Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Is Jordan Forever Destined to Play Second Fiddle?

Is Jordan Forever Destined to Play Second Fiddle?

Jordan has never been the star, the key player, or the pivot around which some major international deal has been centered. Its history is mostly devoid of spectacular developments, though some argument can be made for the Black September events or the Jordanian-Israeli Peace depending on who you ask. It is the friend of many, but the number one, closest ally of none. Yet, the Kingdom remains hopeful and ever ambitious that one day it will indeed take center stage.

The Arab uprisings – which began with the self-immolation of Mohamed Bouazizi in Sidi Bouzid, continued on seemingly triumphant with the fall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Hosni Mubarak, began to spiral with the unraveling of Yemen, and has now deteriorated into a full tailspin in the interminable battle for Assad’s survival – has yet to touch the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan in a way that irrevocably alters its monarchic character. Yes, there have been reform to little avail; yes, the bedrock of monarchic support that was the tribal elites is starting to crack; yes, there have even been outspoken calls for the King’s ouster and protest chants comparing the Jordanian monarch to Muammar al-Qaddafi, Ben Ali, and Bashar al-Assad; and yet, King Abdullah II and Jordan’s monarchic system persist. Some two and a half years after the start of the so-called Arab Spring, Jordan just isn’t all that different. So, why not keep on trying to make a lasting mark, and become one of the big boys?

Jordan thought it had found its first big opportunity with the fall of Mubarak. Egypt – the self-proclaimed umm al-dunya – had for some decades been the United States’ go-to Arab partner when it came to most things Middle Eastern. Whether it was peace talks between the Israelis and the Palestinians, joint terrorism strategy in the region, or even trade, Washington relied on the Egyptians first – though it was always happy to receive secondary backing from the Jordanians or include the Hashemites in the plans when advantageous. However, when Mubarak fell, and more importantly, when Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood rose, Jordan felt primed to fill the void. The reality turned out to be more of the same. While no other country has replaced Egypt and the relationship it enjoyed with the U.S., American-Jordanian relations remain mostly unchanged. The current administration continues to work closely with Jordan, frequently meeting to discuss “the very urgent issues impacting that country, and the rest of the world,” but the practical relationship is quite as it was.

Jordan’s second opportunity might have been the Syrian crisis, being that King Abdullah has known the Assad family his entire life, having come to understand his northern neighbor in that time, and is dealing with a serious refugee influx the likes of which reach over 500,000 to date. However, once again, Jordan does not seem to be critical to any future solution. Firstly, King Abdullah has only mildly spoken out against Assad, otherwise remaining pretty neutral in a bid to safeguard Jordan’s economic stakes and maintain its status with its Gulf friends. Secondly, when it comes to arming the warring factions, and affecting the outcome in equally concrete ways, it seems that Jordan cannot quite hang with the likes of Russia and the United States – not to mention Turkey, Qatar, and other influential countries who are trying to influence the conflict. It is, in this case, out of its league and out of its budget.

Jordan’s third opportunity – or so it imagines – is the recent attempt to begin thinking about maybe potentially reviving the Arab Peace Initiative (wishy washiness intentional). Since he took the throne, King Abdullah has felt that it is his personal responsibility to carry on his father’s efforts toward peace between the Palestinians and Israelis, as he detailed in his 2011 book, Our Last Best Chance: The Pursuit of Peace in a Time of Peril. There are whispers that parties are willing to move beyond the 2002 Initiative to include minor land swaps to the parties’ mutual satisfaction. The Israeli public is apparently more amenable to the idea these days, with 69% of the public willing to support Netanyahu if he agreed to the API according to a recent Israel Peace Initiative-commissioned opinion poll. And perhaps more importantly, the United States seems to be throwing its weight behind reviving a peace process by sending Secretary of State John Kerry around the Middle East to meet with all the players involved. However, as was recently argued, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are the main two players competing to bring this deal to fruition, leaving little room for Jordan to do much except emphatically stress in meeting after meeting that the two-state solution is the only viable solution to end the conflict.

In short, it is likely that in the foreseeable future, Jordan is in fact going to stick to playing second fiddle. But it’s not all bad, its location, history, and favorable relations with its neighbors and the West have allowed it to play a role nonetheless.