President Obama’s Middle Eastern dilemma

Robert Kagan has written a very thoughtful analysis in the Wall Street Journal about the choices and conundrums confronting President Obama – and, for that matter, his successor – in the Middle East.  Here’s an excerpt.

For several years, President Barack Obama has operated under a set of assumptions about the Middle East: First, there could be no return of U.S. ground troops in sizable numbers to the region; and second, undergirding the first, the U.S. has no interests in the region great enough to justify such a renewed commitment. The crises in the Middle East could be kept localized. There might be bloodshed and violence—even mass killing, in Syria and Libya and elsewhere, and some instability in Iraq—but the fighting, and its consequences, could be contained. The core elements of the world order would not be affected, and America’s own interests would not be directly threatened so long as good intelligence and well-placed drone strikes prevented terrorist attacks on U.S. soil. Even Islamic State could be “degraded” and “contained” over time.

These assumptions could have been right—other conflicts in the Middle East have remained local—but they have proven to be wrong … The multisided war in the Middle East has now ceased to be a strictly Middle Eastern problem. It has become a European problem as well … The horrific attacks in Paris, likely organized and directed by Islamic State from its base in Syria, and the prospect of more such attacks, threaten the cohesion of Europe, and with it the cohesion of the trans-Atlantic community, or what used to be known as the West. The crisis on the periphery, in short, has now spilled over into the core.

. . .

Where does the U.S. fit into all this? The Europeans no longer know, any more than American allies in the Middle East do. Most Europeans still like Mr. Obama. After President George W. Bush and the Iraq war, Europeans have gotten the kind of American president they wanted. But in the current crisis, this new, more restrained and intensely cautious post-Iraq America has less to offer than the old superpower, with all its arrogance and belligerence.

. . .

Americans remain paralyzed by Iraq, Republicans almost as much as Democrats, and Mr. Obama is both the political beneficiary and the living symbol of this paralysis. Whether he has the desire or capacity to adjust to changing circumstances is an open question. Other presidents have—from Woodrow Wilson to Franklin Roosevelt to Bill Clinton—each of whom was forced to recalibrate what the loss or fracturing of Europe would mean to American interests. In Mr. Obama’s case, however, such a late-in-the-game recalculation seems less likely. He may be the first president since the end of World War II who simply doesn’t care what happens to Europe.

If so, it is, again, a great irony for Europe, and perhaps a tragic one. Having excoriated the U.S. for invading Iraq, Europeans played no small part in bringing on the crisis of confidence and conscience that today prevents Americans from doing what may be necessary to meet the Middle Eastern crisis that has Europe reeling.

There’s more at the link.  Go read the whole thing.  It’s worth it.

There’s another aspect that Mr. Kagan hasn’t mentioned, one that worries me very much.  President Obama has alienated most, if not all, of America’s former allies in the region.  For example, in the Arab world, Saudi Arabia is no longer even bothering to consult with or inform the USA about actions it proposes to take in the region.  It’s simply doing, rather than talking.  Israel regards the Obama administration as being at least hostile to its interests, if not actually an enemy (in the political and diplomatic sense, at least).  No-one in the Middle East trusts America any more . . . and one can hardly blame them.

That reality is going to be ruinous for any future prospects of US engagement, involvement or intervention.  It’ll take a monumental effort to regain the trust of the powers, polities and parties in the region.  Even if we succeed, they’ll always have in the back of their minds the fear that another Obama might be elected and undo all that his successors may have achieved.



  1. Kagan is wrong, nothing in the Middle East is worth one more drop of American blood or one more ounce of American gold. It is well past time to pull all of our troops from the region and to end all aid to every nation in the region. Let Russia have the cesspit if they are stupid enough to take it on.

    As for your claim that Obama is hostile to Israel, that is laughable. Obama is nothing but an Israeli puppy. He barks a little bit, but once Bibi scolds him, Obama goes whimpering and whining to lick Bibi's hand. Why else do we keep shipping billions in welfare to Tel Aviv every year, soon to be increased. Why else would we be considering a multi billion dollar arms transfer to Tel Aviv? Obama is Bibi's dog.

