Who decides in the Middle East?

News item:

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said in a Tehran conference Saturday that whoever controls the Middle East controls the world, the semi-official Fars News Agency reported.

In a speech during a conference marking 30 years to the Islamic Revolution, Ahamdinejad reportedly implied that Iran is the top power in the Middle East. “Now the question is who has the last say in the Middle East? Well, of course, the answer is clear to every one,” Ahamdinejad said.

Before WWII, the answer was ‘Britain’. And from 1945 until Barack Obama, the answer has been ‘the US’. But in his Cairo speech, Obama more or less announced that the US, like Britain before it, was withdrawing from the region. And his inability or lack of will to resist Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons guarantees that Ahmadinejad will soon have the answer he desires.

OK, you can blame the bungled US reaction to 9/11, which included an unnecessary and hugely expensive war and a remarkably stupid followup to a military victory if you want to pin it on the Bush Administration, but shouldn’t Obama have at least made an effort to turn things around before slinking away?

It’s not such a long story. The US cultivated — indeed, armed and supported — Saddam Hussein as a counter to Iran. To a certain extent this served the interest of the Saudi regime, which, with its effective lobby and  the help of supportive oil interests, has had an inordinate influence on US policy since the 1930’s. When Saddam got too big for his britches, invaded Kuwait and threatened Saudi Arabia, Bush I slapped him down — but not hard enough to remove him.

With the Bush II Administration, everything changed. Bush II crushed Saddam’s military and replaced his regime with… nothing. Iran stepped in, and when US troops leave, there is no doubt that ‘independent’ Iraq will become an Iranian satellite.

Lebanon is also losing its last vestige of independence, as Iran’s proxy Hizballah consolidates its hold on that unfortunate nation. Here the fault is shared with Israel, which was given a green light in 2006 by the US and Saudi Arabia to crush Hizballah but failed to do so.

Syria has thrown in its lot with Iran, in a mutually advantageous deal to supply Hizballah, threaten Israel and exploit Lebanon.Turkey under Erdoğan has been moving closer to Iran and Syria and distancing itself from Israel.

This leaves the conservative Arab regimes of Saudi Arabia and Egypt in a precarious position, facing Islamist subversion from within (encouraged by Iran) as well as the direct threat from Iranian nukes. The Mubarak regime is particularly unstable, with no clear successor waiting in the wings.

Israel is a remaining island of pro-Western power in the region, but it will soon be fighting Hizballah and Syria in the north and Hamas in the south — all Iranian proxies of course  (yes, I am convinced that war is not far away).

Is it likely that Obama will reverse direction, support Israel in its struggle with Iran’s proxies, and do whatever is needed to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons? So far there’s no reason to think so. The administration’s policy until now has been to pressure Israel to make concessions to the Palestinians and to keep missing deadlines for applying sanctions to Iran.

The Iranian opposition might be a ray of hope, but even if it succeeds in overthrowing the regime — a long shot, given the repressive tactics that are being employed against it — there’s no reason to assume that it will not pursue at least some of the geopolitical goals of the present regime.

Today it can be said that we are right at one of those times that future historians will write about as important turning points: the American withdrawal from the Middle East.

No wonder Ahmadinejad is confident about the answer to his question.

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5 Responses to “Who decides in the Middle East?”

  1. Shalom Freedman says:

    I am not sure I wholly agree here. Will the U.S. simply walk away from an Iranian threat to Saudi Arabia? Will it abandon the Straits of Hormuz? Can it afford to simply look the other way should Iran declare that it is a nuclear power?
    I agree the U.S. has acted, and is acting unwisely. It is apparently not really doing anything of significance to stop the Mullah regime from getting nuclear weapons. Its crazy even- handedness between terrorists who hate it and the one Democracy in the Middle East is strange indeed. But it still has the military capability to reach any point it needs to and do devastating damage.
    There is after all the possibility that the Iranians in their foolish arrogance will push a bit too far.

  2. Grandma says:

    You paint a bleak picture. We will agree to disagree that going into Iraq was a mistake. I hate to think where Saddam’s nuclear capabilites would be today if we had not gone in to try to stop it. With all the poverty in N. Korea and all the sanctions against that country, Pyongyang was still able to develop his weaponry.
    I do agree with you on Obama’s wrongway thinking. This making nicey, nice has gotten us nowhere. As you say, it has given the crazed dictators more confidence. Obama has handed Ahmadinejad a green light in his State of the Union Address; we will withdraw the troops from Iraq in August. Beware the month of August!
    I never thought I would see the day when WE, the United States of America, would be depending on Israel to keep US safe instead of the other way around. I can only hope that behind closed doors, Netanyahu and Obama are true allys and what we read in the press is only a tactical ploy. Well, I can hope, can’t I?

