How Americans are losing the script in Middle East

It’s time for the free world to look for another leader

When Joe Biden landed in Jeddah last July, Mecca governor Prince Khalid bin Faisal Al Saud received him. When Xi Jinping landed in Riyadh last December, there was the foreign minister, apart from the Riyadh governor, to receive him on the runway, and give him a gun salute later. Saudi military jets escorted Xi’s plane into their airpsace.

The writing was not on the wall, but writ large on the tarmac. Yet if Biden couldn’t read it from the air when he was coming in to land, he was probably reading Arabic script from left to right.

The Americans, who have been writing the scripts for all the Middle Eastern power plays and peace pacts in the post-World War age, are losing the script. Time was when even a ham-handed Jim Carter could get war-mongers Anwar Sadat and Menachem Begin to Camp David and thrust a peace deal down their throats. Or an un-Christian street bully Donald Trump could make the Jews shake the hands of the Arab Muslims, and get them all to sign peace accords named after the common patriarch of the three faiths.

Illustration: Bhaskaran Illustration: Bhaskaran

But last week, when their oldest Arab allies in the Middle East, the Saudis, signed a peace pact with their worst local enemies, the Iranians, no one in the Biden White House knew about it. Indeed, when caught with egg on the face, National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said sheepishly: “The Saudis did keep us informed, ... but we weren’t directly involved.” The Saudis, decent folks, let it pass.

The American script in the Middle East seems to have run into its last act. The fault is theirs—they elected a Joe Average as president who has been getting it all wrong. First in Afghanistan, where hundreds of GI Joes had their shed their blood through five presidential terms. Finally when they were beginning to win the war, Biden told them to pack up and go home, leaving the land to the men who had burnt the topless towers of New York. That much for avenging American honour.

The Saudis, once America’s staunchest allies who bought their F-15 Eagles and AWACS eyes closed, have been drifting ever since Biden accused crown prince Mohammed bin Salman of having plotted the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, and vowed to make Saudi Arabia a “pariah” state. But when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, Biden imposed sanctions sending oil prices sky-high, and sheepishly made a pilgrimage of peace to the kingdom. The prince paid no heed, and instead cut his oil production to keep the prices high.

The prince has since made friends with Putin and Xi Jinping, both of who are friends of Iran’s ayatollahs, and signed a strategic pact with Xi. As Putin, busy with his war in Ukraine, left the field open to the Chinese, Xi brokered a deal between the Sunni kingdom and the Shia republic. The two will soon exchange envoys, Iran will send fewer guns and bombs to the Houthis and Hezbollahs of Yemen and Lebanon, and both will make money by selling oil to the energy-thirsty Chinese.

Within a week of the signing of the pact, Putin showed his thumbs up by sending his battleships into the Arabian Sea for wargames with the Iranian and Chinese navies. Who knows, the Saudis could join in the next edition of the games to form an Asiatic quad.

Xi is now moving on to read the next script, Cyrillic. He was in Moscow last week to talk Putin out of his war with Ukraine, and expected to video-call Volodymyr Zelensky. If he pulls off a peace deal in Europe, who knows?—that should shake the whole landmass from Calais to Vladivostok, leaving America to nurse another Monroe doctrine of isolation for the 21st century.

It’s time for the free world to look for another leader. Anyone out there?