Editor's Note: Below is a complimentary research note written by National Security analyst General Dan Christman.To access our Macro Policy research please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Speculation runs rife on how COVID-19 is changing global diplomacy. Last month I offered thoughts on at least four key relationships: U.S.-China ("hard to overstate the downturn"); U.S.-EU ("relationship has never been worse"); Japan-South Korea ("generations-long squabbles, aggravated by COVID-19); and North America ("a positive note, with inter-capital discussions of the type missing between Washington and Brussels").
The North American "era of good feeling," by the way, was further strengthened a week ago when Washington helped bail Mexico out of a large share of its OPEC+ oil production cuts.
But one diplomatic scene not outlined earlier was the Middle East; it warrants a brief comment. Three developments, all at least indirectly related to COVID-19, appear to be shaping the future diplomatic contours of this troubled region:
- First is the renewed life being given to extremist ideology, practiced and operationalized by ISIS, al Qaeda, and a myriad of other radical off-shoots. Candidly, it's not hard to envision the explosive impact of a global pandemic on jihadist recruiters excited to swell the ranks of the "armies of the faithful." It's already clear that the ranks are rebuilding - from youth thrown onto unemployment rolls, and from the millions already displaced in refugee camps.
- Second is the eagerness of the U.S. and our NATO allies to "bring the troops home" from this region. The understandable focus now on domestic health care systems, for example, has pushed both resources and international policy attention to the back burner; U.S. Presidents and European leaders won't be leaning forward any time soon to refocus. If U.S. and NATO troops are withdrawn, the winners will be the extremists.
- Finally, in what may turn out to be a positive for long-run U.S. interests in the ME, Russia may have overplayed its hand in its oil pricing dispute with the Kingdom. Moscow had the U.S. shale industry in its sights, but as Steven Cook at the Council on Foreign Relations opined late last week, "Moscow spent years building influence in the region and lost it all playing hardball with Riyadh."
Few have grown rich accurately forecasting the future of the Middle East. But as many analysts are now highlighting, COVID-19 is merely accelerating global trends apparent before the outbreak. The (continuing) attractiveness of the jihadist narrative, and the eagerness of western powers to disengage from the ME, are but two of the trends being given a "pandemic push."
And Russia? Its president decided to challenge an aggressive Saudi Crown Prince, who in all likelihood will run the Kingdom for the next 50 years. Putin's two-year bromance with Mohammed bin Salman is now over; the collapse in oil prices last week changes this not at all.
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ABOUT LIEUTENANT GENERAL DAN CHRISTMAN
LTG Dan Christman, USA, Ret. serves as Hedgeye Potomac Research’s Senior National Security Analyst, providing deep insight into international affairs and national security. Most recently, Dan provided strategic leadership on international issues affecting the business community for organizations such as the US Chamber of Commerce. Dan’s long history of leadership includes his service as a United States Army lieutenant general and former Superintendent of the United States Military Academy. He served in highly visible and strategically important positions and four times was awarded the Defense Distinguished Service Medal, the nation's highest peacetime service award.
He also served for two years as assistant to the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, during which time he traveled with and advised Secretary of State Warren Christopher. He was centrally involved during this period with negotiations between Israel and Syria as a member of the Secretary's Middle East Peace Team. Further, Christman represented the United States as a member of NATO's Military Committee in Brussels, Belgium.
Graduating first in his class from West Point, Christman also received MPA and MSE degrees in public affairs and civil engineering from Princeton University and graduated with honors from The George Washington University Law School. He is a decorated combat veteran of Southeast Asia, where he commanded a company in the 101st Airborne Division in 1969.