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WRM in WSJ: US Stuck With Middle East

The Wall Street Journal is running a WRM piece on the continuing US role in the Middle East this morning; it’s been reprinted, without the paywall, by RealClearWorld. Writes WRM:

The Middle East is on fire. As waves of populist, ethnic and religious unrest sweep the region, long-established regimes totter like ninepins, violent conflicts explode in once-quiet countries, and all the rules seem up for grabs.

The Israeli-Palestinian peace process is on life support and Iran is marching steadily toward obtaining a nuclear weapon. And even as President Obama assures us that he has Israel‘s back and ‘will not countenance’ Iran getting a nuclear weapon, as he did this week, his administration speaks about ‘leading from behind’ and of a ‘pivot toward Asia.’

 Many observers see all this as reflecting a sharp decline in American power. But the reality is more complicated and less dramatic. The reality is that the United States remains the paramount power in the region and will remain committed to it for a long time to come.

Read the whole thing.

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  • Anthony

    “…the U.S. by nature is a burden-sharing (read strategic buck-passer)….For now at least, the past looks like a good predictor for the next phase of American engagement with the Middle East.” Yes, WRM we remain an “offshore balancing power” – comes with great power security requirements, a reality since World War II.

  • Jim.

    This article makes me wish there were some intelligible strategy for US advantage to be followed in the ME. Ever since the Cold War made the Russian threat moot, trying to understand the best course there has been a misery wrapped in an enema.

    Even our oil dependence on the region doesn’t provide a great guide; the best approach there is to stop being dependent. A push for democracy is laudable, but we saw how that worked out. That, and the fact that the biggest monarchy in the region is someone we have to be pals with. Not much credibility for us, then.

    I disagree with Mead’s assessment that history necessarily shows that disunity would follow a Persian defeat. The chance of a new Ottoman Empire, or a new Pan-Arabism, or a new Pan-Islamism (perhaps in the form of an internationally empowered Muslim Brotherhood) could be higher than anyone expects, particularly if the Saudis cooperate financially.

    In the meantime, we can all give it some thought; but the chances of anything coming up are not high.

  • Luke Lea

    If your grandmother doesn’t mind my saying so, darn, you’re good. I especially liked the two early graphs summarizing our interests in the region and the need for multi-lateral cooperation.

  • David Jett

    I like your assesment. I believe our riding Sadam Hussein from the picture gave Iran a large boost toward hegemony of the region. What was our thinking?Had we gotten too involved in their affairs protecting the Kurds?

  • Externality

    At the same time that American elites call for attacks on Syria and Iran, and defend their working with NATO to attack Libya, the American people are saying something very different.

    From Rasmussen Polls:

    With violence escalating in Syria, few U.S. voters believe a change in the government there would be bad for America or Israel, but most continue to think the United States should not get involved.

    The latest Rasmussen Reports national telephone survey of Likely U.S. Voters shows that only 19% believe the United States should get more directly involved in the Syrian crisis. That’s up from 12% last August and nine percent (9%) in May. However, 56% say the United States should leave the situation in Syria alone. Twenty-five percent (25%) are undecided. Opposition to increased U.S. involvement in Syria is down from 66% last August. (emphasis added)

    There is no support among the American people for the idea of starting a war, intervention, or time-limited kinetic military action in Syria. (As Rasmussen traditionally skews to the right, 19% is likely an overestimate of the support level.) Nor is the attack on Libya, the Iraq war, or our continued presence in Afghanistan popular. Americans are tired of seeing their children maimed and killed, their Medicare cut, and their infrastructure crumble so that we can fight wars to help people who hate us.

    This variance between the American people and their ruling class is quickly reducing American “power” to that of a paper tiger. Middle Eastern rulers understand, even if the American ruling class do not, that there is no support among the American people for protracted wars in the Middle East. All they would need to do is survive to disperse their forces, survive the initial onslaught, and play rope-a-dope until the US tires and US voters (democratically) effect “regime change” at home. It is time that the American ruling class accepted that and stopped telling the planet how to behave.

  • J R Yankovic

    From where I stand, easily one of the finest pieces Prof Mead has written on foreign policy in general, and on Middle East policy in particular. At least he’s managed to persuade this small segment of the choir. One small point though:

    “. . . Given its global responsibilities and the multitude of issues in which it is concerned, the U.S. by nature is a burden-sharing rather than a limelight-hogging power. It prefers to work with allies and partners, preferably regional partners.”

    I think this has been broadly true in the past and needs to become even more consistently true in the future. But my hunch is that, given the perennially “intractable” complexity of the region, we’ll be needing all the help (not to mention insight, input, etc) we can get, even from extra-regional players. And in particular those who are experienced and more or less likeminded (Britain, France, perhaps eventually Germany?). Sometimes three, or even four, heads are better than one.

  • J R Yankovic

    “I disagree with Mead’s assessment that history necessarily shows that disunity would follow a Persian defeat. The chance of a new Ottoman Empire, or a new Pan-Arabism, or a new Pan-Islamism (perhaps in the form of an internationally empowered Muslim Brotherhood) could be higher than anyone expects, particularly if the Saudis cooperate financially.”

    BTW, what Jim. so ably describes are some utterly hideous scenarios – which, unfortunately, doesn’t make them any more UNlikely to happen. (What is it about SUNNI ARAB Middle Easterners in particular? Always lusting for pan-solutions that are provenly useless in building any viable political order, and which only succeed in further impoverishing, radicalizing and making miserable both oppressors and oppressed.)

    The 3rd possibility – that of Pan-Islamania – is especially awful. I can’t imagine how anything resembling a pan-Sunni Islamic megastate (of whatever size or shade) won’t result in yet further isolation and even massive persecution of Shiites. Which I think can only be most unfortunate for the region as a whole in the long term. Certainly if we take as indicators the behavior of Sistani’s majority Shiite followers in Iraq, along with broader longterm CULTURAL and demographic trends among the Iranian people, it is by no means clear that Shiites are less capable of political moderation than Sunnis, or more prone to anti-American hysteria (just don’t let them get anywhere near Israel). It seems to me, OTOH, if we want to see a radicalized and aggressive Islam became a major force for instability in Central Asia and points beyond (which “frontierization” of the region – let’s face it – can also be a splendid opportunity for deeper commercial penetration and exploitation by Germans, Chinese, etc), then by all means let’s encourage a ferociously anti-Shiite Sunni coalition or superstate or whatever to form, under the aegis of those ever-reasonable and moderate (besides being brilliantly opportunistic) Saudis. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to hope WRM’s predictions are right and not Jim.’s.

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