Henry Kissinger (Dr. Death to his many detractors) was a man who approached foreign policy with the clear-eyed realism you might associate with your average hyena. For Mr. Kissinger, the world was a rough and tough place where pragmatism and self-interest reigned. And in the world in which he operated in the 1960s and 70s, there was no rougher or tougher region than the Middle East.
“A country that demands moral perfection in its foreign policy will achieve neither perfection nor security,” the former US national security adviser and secretary of state once opined, and who could argue otherwise?
No permanent friends and no permanent enemies has long been the non-negotiable basis of a successful foreign policy, but when it comes to the Middle East, it has been the basis for actual survival given the turbulence that has held sway there far too long.
This brings us to the ongoing talks between Iran and Saudi Arabia, being conducted with the objective of normalizing relations. According to a recent CNN report, “Frustrated with what they see as the US’s waning interest in their security concerns, [Persian] Gulf Arab states have begun taking matters into their own hands of late, reaching out to rivals and enemies to fend off conflicts that can wreak havoc on their economies.”
Before we get into the substance of the talks themselves, we are obliged to make a brief detour to emphasize that rather than any “waning interest,” the true reason for Washington increasingly losing its influence and hegemony over the region revolves around its inability rather than desire. Here history leaves no doubt that the invasion and occupation of Iraq in 2003 was not the beginning of a new age of US imperial power and the reconfiguration of the region in Washington’s image, as planned, but instead the beginning of the end of the former as a consequence of military and strategic overreach.
The Battle for Syria was in truth a battle for the future of the peoples of the Arab and Muslim world, and that battle, brutal and prolonged as it most certainly, has been won not by Shia over Sunni, not by religious over secular, but by the forces of non-sectarianism over sectarianism in service to the region’s multi-confessional, ethnic, and cultural make-up.
The CNN article, referenced above, also reveals that the latest talks between Iranian officials and their Saudi counterparts marked the fifth round of such and were described as “progressive and positive.” If so, then this can only be a progressive and positive development for the entire region.
Perhaps the most significant revelations in the article are that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman and US President Joe Biden have yet to speak since Biden entered the White House in January 2021 and that the Saudi-led war in Yemen has ground to a halt against local tenacious resistance, resulting in a temporary two-month truce being agreed by each of the contending parties involved.
If true, as it appears, that the Persian Gulf Arab states, led by Riyadh, have finally awoken to the reality that Washington has been the major impediment to regional stability, security, and prosperity and that in consequence positive relations with Iran, Lebanon, and Syria are a non-negotiable condition of same, it comes as further evidence of a new multi-polar reality being forged.
This is a reality that has come about after a hard prolonged struggle against the material force and ideological conceit of an empire that was built on the basis of lies and is being systematically defeated on the basis of truth. It is a truth that cleaves to the age-old question of is/ought that has occupied philosophers since time immemorial. Ultimately, we are seeing bearing fruit resistance by China, Russia, Iran, Venezuela et al. to what “is” in the name of what “ought to be.” And what ought to be is a world in which democracy between states is established as the sine qua non of human progress, replacing that of a world in which the lack of democracy within certain states is used as justification for regime change in the name of imperialism.
If decades of enmity between Iran and Saudi Arabia gives way to a partnership rooted in respect and mutual benefit, then who, apart from the most unreconstructed and incorrigible Western ideologue or doctrinaire, could possibly argue that this is not a good thing?
Returning to Henry Kissinger, this US foreign policy mandarin who epitomized the pragmatism of realpolitik more than any other in Washington, we are reminded that “While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive.”
While Iran may have perfected the art of survival in a hostile sea, calming that sea is now a realistic possibility given the trajectory of events. Not only the current generation but future generations depend on it. As does the world.
By John Wright