A peaceful resolution to the many crises gripping the Middle East, a region teetering on the precipice of instability in the best of times, requires a steady hand at the wheel of leadership in the West. Recent international developments offer no reason for optimism.
First, Russia last month refused to renew the mandate of a United Nations panel charged with investigating Syria’s use of chemical weapons. The veto is seen as a public embarrassment for the Trump administration, which recently — and prematurely, it turns out — claimed that Moscow, under the rule of Vladimir Putin, is helping to advance U.S. goals in Syria.
Second, the Iran policy that the Trump administration announced last month, recognizing that a curb on Tehran’s nuclear ambitions will not end its other aggressive behaviors, offers no details on how the United States intends to limit the power of the fundamentalist Muslim regime and shows no evidence of an interest in playing a more active role in the affairs of other troublesome Middle East countries.
And third, the failure this week of negotiations seeking to form a new coalition in Germany threatens the viability of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s current government and makes new national elections likely. The rise of the far right, in response to Merkel’s liberal immigration asylum policies, reflects the lasting effect of the Syrian refugee crisis and puts the most stable leadership in Europe in an increasingly precarious position.
Any of these developments by themselves would constitute a cause for concern. Together, they are particularly worrisome.
The UN’s Joint Investigative Mechanism (JIM), now in its second year, has exposed excesses of both Syrian President Bashar Assad and of ISIS. By rejecting an extension of JIM’s work, Russia depicted the U.S.-backed Syrian Democratic Forces as illegal occupiers and cast into doubt President Donald Trump’s frequent pronouncements about his ability to work effectively with Putin — and hence to reach a settlement of the Middle East’s many flashpoints, the Israeli-Palestinian impasse among them.
By avowing a minimalist military role in the Middle East, the Trump administration prematurely ties its own hands and sends signals in the region of America’s lack of interest in, or capability of, actively engaging. And a volatile Germany — ironically and arguably Israel’s strongest ally in Europe — further confuses the future of the Middle East, in which Germany is a major actor.
Merkel has forcefully denounced anti-Semitism and declared German responsibility for the Final Solution. In matters of Israel’s security, she has stated, “We are certainly not neutral,” calling it “a very important matter for every German chancellor.” While parting company with Israel on such issues as support for the U.S.-brokered Iran nuclear deal and Israel’s expansion of Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Merkel has remained a strong force in efforts to bring peace to the Middle East. It may take a new election in Germany for its government to emerge with sufficient stability to make the decisions that a dangerous region requires.