…the bloodshed that has engulfed Iraq, Lebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds.
Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy. …
The Obama administration defends its record of engagement in the region, pointing to its efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and the Palestinian dispute, but acknowledges that there are limits. “It’s not in America’s interests to have troops in the middle of every conflict in the Middle East, or to be permanently involved in open-ended wars in the Middle East,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, said in an email on Saturday.
The incompetent Obama Administration is incapable of stopping the deluge of blood that is inundating the Mideast, though great power polices over the years set the stage. Obama’s withdrawal of the US from the region has opened the floodgates, but the cynical trading of weapons and technology for oil, which has now placed the most fearsome weapons of all in the hands of seventh-century cultures with the moral intelligence of chimpanzees, has been going on for decades.
The US role in all of this has been various. We supported Saddam Hussein as a countervailing power against Iran, until he got too big for his britches and went after our pals in Saudi Arabia. Then, in effect, we switched sides, smashed the chains holding Iraq together, and left — at which point it became a battlefield for Iran and radical Sunnis like the ones that attacked us on 9/11. Together with the Europeans, we removed Gadhafi from power in Libya, leaving multiple radical groups contending for power and destabilizing weapons scattered throughout the region.
We encouraged a revolt in Egypt against Hosni Mubarak, then supported the radical, anti-Western, anti-Christian and Jew-hating Muslim Brotherhood (yes, we really did that!) and got egg on our face when it was overthrown by the army, which had originally put Mubarak in power. Now the Egyptian economy is in shreds, the army is fighting Salafist rebels and repressing the Brotherhood, and no side in Egypt trusts us.
In Syria, we initially pretended that the vicious Bashar al-Assad was a ‘reformer’ and tried to get Israel to surrender the Golan heights to him. Then we provided a small amount of help to some groups opposed to him, and — after it became impossible to ignore the killing of more than 1000 Syrians with poison gas — allowed the Russians to turn this crime into a reason to keep him in power. By now, between 100,000 and 200,000 have been killed, mostly civilians, in a proxy war which pits Saudi-supported Sunni Islamist militias against Assad’s forces, Hizballah, and even Iranian Quds Force troops.
Talking about Iran, we opened a diplomatic process that provided the regime with time to move closer to nuclear weapons capability, prevented Israel from carrying out a plan to attack its atomic facilities, and began to weaken economic sanctions. In other words, we facilitated the Iranian weapons program rather than stopping it. This infuriated the Saudis, who understand that the Iranian goal is to replace them as the dominant regional power; and made it clear to Israel that it could not depend on US promises to stop Iran.
During all of this, Israel has been warily looking east at Iran, north to Hizballah’s estimated 100,000 rockets aimed at its cities (many built into civilian Lebanese homes), and south to Hamas, which hasn’t stopped its preparations for war despite its changing fortunes (the Muslim Brotherhood was its most important patron). From time to time there are attempts to transfer game-changing weapons from Syria to Hizballah, which Israel does its best to interdict without provoking a wider conflict.
The mission of John Kerry seems to be to force Israel to make an agreement with the PLO that will result in its evacuation of most of Judea and Samaria, and eastern Jerusalem. Such a deal would enormously weaken Israel strategically. At the same time, it would have no positive results, because the PLO does not want and is not able to deliver (even if it wanted to) an end to the conflict. Keep in mind that the Palestinian Arabs share the tribal, racist and overall atavistic politics of the rest of the Arab Middle East.
Given that Israel has a powerful army, good intelligence capabilities and is a Western-style democracy with close ties to the US, one would think that the US would support Israel and work together with it to avoid spreading the conflagration to yet another theater. But instead, it is trying to weaken Israel at the moment of greatest danger, and therefore encourage Iran/Hizballah and Hamas to attack it. In other words, the US is acting to increase the danger of regional war, not decrease it.
If I may engage in speculation about the motives of this policy, I will say two things: 1) it does not represent a consistent strategy, but is a series of ad hoc responses to perceived crises. And 2), it is based on fear.
Today the policy has become almost entirely pro-Iranian (in the past, it was mostly pro-Saudi). This is because the Obama Administration is presently held hostage by Iran. Despite the US’s ability to deploy massive amounts of force, the administration feels constrained by political and economic considerations against using it. It is also deterred by the ability of Iran, a superpower in the field of terrorism, to both strike directly at the US homeland (Hizballah has many resources in South America, and our southern border is porous) and at the world economy, which is still dependent on Middle East oil.
The Obama Administration seems to think that if it feeds the Iranian crocodile, it will be eaten last.
Technorati Tags: Middle East