US failure in ‘having it both ways’ in Middle East demonstrates unappealing ‘leadership’
Published: Jan 27, 2024 07:20 PM
Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

The US has shown a biased approach to dealing with the Palestine-Israel conflict, and its failure to address the symptoms of the Red Sea crisis led to the current stalemate in the region. Against this backdrop, it wants to prove its leadership to the world, but it can lead nobody through the way it presents now.

A New York Times opinion piece on Friday claimed that regarding the ongoing Red Sea crisis, "Beijing is playing a cynical game, free-riding on the same American power that it holds in contempt, trying to have it both ways." It clearly aimed to portray a situation in which an "irresponsible" China has to rely on the powerful US in order to safeguard its trade through the Red Sea.

"China's seeming indifference to the Red Sea crisis reinforces the US' role as the world's predominant power, and demonstrates that China's capabilities and strategic objectives beyond its own region remain narrow and dependent on America's global leadership," the article concluded.

However, it is exactly through the Red Sea crisis that all can see US global leadership is losing its luster. US allies are reluctant to aid Washington's efforts to build a 10-nation naval coalition to patrol the Red Sea, with only two countries - the UK and Greece - having actually deployed warships to the region. Countries like France, Italy and Spain have distanced themselves from directly participating in this coalition. This is not a good sign for a country attempting to preserve its image as a global leader.

In terms of dealing with issues with the Middle East, it seems Washington itself is increasingly out of its depth and needs more help to manage its current dilemma. Yet, its "global leadership" in this crisis lost its appeal to the world, as most countries don't back its so-called leadership that, in fact, could result in chaos, conflicts and humanitarian disasters on a greater scale in the region.

Recently, the US has even attempted to drag China into the Red Sea crisis by asking Beijing to urge Tehran to rein in the pro-Iran Houthi militants. On the Red Sea issue, China unquestionably supports all efforts that are conducive to peace in the region. It is trying to put out the fire by doing what it needs to do within the reach of its influence. But the resolution to the problems in the Middle East requires combining the strength of many if not all members of the global community. As the US fans the flames and seeks to escalate the conflict, the outlook for a resolution to the Middle East issues is likely to continue to dim.

Washington needs to see the key to the loss of its appeal as a global leader lies in its desire to "have it both ways": It wants to side with its ally Israel in the Gaza conflict and solve the Red Sea crisis simultaneously, which is an untenable position, experts told the Global Times.

Since the Red Sea crisis began to unfold, the US has cut it off from the Gaza conflict. But in a way, it detracts from the essence and context of the ongoing circumstances. Niu Xinchun, a research fellow at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, told the Global Times that the Red Sea crisis was caused by the Gaza conflict, since the Houthis wanted to exert pressure on Israel.

"It is believed that the root cause of the problem is still the Gaza conflict, in which the US and Israel bear an important responsibility," said the Chinese expert.

As the world's No.1 maritime power, Washington believes that its military actions is working to safeguard the freedom of navigation that the Houthis are undermining. But in reality, what Washington really wants is to protect the shipping, especially that of weapons, to Israel. In that sense, the US is still adding fuel to the fire in the region.

Moreover, after the US began its military operations in the Red Sea, especially after the attacks on the Houthis, the crisis has only become more acute. This proves that the US can't solve the problem by launching forceful strikes, but instead it is intensifying it.

What the US refers to as global leadership is actually global hegemony that has only worsened global insecurity. It is the root cause of turmoil and conflict around the world, including those in the Middle East. But the affairs in the region should be governed by regional countries, not by Washington. It is hoped that US global hegemony will soon come to an end not only in the Middle East, but also across the globe.

The author is a reporter with the Global Times. xiawenxin@globalitmes.com.cn