China and US policies in Middle East and beyond – OpEd

The United Stated of America remains the most dominant country in the world — economically, militarily, politically, and culturally. In that unique role, America has played a mostly positive role on the world stage. Especially, when compared to the Marxist and Fascist regimes that emerged in the past decades to challenge the ideals it promoted- democracy, freedom, and free market.

However, things started to rapidly change as the digital world opened the flow of information and the global south grew more discontent with the US’ over-imposing foreign policy that routinely secures American corporations’ zero-sum advantages. Since 1991 when it became clear that US had no superpower rival, the drive for an objective political self-assessment has diminished. 

In the last two decades, as the US was blindingly preoccupied with Afghanistan, Iraq, and chasing the ghost of terrorism across the globe, China emerged as a major competitor. Through strategic and economic partnerships and without interference on domestic issues, China cultivated significant political presence in strategically important countries worldwide.

China’s more assertive foreign policy

While President Joe Biden’s foreign policy is still influenced by corporate profiteers and Israel’s security concerns, President Xi Jinping was laser-focused on his country’s strategic objectives, economically, militarily, politically, and socially. The global TikTok phenomenon is just one example.

On Friday March 10, China unveiled its most successful diplomatic accomplishment- the peace deal it brokered between Saudi Arabia and Iran. the two regional rivals have announced their mutual agreement to restore full diplomatic relations and open their respective embassies within the next two months. That shocked many Western leaders, media, and think tankers from the old school that still considers China a powerful nation that lacks diplomatic finesse to achieve such objective.

This deal holds the potential to end two of the longest and most devasting wars, and the worst humanitarian crisis in the Middle East- Yemen and Syria. Yet China is not projecting itself as the ‘the new Sheriff in the Middle East.’ But rather, as a humble strategic partner who only managed to persuade two of its close friends to overcome their differences and collaborate on political, and economic matters of mutual interest. That kind of humble diplomacy that seeks no fanfare and is willing to share successes with other nations is what made China’s soft power the most potent is the world. Today, in addition to Iran and Saudi Arabia, there are more than a hundred countries that trade with Chinese Yuan. “Dedollarification” is going in full force.

Since the West torpedoed the Turkiye peace plan to end the Ukraine war, China is now the sole power to potentially help end the most destructive war in Europe since WWII. China’s special relationship with Russia is widely known. China also has an economic pact with Ukraine. Its ‘Silk Road’ railway–the 21st century’s most ambitious global economic network– is to run through Ukraine’s massive territory. 

Failure to keep up with changing times

Meanwhile, the U.S. foreign policy is facing a Kmart moment. A moment that resembles the slow death of the last decade of this, once upon a time, the most successful model in the US retail industry. In its glorious days, Kmart was famous for its iconic marketing ploy known as Bluelight Sale . Once the customers heard ‘Attention Kmart shoppers’ and a siren through the intercom, shoppers enthusiastically dashed to the section of the store where the blue lights were flashing to get great bargains. The Bluelight Sale gimmick was meant to sell slow-moving products. After decades of a lucrative marketing ingenuity and industry dominance, Kmart shoppers became desensitized to the power of the Bluelight Sale as other discount department stores started to offer competitive deals.

Need for strategic innovation

In international relations, as in business, if you cannot keep up with the changing times and your competitors’ innovative strategies, you will find yourself obsolete, irrelevant, or bankrupt beyond recovery.

To legitimately reclaim its leadership, the US would need to improve its global image and undergo a significant reinvention process that is propelled by a less selfish and indeed less arrogant foreign policy. And that cannot not happen without the following:

First; shed off the Neocon unipolar hubris that the US should throw around its muscle to get all the candies in the store without any payment, accountability, or apology. A good start may be to shut down a significant number of the 750 military bases around the world. 

Second; stop funding Israel’s apartheid regime, and stop the decades long abuse of the Security Council veto power so that Israel could get the absolute impunity it needs to shield it from UN sanctions and its leaders from facing criminal charges at the International Criminal Court. 

Third; stop the organized crime foreign policy that takes resources by force instead of by a negotiated fair deal. That infamous policy that is guided by, according to Noam Chomsky, a “godfather principle, straight out of the mafia (playbook).”

Fourth; stop interfering with other countries’ internal affairs to manipulate outcomes or implement regime-change schemes. The Muslim world and the global south are mindful of how US has suffocated democratic processes in various countries during the Arab Spring more than a decade ago. They are also vigilant on what the US might do in countries such Pakistan where, according to recent Gallup poll, former Prime Minister Imran Khan whom the US helped oust last year, commands 61% favorable rating. 

Fifth; avoid any hostile compition toward the BRICS block  lest that forceit to become a military alliance. Last December, I wrote about 2023 being the year when BRICS may turn into BRICTISS after Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Turkiye join that block. The two ‘I’s are now in and the ‘T’ is likely to join after elections.

Sixth; focus on your own neighborhood and cultivate win/win strategic partnerships with key actors in Central and South America. 

Seventh; Ukraine is a lost cause. It was a preventable war and the hundreds of thousands on all sides did not have to die. The sooner the US accepts that reality, the better it is for the whole world.

Eighth; so long as US’ policy toward Africa remains one driven by counterterrorism and is implemented by AFRICOM drones that are accountable to no one, there will never be a sustainable strategic partnership with key countries such as Somalia.

The writer is a former diplomat and geopolitical analyst. He is the author of  Broken Camel Bells: Somalia in the age of terrorism 2006-2022