Writing in the WSJ, Yaroslav Trofimov asks, “So how deep—and how permanent—is this deterioration of the U.S. ability to shape events in the Middle East?” As Mr.Trofimov notes, some believe “the decline is not irreversible at all. … But others have concluded that the Middle East’s Pax Americana is truly over.”
Emile Hokayem, a senior fellow at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in Bahrain, claims, “Whoever comes after Obama will not have many cards left to play, I don’t see a strategy even for the next president. We’ve gone too far.”
Gone too far from what? Early on the article states: “The Obama administration’s pivot away from the Middle East is rooted, of course, in deep fatigue with the massive military and financial commitments made by the U.S. since 9/11, above all after the 2003 invasion of Iraq: Since 2001, at least $1.6 trillion has been spent, according to the Congressional Research Service, and 6,900 U.S. troops have been killed in the region.”
But the statistics above are but one side of the foreign policy equation. Let’s look at the other side of our equation. What has America gained? How about a massive destabilization of the entire Middle East, including Libya? Well I guess we shouldn’t look at massive regional destabilization as a gain, should we. I would like to ask former President Bush exactly what he thinks has been gained by going into Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. And I would also like to pose the same question to former national security advisor Brent Scowcroft. My guess is that there would be not much to assist in developing the other side of my hypothetical foreign policy equation. History is clear—America’s intervention in Afghanistan, in Iraq, and in Libya has been a failed strategy with little of value gained for the U.S..
So now Syria. Russia’s Vladimir Putin has decided that it is in Russia’s best interest—crashing economy, currency, et al.—to intervene in Syria in support of longtime ally Bashar Assad. I wonder how much reading Mr. Putin has done on how Russia fared the last time it ventured forth in the Middle East, specifically into Afghanistan. Not well is an understatement. The Obama administration would prefer Assad to be removed. The central issue here is, as it was with Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya, what’s next. Are we facing the prospect of another lawless, leaderless Middle Eastern country certain to exacerbate the migration tsunami that is today roiling Europe and for that matter the U.S.?
Scowcroft too, was extremely conscious of what could go wrong. He saw the risks inherent in initiating new policies and the possibility of unintended consequences. Scowcroft was superb at analyzing issues, managing operations, fixing problems, and handling crises—at working with existing pieces and placing them in such a way as to best protect US interests and values. But even more, thanks to his knowledge of world history, he looked out for the potential pitfalls that could accompany significant departures from existing policies and established institutions—not to mention radical changes. He could envision the downsides to proposed actions.