We have a golden opportunity to begin our departure from the Middle East
Federalist columnist Willis L. Krumholz, speaking for Middle America in an insightful article, asks, “The Fundamental Question is: Why is America Still in the Middle East?” (The Federalist Daily Briefing, January 6, 2020). His answer is; America’s newfound oil independence eliminates America’s interest in the Middle East. So, it is time to leave the Middle East.
American involvement in the Middle East formally began in 1928 with the Red Line Agreement, essentially splitting access to the oil properties of the northern Middle East (principally Iraq) between France, the United Kingdom and the United States. In 1933, the USA entered into an agreement with Saudi Arabia to form ARAMCO, a joint venture to exploit that country’s newly discovered oil fields. America’s relationship with Iran was solidified by the CIA-aided 1953 coup d’état which established the Shah of Iran as the country’s ruler. The Shah was overthrown by the current leadership of Iran in 1978, leading to the sacking of the American embassy and holding of American diplomats hostage until 1980. This was the first overtly anti-American incident in what became a long series of assaults against American interests in the Middle East, culminating in the 2001 attacks.
The 21st century wars between the Americans and Islamic terrorists which followed 2001 are familiar to most Americans.
The major stake that all Western countries have had in the Middle East for the past century has been the need for oil which has powered the economic and technological advances that became the foundation of Western civilization. Control of that resource has been a critical, life-or-death priority for these countries.
That control has been very expensive in the 21st century. Total casualties through 2018 including civilians are estimated at 500,000. US casualties alone were 7820 (including contractors and civilians) (Source: Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, Brown University, November 2018). The financial costs of these wars are estimated at $6.4 trillion – nearly 1/4 of our national debt (Krumholtz, ibid.).
This equation has undergone a radical change in the past five years with the result that the USA is now energy independent The USA has become in fact the largest energy exporting nation in the world, thanks to technological developments in the energy industry, especially rediscovery and refinement of fracking. The USA no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. The motivation which has fueled our involvement in Middle Eastern affairs since 1928 has evaporated!
Our remaining interests seem to be 1) safeguarding the security of Israel — a moral rather than a strategic obligation, and 2) the denuclearization of a very recalcitrant Iran. We have NO remaining strategic interest in Iraq. That being the case, when last week’s vote by the Iraqi parliament to prohibit the presence of foreign soldiers in their country was concluded, our answer should be “GOODBYE IRAQ!” This is a gold-plated opportunity for us to pack our soldiers and our ordinance and leave this god-forsaken country to its own devices.
Why on earth should we abandon the country where we have invested so much blood and treasure to free them from the tyranny of Saddam Hussein? In order to understand the actual peril of our continued involvement in the Middle East, it is necessary to recall that the underlying reality of the region is the war between the two dominant sects of Islam: the Sunnis and the Shia. This war had been going on for 1400 years. The course of events which has driven US policy over time has put America on the side of the Sunnis, largely because we were expelled from Iran, the leading Shia nation, and accepted by the leading Sunni country, Saudi Arabia.
We have supported the Sunnis even to the extent of recently organizing a formal alliance between the several Sunni nations and equipping and fighting their wars, especially in Iraq, Syria, and earlier in Lebanon. Since Iraq is predominantly Shia (60-70%), they will never be happy with our Sunni allies. They want us to leave. If we don’t want to get drawn into their thousand-year war with the Sunnis, we should get out while we can.
As Krumholz reminds us, Iran is bordered in the north by Afghanistan and the south by Iraq, both occupied by Americans. They are surrounded, and they will not give up as long as that situation exists. It is definitely not in our national interest to find ourselves leading the Sunnis in their ongoing war with the Shia.
What about our leverage to denuclearize crazy Iran? Today’s weaponry allows long-range warfare, as our recent sorties against Syrian and Iraqi targets has demonstrated. As long as we retain that capability, whether by land bases or sea, we have the needed leverage to protect our interests. Our withdrawal of ground troops will have to be gradual in any case, and our negotiations can be paced accordingly.
Some critics might worry that this withdrawal at this time would be interpreted by Iran and the world as the triumph of Iran in the current contest of wills. The simple explanation would be that America has always proclaimed and actually sought peace, not conquest, of iran and Iraq as well. This gesture is a concrete proof of our intentions, We will maintain our long range strike capacity and our economic sanctions as long as Iran poses a nuclear threat and we will follow up on the President’s call on NATO to take a more active part in this policy, but our motivations are truly peace and prosperity for all nations.
