The Kingdom of Jordan has made a virtue of its weakness. Ruled by a canny monarchy that manages to balance competing forces within the country and kept afloat by international aid, Jordan has always seemed fragile.
Yet, Jordan is pro-Western and a close and reliable friend of the United States (the notable exception being Jordan’s siding with Saddam Hussein in the 1991 Gulf War). Jordan and the U.S. have close military and intelligence ties. The kingdom is one of two Arab states to have a peace treaty with Israel, and it has long served to secure Israel’s eastern flank. Surrounded by more powerful neighbors, Jordan is strategically vulnerable yet a valuable buffer in a volatile neighborhood. Simply put, it is too weak to let fail.
The importance of continued stability in Jordan was reinforced by the recent visit of King Abdullah II to the U.S. to meet with President Barack Obama and other officials. The chief threat to Abdullah’s rule is the Syrian civil war, which has driven hundreds of thousands of refugees into neighboring countries, including half a million into Jordan. That influx has increased the country’s population by 10 percent. A single refugee camp has become Jordan’s fourth largest city.
Jordan is resource poor. Its official unemployment rate is 13 percent but thought by many analysts to be 25 to 30 percent, according to a congressional report. It is clear that continued strong U.S. support is vital to maintain Jordan’s stability and its pro-Western, pro-Israel stance.
A five-year deal for the U.S. to provide $660 million in annual foreign assistance to Jordan is ending and is due for renewal. Last summer, the House of Representatives passed a resolution expressing a “firm commitment to support the Government of Jordan as it faces regional challenges and works toward a more peaceful and stable Middle East.” And a section in the National Defense Authorization Act for FY2014 authorizes up to $150 million on a reimbursable basis to Jordan for security along its border with Syria.
As important as this monetary and moral support is in its own merit, it is also an indication that the U.S. is not staging a strategic withdrawal from the Middle East. We encourage that continued involvement and the exercise of a consistent policy with clear objectives in the region.
The key word here is “consistency.” We need that consistency with regard to Israel, we need it in Jordan, and we need it to manage events in Egypt. We needed it, but failed, with regard to Syria, and a consistent policy is necessary in order to stay the course in Iran. Far from making the Middle East a lower priority, the United States will need to be engaged there — with adroit diplomacy — for the foreseeable future.