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.
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