So, what about Israel? This is a somewhat different challenge. For the most part, our Mediterranean fleet can (and has) provided much of the needed cover. For out-of-range options, coordination with the Israelis themselves should provide the answers.
The bottom line is that America’s most basic responsibility is the strategic deployment of our forces in areas of national interest only. The lives and futures of these troops are not to be squandered recklessly on misbegotten missionary adventures of nation-building to “spread democracy’” especially to countries whose entire history and culture demonstrates their lack of receptivity to our doctrine, emancipating as it has been for us.
Column: And scores a victory against terrorism
The successful operation against Qassem Soleimani, head of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard, is a stunning blow to international terrorism and a reassertion of American might. It will also test President Trump’s Iran strategy. It is now Trump, not Ayatollah Khamenei, who has ascended a rung on the ladder of escalation by killing the military architect of Iran’s Shiite empire. For years, Iran has set the rules. It was Iran that picked the time and place of confrontation. No more.
Reciprocity has been the key to understanding Donald Trump. Whether you are a media figure or a mullah, a prime minister or a pope, he will be good to you if you are good to him. Say something mean, though, or work against his interests, and he will respond in force. It won’t be pretty. It won’t be polite. There will be fallout. But you may think twice before crossing him again.
That has been the case with Iran. President Trump has conditioned his policies on Iranian behavior. When Iran spread its malign influence, Trump acted to check it. When Iran struck, Trump hit back: never disproportionately, never definitively. He left open the possibility of negotiations. He doesn’t want to have the Greater Middle East—whether Libya, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Yemen, or Afghanistan—dominate his presidency the way it dominated those of Barack Obama and George W. Bush. America no longer needs Middle Eastern oil. Best keep the region on the back burner. Watch it so it doesn’t boil over. Do not overcommit resources to this underdeveloped, war-torn, sectarian land.
The result was reciprocal antagonism. In 2018, Trump withdrew the United States from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action negotiated by his predecessor. He began jacking up sanctions. The Iranian economy turned to shambles. This “maximum pressure” campaign of economic warfare deprived the Iranian war machine of revenue and drove a wedge between the Iranian public and the Iranian government. Trump offered the opportunity to negotiate a new agreement. Iran refused.
And began to lash out. Last June, Iran’s fingerprints were all over two oil tankers that exploded in the Persian Gulf. Trump tightened the screws. Iran downed a U.S. drone. Trump called off a military strike at the last minute and responded indirectly, with more sanctions, cyber attacks, and additional troop deployments to the region. Last September a drone fleet launched by Iranian proxies in Yemen devastated the Aramco oil facility in Abqaiq, Saudi Arabia. Trump responded as he had to previous incidents: nonviolently.
Iran slowly brought the region to a boil. First it hit boats, then drones, then the key infrastructure of a critical ally. On December 27 it went further. Members of the Kataib Hezbollah militia launched rockets at a U.S. installation near Kirkuk, Iraq. Four U.S. soldiers were wounded. An American contractor was killed.
Destroying physical objects merited economic sanctions and cyber intrusions. Ending lives required a lethal response. It arrived on December 29 when F-15s pounded five Kataib Hezbollah facilities across Iraq and Syria. At least 25 militiamen were killed. Then, when Kataib Hezbollah and other Iran-backed militias organized a mob to storm the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, setting fire to the grounds, America made a show of force and threatened severe reprisals. The angry crowd melted away.
The risk to the U.S. embassy—and the possibility of another Benghazi—must have angered Trump. “The game has changed,” Secretary of Defense Esper said hours before the assassination of Soleimani at Baghdad airport. Indeed, it has. The decades-long gray-zone conflict between Iran and the United States manifested itself in subterfuge, terrorism, technological combat, financial chicanery, and proxy forces. Throughout it all, the two sides confronted each other directly only once: in the second half of Ronald Reagan’s presidency. That is about to change.
Deterrence, says Fred Kagan of the American Enterprise Institute, is credibly holding at risk something your adversary holds dear. If the reports out of Iraq are true, President Trump has put at risk the entirety of the Iranian imperial enterprise even as his maximum pressure campaign strangles the Iranian economy and fosters domestic unrest. That will get the ayatollah’s attention. And now the United States must prepare for his answer.
The bombs over Baghdad? That was Trump calling Khamenei’s bluff. The game has changed. But it isn’t over.
by Caroline Glick • RealClearPolitics
The US has striven to achieve peaceable relations between the states of the Middle East for nearly 70 years. Yet today, US government is disparaging the burgeoning strategic ties between the Sunni Arab states and Israel.
