2014: Gazing Through a Crystal Ball, Darkly

The Middle East can easily become the scene of many conflicts that not only pose problems for the United States’ interests in the region, but also pose serious threats to America’s most trusted ally—Israel.

By Morgan Norval | January 14, 2014

2014 opens with gathering storm clouds and the U.S. ship of state under the command of an administration pursuing increasingly dubious foreign policies and facing declining public approval. The chickens stirred up by the “Leading from behind” approach are coming home to roost, particularly in the Middle East with the White House tilt to Iran. This is disturbing because there are crises and troubles bubbling up that will affect America’s security interests for decades to come.

Topping the list is the Middle East and North Africa:

  • Al-Qaeda’s reemergence has shown the Administration was wrong in claiming the jihadist group was a spent force after the killing of its leader, Osama bin Laden. They are showing much greater strength in Libya and were firmly ensconced in Benghazi during the attack on the American embassy. Today, al-Qaeda is in control of the Syrian rebels and is giving the Iraqi government fits. Their action in Iraq could easily escalate into an all-out Shia versus Sunni civil war.
  • Lebanon is feeling the effects of the spillover of Syria’s civil war, where it could possibly ignite a regional conflagration. Saudi Arabia is supplying more and more of its petrol-dollars to the Lebanese military. In fact, their assistance has been double Lebanon’s normal defense budget. These funds are to beef up the military to enable it to take on Iran’s proxy Hezbollah. That Shia terror group is supported by Iran, who is also supporting the Syrian Assad government, while the Saudis support the flagging Syrian rebels. This is resulting in a proxy war between Iran and Saudi Arabia, conducted by their surrogates.
  • Turkey is facing serious internal difficulties as the Erdoğan regime, which runs on the anti-Western personal whims, likes and dislikes of its Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, sees its problems mounting as a result. Corruption is becoming more and more of an issue in Ankara as several of his cabinet ministers have been charged with that crime. He has grossly miscalculated his policies with many of his neighbors. His firm support of the Muslim Brotherhood has put him at odds with both Saudi Arabia and Egypt, as well as with Jordan, in spite of Erdoğan being in cahoots with Saudi Arabia in support of the Syrian rebels. The Brotherhood is fast falling out of favor with the Arab nations of the Middle East and North Africa after its appalling one-year term. Erdoğan support has poisoned relations with Saudi Arabia and Egypt The Brotherhood sought to overthrow the Saudi royal family while their government in Egypt was tossed out in a military coup and the new government in Cairo is now cracking down hard on the Brotherhood, driving them underground. In addition to this, the Turkish economy is sputtering as its working class lacks the capacity for current high-tech manufacturing and, as a result, markets for its products are shrinking. This hit to the economy is very capable of stirring up further unrest within Turkey.

The Middle East can easily become the scene of many conflicts that not only pose problems for the United States’ interests in the region, but also pose serious threats to America’s most trusted ally—Israel. The on-going chaos in Syria, plus the real possibility of it spilling over and igniting a civil war in Lebanon, could escalate and drag Israel into the fray.

While the situation in the Middle East tops the list of “hot spots.” The rest of the world is not all that calm and peaceful:

    • Afghanistan seems certain to unravel as the U.S. and NATO pull forces out this year. The Taliban is poised to take control, once again, and be in a position to spread their violent influence north into the “Stans” along Russia’s southern border and south into its neighbor, Pakistan, a nuclear armed country.
    • China is becoming more and more aggressive as it continues its efforts to make a “China Lake” out of the seas that separate it from its neighbors to the east and south. This action is especially alarming to Japan, who is rapidly beefing up its military capabilities; South Korea, the Philippines, Taiwan, and Vietnam, not to mention other states in the area as far away as Australia.
    • India, reacting to a possible overzealous arrest and prosecution of a minor diplomat by local New York City authorities has caused a breach in the relations between our two countries, the world’s two largest democracies. This is unfortunate, as both have similar interests in Southeast Asia, as well as growing economic ties. [When was the last time you phoned in a complaint about some item, or requested help for your computer problem and the voice on the other end of the line was speaking from India?] The waters of the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf and the littorals area from China around to India are vital to New Delhi, the West, and, indeed, to world security. This split between India and the U.S. over the NYC action has some possible serious implications down the line.

These are just a few of the forecasts one can make in a very cloudy crystal ball. There is a caveat, however, predicting, or pointing out such dangers, doesn’t guarantee they’ll happen. No one is that gifted, and, as the incident vis-a-vis India shows, a little off-the-wall incident can cause a major diplomatic row. All one can reasonably be assured of is that the year 2014 will be both interesting and dangerous for America.

Morgan Norval is the founder and Executive Director of the Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research and a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis.