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Two years on from September 11

Two years on from September 11

Middle East feeling effect of “activist” US foreign policy says Otago Middle Eastern expert

The repercussions from September 11 have dramatically changed the US’s approach to foreign policy to an “almost revolutionary” level, according to a senior lecturer in Political Studies at the University of Otago.

Dr William Harris says two years on since the tragic event there have been monumental repercussions for American foreign policy and for the shape of the Middle East.

“The centre of US foreign policy has shifted to an activist, almost revolutionary posture, under the contradictory label of neo-conservatism. US readiness to be friendly with authoritarian regimes such as Saudi Arabia, while turning a blind eye to some of their more unsavory practices, has clearly cooled.”

He believes there is a growing perception by some, based on regular headlines of car bombings and factional disputes, that the United States is bogged down in an Iraqi quagmire, unwelcome and out of its depth. However, he believes it is premature to declare the war a failure in US policy terms.

“In my estimation the US and coalition forces still have time on their side, the only qualification being not Iraq, where the military problem remains overwhelmingly limited to one part of the population (a minority of the Sunni Arab minority) in one part of the country, but possible developments in the US domestic arena. Provided the coalition can bring some semblance of order to Iraq by the northern winter there is a chance that the US objective of a broad-based Iraqi Government may be achieved. Beyond that timeframe, it will get harder.

“Despite the headlines, the US still remains the best bet for Iraq’s Shiite majority and Kurds (together, 80% of the population) to have a say in ruling the country. That support is not unconditional but it will probably hold until the new year.”

The University of Otago academic believes if that happens - and the word “if” is very frequently used in forecasting Middle Eastern political developments - then things will get very interesting for those countries neighboring Iraq.

“The Americans, given their falling out with the Saudis, would like to see a stable Iraq as a key ally in a volatile region. Iran, which so far is adopting a pragmatic attitude to the changing of the guard in Baghdad, should have much less to fear than Syria, which has not shown the diplomatic dexterity it showed in the Gulf War, siding with Saddam Hussein in the recent conflict.

“The Americans will not need much incentive to take action against the Syrian regime if they feel sufficiently secure in Iraq.”

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