Sunday, October 20, 2013

Why the Middle East is Less and Less Important for the United States. By Aaron David Miller.

The Shrinking. By Aaron David Miller. Foreign Policy, October 17, 2013. Also here.

Why the Middle East is less and less important for the United States.


(2) Nobody wants America to play Mr. Fix-It.
One thing is clear: We’ve likely seen the last of the big transformative-interventionist schemes to change the Middle East from the outside in the name of U.S. security, a freedom agenda, or anything else. I say this knowing that there’s little historical memory here, that the military gives a willful president all kinds of options, and that the world is an unpredictable place. But watching the public, congressional, and even expert reaction to the prospects of a limited U.S. strike against Syria, there's clearly zero support for intervening militarily in somebody else's civil war.
The alliance of the liberal interventionists and neocons who bemoan the Obama administration’s lack of will, vision, and leadership and its abject spinelessness in the face of 100,000 dead (a full half of whom are combatants belonging to one side or the other) is simply no match for a frustrated public promised a reasonable return on two wars who instead got more than 6,000 American dead, thousands more with devastating wounds, trillions of dollars expended, a loss of American prestige and credibility, and outcomes more about leaving than winning.
To believe anyone in the United States is ready to invest additional resources in tilting at windmills in the Middle East is utterly fantastical. Who can blame them? Last week in Libya, the one successful example of U.S. intervention in the Arab Spring, militias kidnapped the prime minister. Car bombs kill scores weekly in Iraq. And, in Afghanistan, one can only despair about the gap between the price we have paid there and what we can expect in terms of security and good governance in the years ahead.

(5) Israel is stronger and more independent than ever.
As matters have gotten worse for America in the Arab world, the U.S.-Israeli relationship has only grown stronger. Israel’s own situation has also improved dramatically. Indeed, three factors – Israel’s formidable capacity; steadfast support from the United States; and stunning Arab incapacity – have created a situation where Israel is stronger and more secure than it’s ever been.
Iran’s nuclear pretentions remain an acute challenge, and an unresolved Palestinian problem holds longer-term worries, too. But the notion that the Jewish state is a hapless victim, the Middle East’s sitting duck, has been an illusion for some time now. Indeed, that image infantilizes the Israelis and creates a sense that they don’t have freedom of action vis-a-vis their friends and enemies – which they do. (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself projects this image sometimes: His use of Holocaust imagery when describing the Iranian nuclear challenge seems to accord the mullahs great power. I’ve seen the picture of Churchill that Netanyahu has in his office, and I know he admires him. But Churchill would never, even in the darkest days of the blitz, have ever suggested that Hitler had the power to destroy Britain.)
Israel is a dynamic, resilient, and sovereign nation, and the United States needs to realize that, even while the Israelis take our interests into account, their own matter more – particularly when it comes to their security and weapons of mass destruction. Where you stand in life is partly a result of where you sit, and as the small power with little margin for error, Israel is going to make its own decisions on the threats it faces and act unilaterally if necessary to deal with them.
Israel was never America’s client. On the contrary, we helped enable and empower its independence of action. If Israel acts militarily against Iran because diplomacy can’t address its concerns on the nuclear issue, it will be another indication that, as much as we would like to shape what goes on in the Middle East, we really can’t. We don’t live there, and we are clearly unable or unwilling to dictate to those who do.