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the new world disorder
Time for "Offshore Balancing" in the Middle East?

Would the U.S. be wise to play off the Middle Eastern powers against each other, much as Britain once did the European nations? Francis Fukuyama, chairman of The American Interest‘s board, and former U.S. Ambassador to Afghanistan Lt. Gen. Karl Eikenberry think so. They write in the Financial Times:

The US needs a more feasible strategy. Mr Obama could learn from England’s policy – and later Britain’s – towards the European continent over the centuries. London had no permanent friends. But whenever a single power looked set to dominate Europe, the country would throw its weight behind an opposing coalition, a strategy known as “offshore balancing”. Britain was never a land power but its navy and economic might turned the balance against would-be hegemons.

This is a role America is well suited to play. The US is in no position to end the Sunni-Shia conflict that is spreading throughout the greater Middle East. Washington lacks the tools to bring about a political settlement that would instil real democracy in Syria or good governance in Iraq. It can only hope that the fighting does not last as long as the 30 years’ war fought between Protestants and Catholics in 17th century Europe. What America can do, however, is prevent any of the really bad participants, such as Isis and the Assad regime, from winning a decisive victory. […]

Americans prefer decisive endings: the Japanese surrender on the deck of USS Missouri; the collapse of the Soviet Union. Aiming merely to contain a long and awful civil war, instead of settling it once and for all, is unappealing, not to say cynical. But it is hubris to think the US can even comprehend the root causes of this ethnic-sectarian war. When it tried using hard power in Iraq, the consequences proved worse than the original problem. Yet it can scarcely retreat from a world that is slipping out of control. Offshore balancing is a sustainable posture. What it promises, it can deliver.

We recommend you read the whole thing.

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  • Nathaniel Greene

    The US is not Great Britain and has a different history and sense of what its foreign policy should be. I just don’t understand the fascination that AI has with Francis Fukayama. He doesn’t understand the US constitution, history, or Americans, not to mention the fact that he hasn’t been right about anything yet.

  • Fat_Man

    I shall repeat myself one more time. FT is paywalled, but you can access articles without payment through Google. If you were to include with the link, the full title of the article and the by line, you would substantially ease the process of finding articles on FT through Google.

    • Damir Marusic

      We’d rather encourage our readers who are sufficiently intrigued by the content we link to—if it’s behind a paywall—to pony up and subscribe. The FT in particular is a wonderful publication, and we certainly don’t want to see them going out of business.

      Of course, most paywalls on the web today are easy to circumvent if you feel so inclined. But at the end of the day, if you feel entitled to free content, you should at minimum have to jump through a series of inconvenient hoops to get to it.

      • Fat_Man

        Gee. Thanks. Nothing like a snooty reply to a reasonable request.

        • BobSykes

          The staff and writers here at Meade’s place are among the most arrogant and ignorant people one could hope to meet. There is a special place in Dante’s Hell reserved for them.

          • Damir Marusic

            You’re certainly entitled to your opinions. But you’re not entitled to have us make your circumvention of other sites’ paywalls easier than it already is.

          • PDX_traveler

            Oh, come on. Don’t conflate telling you unpleasant verities with arrogance. You know, and we all know, the reality with the journalism business today, and pretending to be entitled to information for free wears thin.

  • Pete

    Makes sense to me.

  • Anthony

    “If there is one thing Americans should have learnt from their recent wars, it is that they do not have the wisdom, resources or staying power to dictate political outcomes…. Washington would have to reverse cuts to the defense budget, but this is inevitable anyway, given the challenges posed by Russia and China.” (Fukuyama & Eikenberry)

    Acting as an offshore balancer may not be immediate answer but deserves policy consideration where those strategies are examined.

  • Jacksonian_Libertarian

    I have been saying here all along that a strategy of “Divide and Conquer” is the best we can hope for now that Obama has abandoned the seedling of Democracy that America planted in Iraq at such great cost. Having the Jihadists focusing all their resources on killing the other Jihadists and vice a versa, is ideal and exactly what we want them to do. Jumping into this fight without any clear achievable objectives, just gives all the Jihadists a unifying enemy in the Infidel Great Satan America. But. Obama is an idiot.

    • PDX_traveler

      I’ll refrain from changing the noun in your last sentence. But. “Divide and Conquer” != offshore balancing. The latter requires you to step in at judicious time(s) to preserve the balance.

  • Duperray

    “Offshore balancing” is excellent strategy for a country not aiming to dominate and cheering stability. UK was and still is. US are not because de-facto already dominate the planet.

  • PDX_traveler

    Well, I see this as pretty much endorsing the current Administration’s approach in broad brush strokes (or perhaps vice versa – it really doesn’t matter). Speeches will paint moral visions to appease the people, actions will demonstrate the true intent. I expect the Mid-East allied nations whole-heartedly subscribe to the balancing too.

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