By Barry Rubin
Here’s an old joke that applies to the contemporary Middle East. The Lone Ranger was a Western lawman who chased bad guys with his friend, a Native American named Tonto. One day, they were surrounded by dozens of Native American warriors.
The Lone Ranger turned to Tonto and said, “Don’t worry! We can fight them off.”
Tonto replied, “What do you mean `we,’ Paleface?”
Or, in other words, if your friend decides he can’t rely on you to get him out of a jam he can always change sides.
Which brings us to Jordan. Let me begin by telling a story I’ve never recounted before. The year is 1990, after Iraq has invaded and seized Kuwait. I’m sitting in a meeting with some high-ranking Jordanian military officers and officials (don’t ask, it’s a long story).
Someone asks what they would do if Iraq’s army appeared on Jordan’s border and Saddam Hussein asked safe passage to attack Israel. Before responding, the highest-ranking Jordanian there leaned over to the man sitting next to him and whispered in Arabic, “Of course, we’d fight them!”
At the time, of course, the Jordanians knew they could depend on their superpower ally, indeed the only country of that type in the world, the United States.
In 2003, of course, Saddam was overthrown. From Jordan’s standpoint, though, he was replaced by Iran as a threat. And just as the Jordanians had wanted and needed American protection from Baghdad now it required that shield to save it from Iran. We already knew this, of course, but the Wikileaks have documented that fact.
Even in 2004, King Abdallah warned Americans about the Iranian threat. According to the State Department cable, Jordanian officials called Iran an “octopus” whose tentacles “reach out insidiously to manipulate, foment, and undermine the best-laid plans of the West and regional moderates.”
According to the Jordanian government, Iran’s “tentacles,” its allies in seizing control of the region and putting into power revolutionary Islamism, are Qatar, Syria, Hizballah, Hamas, and Shia Muslims in Iraq.
Now, however, the king is singing a different tune. In fact, he has just accepted an invitation from Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad to go to Tehran. It is “imperative,” says the king, “to undertake practical steps for improving Jordanian-Iranian relations.”
Why is it that suddenly the king finds this to be so imperative? Because Iran is getting stronger—and may soon have nuclear weapons—and he can’t depend on the United States to protect him. This is one more signal about how “regional moderates” feel about the current situation.
President Barack Obama thinks he’s being nice to “Arabs” and “Muslims.” In fact, he’s being mean to America’s friends. And they will do whatever is necessary to save themselves. If the United States cannot or will not protect them, they find it “imperative” to get in good with its enemies.
Barry Rubin is director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA) Journal. His latest books are Lebanon: Liberation, Conflict, and Crisis (Palgrave Macmillan), Conflict and Insurgency in the Contemporary Middle Eastand editor of the (seventh edition) (Viking-Penguin), The Israel-Arab Reader the paperback edition of The Truth About Syria(Palgrave-Macmillan), A Chronological History of Terrorism (Sharpe), and The Long War for Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East (Wiley).