In December 2002, Jordan’s King Abdullah II visited Washington. This was about three months before the Americans launched their war on Iraq. On his way to the American capital, the king stopped in Paris and met with his friend Jacques Chirac, the French president at the time. The two men agreed on the danger of the upcoming US war, not only for Iraq, but for the entire Arab region in terms of expanding the circle of “terrorism” and its groups, as well as causing instability in a region that did not know stability to begin with.
When the Jordanian monarch met the US President at the White House, about which he told me in the interview I conducted immediately after his return, he did not hesitate to express his concerns to George W. Bush and warn him about the disastrous results of any US invasion of Iraq. The latter did not listen to his advice and seemed angry during their meeting; he insisted that he was going to “kick Saddam Hussain’s ass”. That is a very crude expression, but it is not surprising that it was used by an individual who is even more vulgar.
America lost the war in Iraq and withdrew, defeated and humiliated by the strong resistance and the Iraqi people’s refusal to allow the US to occupy their country. They learned a lesson that they will never forget; military victory is one thing, but preserving it and reaping the political results are something else.
I remembered this as I followed the developments of King Abdullah’s most recent visit to Washington, which ended yesterday. He had a long and friendly meeting with President Barack Obama, which reflects the “chemistry” between the two men who are close in age and culture.
The timing of the visit is significant in that it coincided with the deadlock at the Geneva II Conference on Syria, with America, Britain and France blaming the Syrian regime for the political and military consequences of the failure to reach an agreement. The Obama-Abdullah meeting also came close to yet another visit to the Middle East by Secretary of State John Kerry where he will present his final version of the framework agreement to determine the US settlement for the Arab-Israeli conflict.
President Obama sees a strong and effective role for Jordan in the Palestinian and Syrian issues, just as there was a similar, unspoken role played by the Hashemite Kingdom in the Iraq war in 2003. He did not hesitate to offer $1 billion in loan guarantees to Jordan as a “reward” and to take care of any losses the country may experience. He must want something in return for this sudden generosity.
On Palestine, I believe that Jordan’s role as envisioned by the Americans can be summed up in the resettlement of Palestinian refugees and ending their right of return to their homeland once and for all. Jordan will also have to agree to the presence of NATO and Israeli troops on the border of the “independent” Palestinian state with Jordan, and an Israeli military presence along the Palestinian part of the Jordan Valley. Furthermore, Jordan must accept, or not oppose, Palestinian recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, and even encourage it, as well as agreeing to keep occupied Jerusalem as “the unified capital of Israel”, with a symbolic Palestinian capital in Shu’afat or Abu Dis. Jordan’s custodianship of Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Christian churches in the Holy City will continue.
As far as Syria is concerned, the phase after Geneva II indicates a return to the military option. Robert Ford, the US ambassador to Syria and the Obama administration’s envoy to the Syrian opposition, has called for heating up the southern front in Syria; that is, the Syrian area of Daraa, adjacent to Jordan. Deputy US Secretary of State Wendy Chirman told the Syrian opposition delegation in Geneva that America has a “plan B” in case the second round of the Geneva negotiations fails. In the same context, the Wall Street Journal revealed that Saudi Arabia is in the process of supplying the Syrian opposition with anti-aircraft missiles.
Most important of all is the fact that British newspapers reported on Sunday a US-UK plan to send Special Forces to fight the jihadi groups inside Syria as it did in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Jordan is facing enormous pressure to play a very dangerous role, as “heating up” the southern front means that fighters and weapons will cross its borders. Sending American and British Special Forces to fight the jihadist groups means the same thing; Jordan will become a key launching pad for possible military action against Syria.
Jordan’s national debt has reached $20 billion and the budget deficit is estimated at $3 billion. Moreover, the Syrian refugee crisis is escalating (one million refugees and counting), and the West, along with the Arab Gulf states, are conspiring to starve Jordan almost to death in order to force it to give in to their pressure.
The kingdom was able, very cleverly, to get through the Iraq invasion crisis, just as it was successful in absorbing the problems caused by Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait before that, with minimal losses. However, it may be difficult to get past the next phase of the Syrian crisis with the same ease, because Syria has always posed the most dangerous threat to Jordan’s national security and social stability. The late King Hussein stressed this bitter truth on many occasions by citing the example of the great harm done to Jordan as a consequence of the Hama massacre and his embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, which saw the Syrian regime taking retaliatory action against Jordan.
The coming days will be hard for Jordan with two major headaches: Syria and Israel, both aggravated by the US. I do not believe that Jordan has the capacity to alleviate the pain, let alone eliminate it. The kingdom finds itself between a rock and hard place, with the American framework to “solve” the Arabs’ number one issue, Palestine, on one side, and the return of the Syrian crisis to square one, the military option, on the other. Jordan is in a minefield and miracle cures appear to be in short supply.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Alarab Alyawm on 17 February, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.