  3. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I believe that Saddam could have been controlled, or forced out in favor of another Sunni. By wrecking the infrastructure, excluding all former Baathists and handing what was left of the country to the Shiites, we opened the door to Iran. Apparently the Bush Administration thought that a democratic Iraq that would align with the West would arise from the ashes — but there’s no precedent for this in the Arab world!

  4. Robman says:

    I’m with Grandma again. I don’t think Iraq was necessarily a mistake, though it wound up being so ineptly executed after the initial victory that it is easy to argue that in hindsight. Saddam was determined to make trouble for us, and left alone – like North Korea – he surely would have. If Obama leaves Iraq as a “present” to Iran, that is worse than having done nothing, but that cannot be pinned on Bush (and I was never a big fan of his, don’t get me wrong)/

    The real mistake with Iraq goes back to 1991, and here I am at least willing to meet Vic halfway. By 2003, I don’t think we could have forced Saddam out in favor of another Sunni…but in 1991, if we had pursued the ground offensive for another four days as Schwartzkopf and others wanted to, we would have destroyed the Republican Guard, Saddam would have been left naked to his angry generals, and we might have got the outcome Vic wanted (i.e., a “Saddam lite” we might have been able to work with).

    I strongly disagree with Vic, however, with respect to his assertion that Israel was given the “green light” to crush Hezbollah in 2006. I distinctly remember Condi Rice publicly admonishing Israel “NO GROUND INVASION” the very weekend the shooting started. I remember well the footage of all the IDF tanks and APCs staged at the Lebanese frontier; they weren’t hanging around there on a camping trip, that is for sure. They were waiting for a “go” order that never came, precisely because of the “leash” from Washington. And then the U.S. collaborated with France in the UN to put together that ridiculous UNSCR 1701…No, I’m sorry, there was NO “green light”. All the Israeli hand-wringing and finger-pointing after the war, IMHO, was largely for show to assuage Israeli pride. It is easier from that point of view to say your own country screwed up – and admittedly, the IDF did make mistakes – than it is to admit that your fundamental national sovereignty was compromised as Israel’s was in that instance.

    We can all agree, of course, that Obama’s policies are potentially disastrous. I have little optimism on this score; he is so steeped in the idea that America is at fault for all the troubles in the world, that he seems constitutionally unable to summon the resolve to act decisively. Like most far left liberals, he also probably overestimates Israeli military capabilities, even as he does almost everything he can to undermine any consensus that might support them on the world stage.

    The only ray of hope this observer can offer at this point is that I am quite certain that Obama is something of an abberation. I have no doubt whatever that he will be soundly defeated in 2012, and his replacement will surely reassert U.S. power in the region, restore a robust relationship with Israel (well, maybe “restore” is not the right word, Bush wasn’t really that much better in real policy terms), and put A-jad in his place….if it isn’t too late by then.

    The next year will indeed be pivotal. I am not convinced Israel will stand idly by as Iran gets nukes. I don’t know if they alone can stop them in a truly perfunctory manner, but lacking other options, I expect them to try. And we better hope it works.

  5. Vic Rosenthal says:

    I don’t recall the Rice statement that Robman refers to, but I do remember that the reserves weren’t called up for some time — a ground invasion wasn’t even planned until it was too late. Prior to the war, IDF budgets and training had been cut; restocking of equipment was not done as it was used up. When ground soldiers did go in, they had obsolete maps (the air force had good ones). They were missing equipment and even short of food and water! Intelligence was poor, and when available did not reach the soldiers on the ground.
    All this was the result of two things: years of neglect — for various reasons which I won’t go into here — and the team running the show: PM Olmert, a man apparently committed to surrender as a strategy, Defense Minister Amir Peretz, a total incompetent in military matters who held his position as a result of coalition horse-trading, and Dan Halutz, Chief of Staff, an Air Force general who thought that air power alone would be adequate and who didn’t understand the kind of discipline needed in the less-technological parts of the IDF.
    There was the belief that Lebanon could be pressured to rein in Hizbullah, which it did not have the power to do.
    There was also an extreme aversion to possible Israeli casualties.
    The US did not interfere during several weeks of intensive bombing of Lebanese infrastructure; you would think that this would be a bigger problem for them than a ground action in which Israeli casualties would be higher than those of Lebanese civilians.
    Israel had weeks to do the job, and I remember agonizing every day as screwup followed screwup and people died for stupid or no reasons. Finally the US — and Olmert — decided to throw in the towel. As a final gesture of incompetence, that’s when Olmert ordered a large ground attack.
    The hand-wringing, etc. in Israel after the war was not for show — it was prompted by the revolt of the reserve soldiers who were furious that they had risked — and given — their lives as a reesult of sheer incompetence at the top.
    Here’s a good explanation of how that war was lost:
    http://www.meforum.org/1686/how-israel-bungled-the-second-lebanon-war