In a briefing to a delegation of visiting Israeli diplomatic correspondents in Washington last week, a senior Obama administration official sneered that the only noticeable shift in Israel-Arab relations in recent years is that the current Egyptian government has been coordinating security issues “more closely” with Jerusalem than the previous one did.
“But we have yet to see that change materialize in the Gulf.”
If this is how the US views the state of Israel’s relations with the Arabs, then Israel should consider canceling its intelligence cooperation with the US. Because apparently, the Americans haven’t a clue what is happening in the Middle East.
First of all, to characterize the transformation of Israeli-Egyptian relations as a mere question of “more closely” coordinating on security issues is to vastly trivialize what has happened over the past two years. Continue reading
By Charles Krauthammer • The Washington Post
His secretary of defense says, “The world is exploding all over.” His attorney general says that the threat of terror “keeps me up at night.” The world bears them out. On Tuesday, American hostage Kayla Mueller is confirmed dead. On Wednesday, the U.S. evacuates its embassy in Yemen, a country cited by President Obama last September as an American success in fighting terrorism.
Yet Obama’s reaction to, shall we say, turmoil abroad has been one of alarming lassitude and passivity. Continue reading
Public support for the president’s foreign policy is waning—and he’s losing Democratic lawmakers
by William A. Galston • Wall Street Journal
In March my Brookings colleague Robert Kagan memorably observed that President Obama was giving the American people the foreign policy they wanted—and they didn’t much like it. Overseas events have only deepened public concern. A Pew Research Center survey released Aug. 28 found that only 35% of people approve of the president’s handling of the crises in Iraq and Ukraine. Only 15% think we play a more important and powerful role in the world than we did a decade ago, compared with 48% who think our role is less important. And 65% believe that we live in a world more dangerous than it was a few years ago.
The Pew study also finds compelling evidence that Americans are beginning to change their minds about what they want. The share of those who think the U.S. does too much in the world has fallen to only 39% today, from 51% in November, while the share who thinks it does too little has nearly doubled, to 31% from 17%. In the early months of the Obama presidency, only 38% thought the president was “not tough enough” on national security; today, 54% believe that—a figure that includes more than one third of all Democrats. Continue reading
by Rich Lowry • Politico Magazine
What this means, he hasn’t spelled out in great specificity. Presumably fewer beheadings. A slower pace of Western recruiting. Fewer genocidal threats against embattled minorities. A downgrading of the caliphate to a mini-state, or merely a large swath of territory in Syria and Iraq.
The evil of ISIL has stirred nearly everyone around President Obama to ringing statements of resolve. Vice President Joe Biden says, “We will follow them to the gates of hell.” Secretary of State John Kerry tweets, “ISIL must be destroyed/will be crushed.” Continue reading
by Dr. Miklos K. Radvanyi
The plight of Iraq is a true political disaster and a real human catastrophe. The fatal error of all parties involved in the the ongoing saga of Iraq since World War I had been twofold: lack of appreciation for the complex challenges rooted in the difficult conflicts and tensions among contradictory ideas, forces and situations, and ignorance for what is beyond the political, military, economic and moral powers of men and states. Moreover, no attention at all had been paid to the moral condition of the people, the political and religious leaders, and the dysfunctional nation. Finally, the existence of an almost total disconnect between the past and present, and the future of Iraq as a nation-state had resulted in a political vacuum that had enabled ruthless individuals and groups to violate repeatedly the relative stability of the status quo with impunity. Continue reading
A Saudi prince sent a harsh message to President Obama and his administration, saying White House waffling and indecision has compromised the ability of the United States to nail down a peace pact between Israel and the Palestinians.
“We’ve seen several red lines put forward by the president, which went along and became pinkish as time grew, and eventually ended up completely white,” said Prince Turki al-Faisal, the former intelligence head of Saudi Arabia, in The New York Times. “When that kind of assurance comes from a leader of a country like the United States, we expect him to stand by it. There is an issue of confidence.”
Specifically, the prince blasted Mr. Obama for reneging on promises — a habit that’s been shown by recent polls about Obamacare to plague the president with constituents in the United States, too. Continue reading
The breaking news that al Qaeda has captured Fallujah and Ramadi raises the question whether America’s sacrifices in Iraq were made in vain. It also highlights the utter inadequacy of President Obama’s Middle East policy, especially his disregard for critical regional threats.
Instead, Obama has focused on Israeli-Palestinian issues, essentially to no avail. Despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s repeated visits, including one just ended, the “peace process” has seen no significant movement.
