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The Price of Retrenchment: What the Ukraine Crisis Reveals About the Post-American Middle East

Author: Martin Indyk

Affiliation: Council on Foreign Relations (US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs between 1997–1999, US Special Envoy for Israeli–Palestinian Negotiations between 2013-2014, and Former Deputy Research Director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee -AIPAC)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Affairs 

Date/Place: February 14, 2022/USA

Type of Literature: Analysis

Word Count: 2379


Keywords: Ukraine, US, MBS, Israel, Trump, Russia, Middle East, Kuwait, Egypt, and KSA


The article sheds light on the link between Biden’s efforts to curtail Moscow’s invasion of the Ukraine and the Middle East’s curious silence on the issue. The author argues that Washington is paying the price for its disengagement policy in the Middle East to focus more on China. Now that the Middle East is less of a priority for Washington, there is a heightened role for Russia and China to play in the region in the absence of the US. The article starts with Israel, pointing out the many factors that might suggest Israel’s likely support for Ukraine, such as the latter’s large Jewish community, and Israel’s reliance on the US and the liberal order for its security interests. Yet, Ukraine was never mentioned in the strategic consultatory meeting held in January, while Israel pundits are stressing that their government must maintain a neutral position. Meanwhile, Kuwait, another close US ally with vested security interests, has abstained from addressing the issue, as seen in the Kuwaiti Foreign Minister’s visit to Washington where he dodged any Ukraine questions. Further, Cairo is also not interested in upsetting Moscow, considering its arms deals and its need for Russia in Libya (Wagner supporting militia leader Haftar). KSA is no different, as MBS feels sidelined following multiple slights from Biden in light of his role in ordering the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. On the other hand, the author suggests that crucial matters unite Moscow and Riyadh today. Namely, Moscow’s growing influence in OPEC that parallels that of KSA; and for ME leaders, Washington might no longer be a reliable security partner. In 2019, Washington refused to assist KSA after a 2019 attack that it claimed to be by Iran knocked its oil production by half. Russia, on the other hand, is proving its reliability, not the least of which through its success in keeping the Assad regime in power. On a related note, Russia is integral today to Israel’s security, with the two coordinating as Israel continues its attacks on Iran’s bases in Syria, as part of its “war between wars” against Iran, Hezbollah, and the Assad regime. Accordingly, the author suggests that ME actors still can help deter Russia. However, for now, it seems that hedging will be the way to go for major ME countries, as the US’ geopolitical dilemma grows in the Middle East.

By: Hamza Emir, CIGA Research Assistant



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