    Close our borders and start deporting anyone from the Middle East and ISIS is no longer a threat to the US.

  2. Another admin

    Friends don't deliberately embarrass allies, and the Obama admin has done this to Israel. They don't stop resupply in the middle of a war. They don't constantly blame Israel for the me violence, and ignore the Palistinian guilt. The Obama admin claims to be a friend do they don't lose more voters, but reality is they are the most anti Israeli admin in a long time.

    If Obama was as Chris mentions a true ally, Israel would have bombed Iran.

    The Obama admin has had more meetings on Iran than any other country. That's huge!

    The Obama strategy in the me is look good, no civilian casualties due to us bombs, achieve a strategic balance (Iran is part of that strategy), keep the us out of the me (since per their theology the us makes the me worst), and this allows the admin to focus on making the us a better society.

    Unfortunately, the unicorn strategy (see foreign affairs on his in speech), has little relationship to reality. The me supplies 1/3rd of the worlds oil. Until that and the root cause of the gulf religious educational complex are dealt with, I see little change.

    Great news is fracking! And increased energy efficiency is reducing incomes in the Middle East. Faster please!

  3. Good lord. Are you boys truly that stupid? You take your ball and go home, they take theirs and do the same?

    Children. Fools. Leave a potential global financial power house to a small group of goat felching fig farmers? What could POSSIBLY go wrong?!?!?

    The hell of it is that moslems know idiots and weaklings when they see them and they know how to exploit them. Which is way they are laughing at America and worried sick about Russia. Like themselves, Putin isn't worried about world opinion and if he gets into a fight he will do so intending to win it.

    Terrorism only works on the craven and stupid – which is why they use it with such success against Europe and America.

  4. Another anon

    Sigh, worse than I thought..,

    Another wsj article. Bit liberal – easy test, does the article mention 3/4 of us planes return to base without dropping bombs to avoid civilian casualties?

    Major point:

    1. Iraq does not want more us troops. Why? Reduces us ability to influence their government.

    Not mentioned:

    Allow Kurds in Syria to link up. This would cut two supplies to and from Isis. Any why is this not done? Turkey, which fears the Kurds more than Isis.

    Russia is basically stopped further changes in Syria. No fly zone? Nope… Safe zone? No way.

    And a ME country putting in ground groups? No way. Me would much rather spend other people's blood. Yemen is an exception that surprised me.

    And Europe – they don't have the will or military budget currently.

    The interesting question is what would be required to change the us and eu attitude? How many more terrorist attacks? What type of attack would change this?

    For getting scared of what is possible, read Michael Z's freehold book, the weapon.

    The wsj article:

  5. The Kagans are the are the ideological heart of the necons. They started this crap with the Project for a New American Century. The anti-Russian bias is pretty damned apparent too.

    "The only alternative is to address the crisis in Syria and Iraq, and with it the terrorist threat posed by Islamic State. But just as in the 1990s, … so again America will have to take the lead, provide the troops, supply the bulk of the air power and pull together those willing and able to join the effort."

    Hell no. Kagan should be making this speech at every University in American and see just how many interventionist true believers pick up a rifle to join the fight like he did. Except he never put himself in harms way.

    There are two reasons the Russians are in Syria fist they are a treaty ally with the SAR and second is because they know ISIS needs to be defeated by troops in the field. Those troops right now are the Syrian Arab Army, Russian air force and base defense units, Hezbollah and Iranians and various militias. The US has been busy funding the destruction of the Syrian government via a multitude of mythical "free Syrian Army" groups and last but not least al-Nursa Front. We're funding the wrong side in this conflict. We should be going after the financial and intellectual backers of ISIS – that is Saudi Arabia and the GCCs.

  6. I tried to read that story. I found it incomprehensible. Maybe my blood sugar was low. He sounds like he is not just an alien, but from another universe.

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