American power is on the decline and nowhere is this more evident than in the Middle East today. The paradox is out there for all the world to see: as revolutions in the name of democracy flourish across the world, the globe's traditional beacon of hope and freedom has been left completely out of this truly historic period. Americans have fought to end famines in Somalia, shed blood in the Balkans to stop anti-Muslim genocides, and have been the single largest donors of aid to the Palestinian people, yet despite these and many more accomplishments, the United States is sorely losing its war for the hearts and minds of the Arab and Muslim worlds.
For a plethora of reasons, the United States is increasingly seen by Middle Easterners as a hypocritical, imperialistic power, only out for its own interests. There are a number of reasons for this anti-American sentiment in the region: America's longstanding alliance with autocratic regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Egypt, its violent takeovers of Iraq and Afghanistan, its failure to sufficiently explain or defend its support for Israel, and its inability to speak out until the very last minute in support of the popular uprisings of the Arab world. This passiveness on the part of the United States is dangerous not just for its foreign policy in general but for its superpower status as a whole. America is too often finding itself playing catch up in critical areas where it should be taking the lead.
Nobody recognizes this more than the Iranians, who along with the Chinese and Russians are making every effort to create inroads in the region. But while the Chinese and Russians are doing so namely on the economic front, the Iranians are conducting a multipronged attack. Be it their backing for anti-American insurgents in Afghanistan, their support for Turkey's hardening relationship with the west, their financial and military aid to Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in the Palestinian Territories, or their support for uprisings against US-allied countries such as Bahrain--home to the US Navy's Fifth Fleet--the Iranians are quite literally muddying America's waters all over the region.
While these facts alone should be enough for the United States to make more of a concerted effort to push back, the Iranians are also steadily bringing the fight to America's backyard. A WikiLeaks report confirmed that back in 2009 Iran attempted to carry out an assassination on American soil. Iran has also been increasingly active in terrorism, arms trafficking, and other illicit activities in Latin America--most notably in Venezuela.
None of this has been lost on American allies and adversaries - particularly in the Arab world. The fact that the United States wavered and ultimately dropped its longstanding support for the Mubarak regime was a frightening wakeup call for the Saudi monarchy - a country of immeasurable import to US foreign policy. No wonder then, that when the Iranian Navy recently made its foray through the Suez Canal and into the Mediterranean Sea for the first time since the fall of the Shah in 1979, it was their traditional archenemy, Saudi Arabia, which granted them permission to dock in the city of Jeddah along the way. The Saudis were sending a clear message to the US government that if they must, the will seek friends elsewhere.
What the United States lacks right now is not just a successful foreign policy - it needs any real policy at all. Be it the war in Afghanistan, the troubling relations with Pakistan, the Arab-Israeli peace process, or the current conflict in Libya, the United States is increasingly looking like a duck out of water. The Iranians, Koreans, Pakistanis, Arabs, Israelis, and Europeans are all too aware of this reality. If the United States does not act fast to shore up its reputation in the Middle East and around the world, it will soon be worrying about a lot more than just its reputation. It will find itself surrounded by states no longer willing to put their faith in American power, and who will turn to other camps for the support they desire.