Middle East Policy
The following is an edited transcript of the 109th in a series of Capitol Hill conferences convened by the Middle East Policy Council. The event took place on July 29, 2022, via Zoom, with Council Executive Director Bassima Alghussein moderating.
Kuwait has forged a strong bilateral security alignment with the United States over the past three decades. But it has also pursued foreign policies that run counter to expressed American objectives and priorities in the Gulf and the broader Middle East. Why this happens can best be explained in terms of a combination of shifts in the overt US commitment to the partnership and changes in the level of threat in the region.
Global interdependence was supposed to herald a new age of peaceful cooperation. America's global leadership in many ways derives from its ability to maintain, augment, and protect mutually advantageous interactions. Yet the United States has also tried to use its dominance in networks of finance, trade, and communications as a tool of coercion. No region has been more affected by such weaponized interdependence (WI) than the Middle East. But WI, enacted through various forms of direct and indirect sanctions and embargoes, has a spotty record of success.
Policy makers, political and state elites, and civilian and military cadres have grappled with the unprecedented crisis of Covid-19 in the Middle East and North Africa. Against this gloomy backdrop, the main question became whether the region could sustain its traditional security-first policy even though the definition of security has changed. Could the state perpetuate its role as the arbiter of a broken clientelistic contract in a state-led socioeconomic order? Could geopolitical rivalries be upheld against unprecedented domestic challenges?
Violent struggles in the Middle East and North Africa have led many experts to compare this era to the Thirty Years’ War, a set of interlinked and extremely deadly and destructive conflicts in Europe (1618-48). Like that conflagration four centuries ago, they involve internal uprisings, civil conflicts, proxy wars, foreign intervention, geopolitical struggles, great-power competition, and the participation of many regional political players.
The key to independence for the Kurds has always rested on oil resources. After the central Iraqi government claimed that their oil exports and contracts were illegal and in violation of the constitution, the Kurdish political elite decided it was time to either renegotiate terms with Baghdad or push for complete separation. This article seeks to understand the influence of oil resources on the relationship between Erbil and Baghdad, and the effect they had on the push toward the 2017 referendum.
Iran’s armed forces have made tremendous strides since the decade-long war with Iraq in the 1980s. Tehran’s cultivation of ideologically sympathetic forces, along with the provision of material help, has allowed Iran to project power and influence throughout the Middle East. Some policy analysts who study Iran’s military development are biased and lack cultural understanding, contending that the republic is driven by unchanging customs, beliefs, and norms that reach back to ancient times.
The arrival in power of the moderate Hassan Rouhani in 2013 was a groundbreaking moment in Iran, marking a clean break from eight years of sociopolitical conservatism under the previous president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad. What provoked this change? This article argues that the institutional shift toward relative moderation under Rouhani was facilitated partly by sanctions, which were imposed when the regime was facing its greatest legitimacy crisis, caused by the fraudulent elections of 2009. It was also riven with infighting among the ruling conservatives.
The ruling dynasty of Morocco is one of very few that tracks its royal bloodline back to the Prophet Muhammad himself. Did this lineage contribute to the fact that the North African monarchy was barely touched by the tumultuous Arab Spring of 2011–12? This article challenges such assertions. Despite its divine inception, Moroccan royal power survived the era of modernity solely thanks to the French, who invested in their colony during the protectorate (1912–56). It was France that elevated the royals and allowed for the throne to become the pillar of Moroccan nationalism.
The situation in the Western Sahara illustrates an unfortunate aspect of international relations: When countries pursue their national interests and ignore international principles, they can create problems that defy resolution. Such problems are often dumped in the lap of the United Nations, which frequently lacks the means to solve them. The struggle between Morocco's desire to annex the Western Sahara and the Algerian-backed effort for it to be an independent country has led to an impasse.