealpolitik. Yet, Washington has a tendency to drag itself back into the same policies; President Joe Biden’s decision on the Jamal Khashoggi affair presents a typical example.
Khashoggi was a test for the Biden administration. It failed, just as the Obama-Biden administration failed on many fronts years earlier. One of the Obama-Biden administration’s striking features was its poor track record with democracy in the Middle East, despite high-volume liberal rhetoric.