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Revisiting US-Jordan relations

Nov 21,2021 - Last updated at Nov 21,2021

Despite the fact that 83 per cent of Jordanians are “very unsatisfied” with the way in which the USA handles the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, an overwhelming majority described political relations with US as very good (68 per cent) and somewhat good (26 per cent). Moreover, when asked in an open-ended question who is the closest ally of Jordan, the US topped the list and when asked which country should Jordan cooperate with more in the future, the US shared the top spot with the Saudi Arabia. Furthermore, when asked which non-Arab country Jordan shares the most foreign policy interests with, 63 per cent named the US, followed by Turkey at 9 per cent. These numbers are a testimony of the complexity of a multifaceted interplay between rationality, interests and identity. 

In the emerging multi-polar global order and the ever-changing political sand dunes of the Middle East, it is always essential to tune into the “collective choice” of the people to stay the course of a meaningful policy. Today, the hegemony of the US in the Middle East region is challenged by international actors, such as Russia and China, and regional players, such as Iran and Turkey. Traditional allies of the US, such as Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Egypt and the EU, also diverge on a variety of issues. Cases in point are: Turkey’s air defence missile deal with Russia and the contentious issue of Israeli-Chinese relations. The rise of Japanese and Australian sea power, exemplified by their aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines deals respectively, along with the bolstering of other allies, such as India and South Korea, are attempts to “extend” the life of an ailing unipolar system guided by the United States. 

While the US and NATO are trying to maintain a unipolar global order, China is making inroads globally, and soon the least of which will be the one belt one road initiative. Within this international context and its regional extensions appear a new dynamic further integrating Israel into the region with American blessings. Examples of this integration include: new normalisation agreements with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco, as well as ideas pertaining to large-scale energy and water projects between Jordan and Israel. These continue to be crafted and negotiated. Although a majority of Jordanian public opinion (80 per cent) opposes these new agreements and older ones, there is a desire to improve relations with the US, the main backer of past and present agreements. Furthermore, in the rivalry between the US and either China or Russia, Jordanians who would like Jordan to take a position, say they would support the US; majority prefer neutrality.

Although Jordan’s relations with all parties involved in these dynamics are relatively smooth, of course to varying degrees, with the exception of Israel and Iran, a position that is also reflected by Jordanian public opinion, some observers have questioned the plausibility of having two opposing approaches to relations with the US. It boils down to interests. The US is by far the largest donor to Jordan in the past 10 years with $7,959 billion, followed by the EU and its member states $6,081 billion. Trade data (2010-2020) also suggests a similar pattern, with the EU topping the list as the largest trading partner to Jordan with $47,946 billion. This is followed by Saudi Arabia with $46,554 billion, and the US at $30,891 billion. Grants and trade are essential to understand how and why Jordanian public opinion views relations with the US and other countries in such a way interlinking interests ( the US) with identity (Saudi Arabia and Turkey) and rationality (separating US policy on Palestine-Israel from US-Jordan relations).

 

The writer is chairman of NAMA Strategic Intelligence Solutions. [email protected]

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