Undoubtedly, 2023 has been a rather difficult year for the West, from Gaza to Ukraine and back to the African Sahel. The West’s geopolitical objectives and overall influence on the global stage are diminishing, if not in disarray.
In the Middle East, the West, particularly the United States, wanted to keep the region as their backyard, as it has been for a long time. Because of the Ukrainian war, their wish was to continue isolating Russia both politically and economically. The US was also enthusiastically pushing for and anticipating Saudi-Israeli normalisation. Another top Western agenda item is to keep China away from the region and for Iran to be as isolated and sanctioned as possible.
What happened was the exact opposite. China became the champion of reconciliation after its successful mediation between Iran and Saudi Arabia. Beijing is now more welcomed and politically credible than the US, or even the UK, which was once the policeman of the Middle East.
The policy of keeping Russia as regionally isolated as possible has all but faltered. President Putin of Russia, earlier last month, received a red carpet welcome when he visited both Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates, despite the ICC’s warrant for his arrest. He also very actively participated in the latest BRICS summit in South Africa last November, where Russia is being welcomed continent-wide while Western powers, like France, are being kicked out. Closer to home, Moscow and Tehran have been getting closer, particularly in economics and military cooperation and President Raisi of Iran visited Moscow right after Putin returned from his short tour of the Gulf region in December.
Indeed, Tehran’s nuclear program file has been frozen for some time, but Tehran has moved beyond that and appears to be making further gains both economically and in regional influence, despite being under Western sanctions and political boycott.
China, despite being the target of Western strategy in containing it, is not only widening its presence in the Middle East, but expanding economic ties with all countries. Last year, it was buying around 1.05 million barrels of Iranian oil per day, an increase of about 60 per cent of Beijing’s oil imports from Tehran since 2017. This amount will increase in 2024 as the Chinese economy expands further.
Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, an earthquake hit, with its epicentre being Israel! Hamas and its Resistance allies in the Gaza Strip launched their unprecedented and daring attack on Israel on 7 October, 2023, dealing a decisive blow to a whole set of Western strategic policies.
Firstly: the idea of a Saudi–Israeli breakthrough in relations has all but evaporated into thin air. Normalisation of ties between the two has been a long-cherished US wish and Western aspiration, too, and to see it completely off the plate of politics is a big setback, to say the least. Riyadh now says it will only normalise ties with Tel Aviv, if such a deal will include the creation of a Palestinian State—a long-held Saudi proposition widely accepted by other Arab countries and manifested in the Arab Peace Initiative which was originally a 1980s Saudi proposal. As recently as last July, at a fund-raising speech, President Biden, who personally campaigned for the normalisation process, told contributors that “There’s a rapprochement” under way between Riyadh and Tel Aviv. To see it all being frozen for, at least, the foreseeable future must be saddening, particularly for him as he is about to face voters in this year’s presidential election.
Secondly: the Hamas attack drove a wedge between most Western governments and their peoples, manifesting itself in the huge demonstrations in major cities like New York, London, Paris and many more. For the first time, the Western public opinion has turned against apartheid Israel, despite their governments’ unequivocal support for Israel—usually a given fact. President Biden, in particular, must be hugely upset.
Thirdly: the 7 October assault dethroned the entire West from the high moral ground it used to take on the Palestinian issue, based on the classic claim that Israel has the right to defend itself, even when killing thousands of Palestinians. The majority of global public opinion is not buying this distorted fact any more.
Fourthly: which not less important, the Hamas attack forced many Western governments to change their tone about the issue. We have seen Biden himself saying that Israel is “indiscriminately” bombing the Gaza Strip, while French and German leaders have called for a ceasefire. Spanish and Belgian governments went as far as openly criticising Israeli actions in the Gaza Strip. At the UN, the world has witnessed one of the rare occasions when the US and UK abstained instead of vetoing the Security Council resolution 2720 which supports a ceasefire, although in a watered down text.
The entire Western position on the genocide in Gaza has not only exposed the Western double standards, but further isolated the US, in particular, on the world stage. Furthermore, it has destroyed whatever credibility Western governments used to enjoy in the Middle East as they stood by Israel while it committed more mass murder by killing five children every hour over the last three months.
When it comes to NATO versus Russia over Ukraine, the West’s long-term strategy of defeating Moscow appears to be failing badly. Ukraine’s long anticipated summer counter-offensive has failed just as President Putin predicted, a fact later confirmed by different Western intelligence agencies. Kyiv has, so far, failed to show any substantial gains for the billions of dollars it has received from the European Union and the US, as Russia still holds some 18 per cent of Ukraine’s territory. This is making the case for supporting Ukraine a hard sell and difficult to sustain in the long run and generates fatigue on the part of the entire West—a fact predicted by the Russian President when he first launched his war on Ukraine in 2022. The Pentagon has already announced it has no more money for Ukraine, while the US Congress is still divided over the issue.
Moscow, on the other hand, and against all prediction, is holding up militarily and economically. Despite all kinds of Western imposed sanctions, the Russian economy is doing rather well. The Russian rouble rebounded to its pre-war exchange rate against the US dollar, while the economy expanded by at least 5.5 per cent, indicating that the Western imposed sets of stinging sanctions are not having the desired effect on Russia’s war efforts as was hoped.
In Africa, almost all Sahel countries are moving towards Moscow while shunning Paris and other European countries. The entire Sahel African States now have some sort of security arrangements with Russia, or working on one, despite their historical association with France. With the exception of Niger, most other Sahel countries have Russian military presence on their soil.
For 2024 to be less dreadful, the West has to adjust itself for the new geopolitical realities instead of attempting to align the world with its policies.
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The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.