Wednesday, March 23, 2016

the most violent gene-pools in action...,

chasfreeman |   American policies in the Middle East have produced a mess in which we are estranged from all the key actors – Arab, Iranian, Israeli, and Turkish – and on a different page than the Russians.  The state of our relations with the region is symbolized by the sight of U.S. diplomats cowering behind barriers surrounding fortress embassies that resemble nothing so much as modern-day Crusader castles.  Diplomacy is all but impossible when we must ask host governments to protect our diplomats from their people by placing our embassies under perpetual siege by police.  The fact that other countries don’t have to do this is suggestive of something.  After so many years, it should be obvious that bombing, drone warfare, and commandos just make things worse.  It is time for Americans to end our wars and support for the wars of others in the Middle East and to try something else.

What might that be?  Well, we might start by recognizing a few unpalatable realities.  In the Levant, the world brought into being by Messrs. Sykes and Picot has ended.  All of our bombers and all of our men can’t put Humpty Dumpty together again.  We and our friends in the region are going to have to accept the rise of new states within changed borders.  Where we cannot fix things, we must at least do no harm.

The Arabs have made it clear that they recognize the reality of Israel’s presence in their midst and do not expect it to disappear.  It’s clear that, if Israel did indeed disappear, this would be because it did itself in, not because it was militarily overwhelmed.  Israel has had a free ride on the United States for forty years.  It is in denial about the ultimate consequences for it of moral self-destruction, political self-compression, and rising personal insecurity.  Israelis will not address these perils without shock treatment.  They need to make short-term political sacrifices to secure domestic tranquility and well-being over the long term.

If Americans could muster the political will, we could easily administer the requisite tough love to Israel through selective suspensions of the unconditional UN vetoes, aid, and tax subsidies that make counterproductive behavior by the Jewish state cost-free.  If we are politically unable to cease the enablement and creation of moral hazard for Israel, we should consider how best to minimize the damage to ourselves as Israel self-destructs.  We should not support or appear to support Israeli policies we consider misguided.

Similarly, America should restructure its relationship with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Arabs to be more two-sidedly collaborative.  Like Israel, these countries have effectively declared their independence from us.  Their continued dependence on us does not oblige us to support their policies.  When these policies do not serve American purposes we should withhold our backing for them.

Americans neither understand nor have any interest in involving ourselves in theological rivalries between Sunnis and Shiites.  When it is in our interest to do so, we should feel free to cooperate with Iran, as we do with Israel, rather than automatically deferring to Gulf Arab (or Israeli) objections.  Our policies in Syria are the palsied offspring of an unholy marriage of convenience between liberal interventionists and Gulf Arab rulers obsessed with deposing Bashar al-Assad, establishing Sunni dominance in Syria, and breaking Syria’s alliance with Iran.

But, with the exception of the Iranian angle, would these outcomes necessarily serve U.S. interests?  Is the unconditional support of the Gulf Arabs for military dictatorship in Egypt likely to end well?  Is the perpetuation of the fighting in Yemen something we favor?  It is time to restructure U.S. relations with the Gulf Cooperation Council countries and Iran to reflect the challenges of the post-Sykes-Picot and Cold War eras, the need for mutual accommodation between Arabs and Persians, and the rise of Daesh.

Greater flexibility in the U.S. relationship with the Gulf Arabs as well as with Iran is essential to end our cold war with Iran and our hot wars elsewhere in the region.  It is necessary to restore a basis for a balance of power in the Persian Gulf that can relieve us of the burden of permanently garrisoning it.  We should be looking to internationalize the burden of assuring security of access to energy supplies and freedom of navigation in the region.  We should be using the United Nations to forge a coalition of great powers and Muslim states to contain and crush Daesh, criminalize terrorism, and build effective international structures to deal with it.

It is time to cut a knot or two in the Middle East. Enough is now enough.