Proponents of “peace processing” ignore this reality, asserting that the process itself has an inherent value, and that real movement comes only when deadlines loom and decision-makers realize “it’s now or never” to “take risks for peace” and achieve “a peace for the brave.” And when all else fails, peace processers say, “What have we got to lose?” Continue reading
It wasn’t that long ago that Barack Obama took America to the brink of armed conflict in Syria over its use of chemical weapons against rebels trying to topple the Assad regime. The president went as far as asking Congress for a resolution authorizing the use of military force, kicking off a debate which nearly split the country.
No one knows how Congress would have voted because before it could act, Russian President Vladimir Putin pushed Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry to one side to broker his own deal bringing the chemical weapons under international control and keeping American war planes on the ground. Continue reading
It’s hard to pinpoint just when, exactly, Barack Obama’s Syria policy fell apart. Was it in December, when Islamists humiliated U.S.-backed rebels by seizing what limited supplies America had given them? Was it back in September, when Obama telegraphed his reluctance to enforce his own “red line” after the Syrian regime used chemical weapons on its own people? Was it in the months beforehand, when the administration quietly and mysteriously failed to make good on its pledge to directly arm the rebels? Or did it collapse in August 2011, when Obama called on Syrian dictator Bashar Assad to go, only to do almost nothing to make it happen?
But collapse it has, and more than 130,000 deaths later, the White House is now pinning its hopes on a peace conference in Switzerland later this month that is being billed as the last, best hope for a negotiated solution to a conflict that has displaced a staggering 40 percent of Syria’s total population, some 23 million people, in what the United Nations says is fast becoming the worst and most expensive humanitarian catastrophe in modern history. Continue reading
The search, now 30 years old, for Iranian “moderates” goes on. Amid the enthusiasm of the latest sighting, it’s worth remembering that the highlight of the Iran-contra arms-for-hostages debacle was the secret trip to Tehran taken by Robert McFarlane, President Reagan’s former national security adviser. He brought a key-shaped cake symbolizing the new relations he was opening with the “moderates.”
We know how that ended.
Three decades later, the mirage reappears in the form of Hassan Rouhani. Strange résumé for a moderate: 35 years of unswervingly loyal service to the Islamic Republic as a close aide to Ayatollahs Khomeini and Khamenei. Moreover, Rouhani was one of only six presidential candidates, another 678 having been disqualified by the regime as ideologically unsound. That puts him in the 99th centile for fealty.
Rouhani is Khamenei’s agent but, with a smile and style, he’s now hailed as the face of Iranian moderation. Continue reading
With a single notable exception after World War I, it had always been the unique characteristic of various Turkish states that in times of great crises they lacked leaders capable of rising above the sentimental currents of public hysteria. Thus, when the currently ruling Justice and Development Party, the AKP, came to power in 2002, most Western politicians and political pundits claimed that its moderate Islamic political philosophy was more in tune with the majority’s desire than the ossified secularism of the founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Moreover, these experts also stated that the AKP demonstrated the viability of a democratic model for societies with overwhelming Muslim population. However, the protests that shook Turkey since May 31st gave the lie to the myth of moderate Islam’s noble, tolerant and peaceful opposition to modern secularism. Continue reading
In the beginning, the Hebrew Bible tells us, the universe was all “tohu wabohu,” chaos and tumult. This month the Middle East seems to be reverting to that primeval state: Iraq continues to unravel, the Syrian War grinds on with violence spreading to Lebanon and allegations of chemical attacks this week, and Egypt stands on the brink of civil war with the generals crushing the Muslim Brotherhood and street mobs torching churches. Turkey’s prime minister, once widely hailed as President Obama’s best friend in the region, blames Egypt’s violence on the Jews; pretty much everyone else blames it on the U.S.
The Obama administration had a grand strategy in the Middle East. It was well intentioned, carefully crafted and consistently pursued.
Unfortunately, it failed. Continue reading
Egypt today is a zero-sum game. We’d have preferred there be a democratic alternative. Unfortunately, there is none. The choice is binary: the country will be ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood or by the military.
Perhaps it didn’t have to be this way. Perhaps the military should have waited three years for the intensely unpopular Mohamed Morsi to be voted out of office. But Gen.Abdel Fatah al-Sissi seems to have calculated that he didn’t have three years, that by then there would be no elections — as in Gaza, where the Palestinian wing of the Brotherhood, Hamas, elected in 2006, established a one-man-one-vote-one-time dictatorship.
What’s the United States to do? Any response demands two considerations: (a) moral, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for Egypt, and (b) strategic, i.e., which outcome offers the better future for U.S. interests and those of the free world. Continue reading