Has Jordan’s romance with the United States lost its spark?

Yes, Jordan is stable; and this stability remains important for America, and others – but for how long? [photo credit: Getty Images]

A diplomatic truism of the past century is that Jordan’s stability is important to the rest of the region and beyond. Jordanian diplomacy touts the country as an asset, while links to America flourish.

Thanks to free trade agreements, the US has become the largest market for Jordanian goods, taking 20% of the kingdom’s exports, while such events as the Eager Lion annual military exercise, which returned to Jordan last month, is a US-led effort.

The relationship between America and Jordan is even vaster, extending to education and overwhelming aid funding. Though other players exist, including China in the energy sector, while the Gulf Cooperation Council countries are active in both investment as well as charity, and the EU is a major donor, Jordan’s ties to the US remain paramount.

In that regard, a key piece of conventional wisdom that must be revisited after October 7 is the thought of the late Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in the 1970s that “99% of the cards are held by America.”

Yet, that is certainly no longer the case in the region. To believe in such US hegemony, and so put all eggs in the American basket, could be dangerous, for Jordan or others.

That star-spangled banner yet waves — in Jordan

El País interviewed me in the mid-90s on Jordan’s security posture towards America, publishing the piece under my statement that “Jordan is Honduras without the bananas.”

Today, with the US trying to manage its increasingly contested presence in the region, Jordan risks becoming Estonia minus the ice skates – another small place with American military involvement.

Overall, Jordan’s stability is underpinned by financial and other help from a wide range of partners, not least of whom is the kingdom’s favourite uncle, Sam. Yet, he is changing quickly, and this cosiness may not be there forever. Yes, Jordan is stable; and this stability remains important for America, and others — but for how long?

A view of things to come may have arrived when tranquillity in normally quiet Jordan was interrupted in mid-April of this year by Iranian missiles crossing the kingdom’s skies in the direction of Israel to retaliate for its attack at the start of the month against Iran’s consulate in Damascus.

Such excitement had not come to Jordan since 1991 when Iraq hurled rockets against the Israelis through Jordan’s airspace. In both cases, nobody in the kingdom was hurt, showing again the constant involvement of Jordan in regional events that nevertheless do not directly affect it — for now.

Those rare eruptions of violence over Jordan are the exceptions proving the rule that the country is an oasis of calm because, many would add, the kingdom plays a stabilising role for the rest of the neighbourhood.

This has been the case since the country was a mandate under Britain, with the Jordanian military notably helping to put down a pro-German coup in Iraq during WWII.

On the diplomatic side, the kingdom later facilitated getting Palestinians into the early-1990s Madrid conference, among other examples of Jordan’s role.

Therefore, the argument continues, that many regional actors and outside powers somehow must chip in to support Jordan. Not least of these is Israel, especially since much of the Jordanian population is originally Palestinian with feelings of enmity to the Jewish state that have nevertheless been deftly managed.

Hard and soft dimensions of Jordanian stability

Yet, apart from military/security matters, a “softer” but also important version of stability comes via economics. The most recent proof of that for Jordan was only a few weeks ago when Moody’s agency upgraded the country’s credit rating, stating that it is underpinned by “strong international financial and technical support.”

The report also notes Jordan’s dollar peg and open capital account against an external position that relies on help from development partners, including Bretton Woods institutions. The Jordanian government once again demonstrated such a connection by signing on for a key new IMF four-year Extended Fund Facility program, which became effective in January of this year.

The problem is that such ratings refer to state finances, not directly to those of the private sector. While a healthy public purse is a source of stability, it’s not the whole picture: Moody’s itself notes problems such as Jordan’s high unemployment (especially among women and youth), which creates social pressures, including on family stability, use of drugs, etc.

Joblessness in the kingdom has soared since the late 2000s and is now at an astounding 21.4% for the first quarter of this year according to official figures. Despite much talk about what needs to be done, no solution has been found to this threat to Jordanian stability.

As an altogether different region starts to emerge from the debris of the Gaza war, Jordan will have to look again at its alignments. All on both sides of the Jordan River are victims of Western imperialism, which must end to achieve peace. So as American foreign policy returns to “splendid isolation”, and its influence in the Middle East wanes, it’s time for Jordan — to achieve true stability — to re-examine its connection with Uncle Sam and the West. 

Riad al Khouri is an independent Jordanian economist

Follow him on LinkedIn: Riad Al Khouri

Have questions or comments? Email us at: editorial-english@alaraby.co.uk

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff, or the author’s employer.

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