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Is the Middle East the Transatlantic Achilles’ Heel?

March 18, 2019
2 min read
Editor's Note: This memo is part of a larger collection, POMEPS Studies 34: Shifting Global Politics and the Middle East.

Editor's Note: This memo is part of a larger collection, POMEPS Studies 34: Shifting Global Politics and the Middle East. All pieces from this collection are available here.

The transatlantic relationship has suffered two large fallouts in the last two decades triggered by divergences over Middle Eastern policy issues: the U.S. invasion of Iraq (2003) and the US withdrawal from the Joint and Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) with Iran (2018). The Iraq war drove a deep wedge through Europe, while the United States considered European participation in the military operation as desirable but dispensable. In 2018, by contrast, an interest-led, united European front in favor of the JCPOA prevents Washington from unfolding its economic warfare against Iran to full effect. But while the European consensus on the JCPOA appears solid, EU member states display considerable nuance on other Middle Eastern policy dossiers.

The Trump administration’s aggressive rhetoric creates the impression that Europe and the United States no longer want the same things in the Middle East. As Brussels and Washington steer towards a head-on confrontation on trade, for the first time since the Suez crisis, Europe and the United States are actively trying to undermine each other in a region that is of core geopolitical interest to both. The return of Russia to the Middle East has further boosted the region’s geopolitical significance by linking up the two big arches of crisis, from Morocco to Pakistan and from Eastern Europe to Russia, placing the Middle East at the conjunction of both. Transatlantic policy divergences are not new, but the current tectonic shifts in global political order and the Trump administration’s hostility towards multilateral institutions poses an unusually sharp challenge to a decades long strategic alliance.

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