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EDITORIAL ANALYSIS : The limits of American power in West Asia


Source: The Hindu

  • Prelims: Current events of international importance, decolonisation, Carter doctrine, Abraham Accords etc.
  • Mains GS Paper II: Bilateral, regional and global grouping and agreements involving India or affecting India’s interests.



  • In 1980, the USA faced the prospect of the Soviet Union expanding its reach to the Gulf.
    • The Carter administration in the United States came up with an aggressive approach.




Previous setbacks for the USA:

  • The Shah’s regime in Iran, one of the pillars of America’s West Asia policy, collapsed
  • The Soviets sent the Red Army to Afghanistan.


The Carter doctrine of the USA:

  • “Any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the U.S., and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force”.


Impact of recent Saudi Arabia-Iran agreement:

  • Hosted by China, to normalize relations.
  • It practically marked an end to the Carter Doctrine.
  • The U.S. remained a spectator when China brought Saudi Arabia and Iran to reach a potential game-changing pact in a region (Gulf).


Past mistakes by the USA:

  • Cases of Iraq, Syria and Iran
    • A country the U.S. invaded, brought regime change and occupied
    • A country where it sought regime change without a full-scale invasion
    • country which it sought to both contain and engage.
  • S. invasion of Iraq:
    • It triggered sectarian bloodshed
    • It led to the rise of radical Islamist outfits such as al Qaeda in Iraq
    • From a geopolitical point of view: Iraq invasion took down a buffer that the Sunni Arab Gulf monarchies had between themselves and a Shia theocratic Iran
    • It offered post-Saddam Iraq on a platter to Shia parties that had had historical ties with Tehran.
  • The U.S.’s appetite for another full-scale military intervention was already diminishing.
    • The U.S. stopped short of an intervention in Syria
    • America’s allies(Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Qatar and Turkey) helplessly watched as the Syrian Army and Iran-trained militias, covered by Russian jets, destroyed the rebellion.


Steps taken by the USA and impact:

  • JCOP: The USA reached out to Iran and struck a multilateral deal on its nuclear programme.
  • The Obama plan: reach a détente with Iran and persuade America’s Arab allies and Tehran to “share” the region.
  • The U.S. cutting a deal with Iran: It made Iran stronger angered both its Gulf allies and Israel.
  • When U.S. President destroyed the nuclear deal: But they did not have an alternative to check Iran’s immediate conventional military power.


The USA’s proposal of collectivizing its alliances

  • bringing Arab allies and Israel closer so that Israel can take a larger security role in a collective front against Iran.

Problems with this approach:

  • With its deprioritization of West Asia, the U.S.’s leverage over its allies is slipping
    • It will embolden the allies to make their own foreign decisions.
  • Israel’s continuing occupation of the Palestinian territories could play a spoiler in the bid to collectivize alliances.
  • Saudi Arabia resisted embracing Israel.
    • Instead, it saw an alternative for stability in the China-mediated peace plan with Iran.
  • Israel, the lynchpin of America’s collectivisation strategy, itself is resisting American influence.
    • Israel’s new government is moving ahead with its judicial overhaul plan despite pressure from Washington.
  • Israel refused to join the western sanctions against Russia, and refused to send weapons to Ukraine.


Way Forward

  • The U.S’s deprioritization of West Asia is leaving behind a vacuum, its allies are trying to establish more predictable ties with friends and foes, creating their own spheres of influence and emerging as the new pillars of the region.
  • Israel wants to strengthen its ties with the Arab world to face down Iran without compromising on Palestine.
    • Iran wants to break out of the economic chokehold of sanctions and realize its true potential.
    • Turkey wants to swing back to a region which it once dominated
    • Saudi Arabia wants to become the natural leader of the Arab world.
    • China, wants to make sure that its economic interests are protected.
  • The U.S. has several bases and tens of thousands of troops deployed across the region, and it will continue to play a major security role.
    • But the Gulf or the larger West Asia is no longer an exclusive American sphere of influence
  • There are three constants in whirlwind
    • America’s declining ability to shape geopolitical outcomes in the region
    • China’s continued rise
    • growing appetite for the U.S.’s allies to make autonomous foreign policy choices.



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