My only point in raising the issue of America’s policy for the past ten years, its present determination to retreat from the region, is to describe that which Israel will be facing in the not distant future. While the debate in Washington is, as usual, focused on America’s impact on Israel, the Arabs are facing the same future. And that which makes my description appear fanciful, the loss of control of such strategic assets as Arab oil and the Suez Canal: America may long have accepted as manageable losses. These I already described in my earlier TOI article, After America leaves…. In fact, America only reluctantly inherited the Middle East following the 1956-7 Suez crisis.
America might never have got involved in the region were it not for the Cold War. Britain and France attacking Nasser over Suez was the last gasp of European imperialism. Eisenhower ordering them to withdraw created a power vacuum which only the US, the last imperialist (for-Democracy, of course) could fill. Having embarrassed its already weak NATO allies the Soviet Union, backing Nasser, would have become the regional hegemon had the US not stepped in. But regarding “imperialism,” the ability to manage a large colonial-but-not-colonized base America was, unlike Britain and France, a neophyte. Yes America had a few colonies, the Philippines, the Virgin Islands; and yes through various local dictators kept its Banana Republics in the Americas in-line for Corporate America. But these faced little outside challenge, and certainly not from another “superpower.” But Arabia, oil-rich, religiously and ethnically diverse and turbulent was not the Americas. Islam has a thousand year-plus history of challenge and defeat in the war against Christendom. And the invasion by the Crusaders remains today a rallying cry!
And then there is the unwinnable except by nuclear showdown challenge by the Soviet Union.
And so protecting Arab oil proved far more difficult than Banana Republics and America found itself in over its head from the start. Certainly the most powerful country in the world economically and militarily, in diplomacy and territory management it was “challenged.” Even Eisenhower’s Suez intervention was recognized a disaster by the president:
According to Nixon, Eisenhower even said that the Suez Crisis was the biggest foreign-policy “blunder” of his administration.
But that was just the beginning of a continuing series of Made in America disasters bestowed upon the region.
The CIA at presidential order overthrew the democratically-elected president of Iran in 1953 and replaced him with its own dictator more to the liking of American oil companies. The Shah served American interests for twenty-six years until President Carter, heeding “the desperate cries for freedom” from the street deposed him and the Islamic Republic was born. And three years later the same “students” whose “pleas” that president responded to thanked him by capturing the US Embassy and holding 52 Americans hostage for 444 days: they returned the favor by “deposing” Carter.
Skimming the highlights, fast forward to 2003 and Sadam’s Iraq: exit America’s previously supported dictator by President Bush. To make things right, and justify the invasion as striking a blow for freedom and democracy Bush-installed a Sh’ia-governed regime (only fair since, according to “democratic” principles that population most suffered under Sadam’s Sunni tyranny). And the US was now involved in an unwinnable war against the wrong enemy since Iran was funding the anti-America insurgency and would, upon evicting the invader, inherit Shi’ite Iraq. (As an aside, Bush also forced Abbas to allow Hamas participation in Palestinian elections, then attempted a coup to overturn the “democratic” result following Hamas victory!)
In 2011 our current president heard, as Carter three decades earlier, “the desperate cries for freedom” from Tahrir Square and deposed America’s long-time friend and ally President Mubarak. And shortly after, again hearing those plaintive cries attempted to depose the king of Bahrain. As Iraq Bahrain also is a Shi’ite majority country ruled by a Sunni government. The island also just happens to be under the protection of that other American “ally,” oil-rich Saudi Arabia. Off the coast of Saudi Arabia and connected by a causeway, Bahrain also happens to be home port to the US Fifth Fleet responsible for protecting American interests in the Middle East. Bad enough seeking to provide a port for the Iranian Navy off the coast of Saudi Arabia; but expecting also to share port facilities with Iran? What might Obama have been thinking?
At least in Libya Obama only reluctantly agreed to attack, apparently embarrassed by his three women advisers, Hillary Clinton, Susan Rice and Samantha Power. But from the start he made it clear he intended to, “lead from behind.” And so the fact that murdering Qadafi opened the door to a terror-state increasingly under the control of al-Qaeda militants, at least here Obama is not entirely responsible.
And then, barely months after boasting that his country was stable and beyond Arab Spring Islamist unrest, Syria fell to the Arab Spring. But unlike remote from American “interests” Libya, Syria sits in the heart of America’s strategic interests (assuming it still has such in the region). Clockwise, Syria borders Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Israel! And for two years the United States stood by, an observer limiting action to discouraging its “allies” from acting. Two years of bloodshed with no response to screams, not just “desperate cries for freedom” but for life itself; passive in face of the emerging threat to its “allies” without. And when Obama was finally embarrassed into laying down a “red line” against large scale use of poison gas; finger on the trigger to make good his warning as if in a Grade D movie Obama, at the very last moment decided to turn the decision over to Congress!
What is described above and in my previous After America leaves… is the history of an ever-reluctant and ill-suited “superpower.” Isolationist at heart America is unprepared for the role of global leadership. Lacking a professionally adept diplomatic corps, an unworldly academic “brain trust” serving leadership and an intelligence service free of political control, ineptitude and chaos are only to be expected. America’s two recent decisions to use military force as “an instrument of policy,” Iraq and Afghanistan, are case studies for failure. Ten years investment, plus and minus in those countries, resulted in regime instability and America ordered to leave by its “puppet regimes,” an embarrassing repeat of Vietnam just forty years earlier.
Unfortunately for the United States, in a world of ballistic missiles and international terrorism “isolationism” is not an option!
As for Israel and the region, horror vacui, Nature abhors a vacuum. Which is why, when the United States makes its less than elegant retreat from the region, waiting in the wings, already positioned to replace it, Russia. And it is Russia replacing America that Israel and the Arabs will have to accommodate.
But compared to fifty years of America as hegemon Russia may well turn out an improvement.