Herbert London: A Strategy For The Middle East
In several press conferences and public statements President Obama has theorized a Middle East strategy that is limited, time sensitive and avoids “boots on the ground.” This position is the one he proposed to Congress. Modest but not overwhelming; committed but only in a partial sense. In no sense, not even one advocated by the president, is this a policy for total victory over ISIL or al Qaeda or any other terrorist organization.
Recognizing the limits of resources and what President Obama calls “war fatigue,” what can be done? Surely there is more that the U.S. can do than we are doing at the moment. Ultimately, of course, Middle Eastern states will have to fend for themselves. While there isn’t one nation that has anywhere near the military capability of the U.S., in combination they can constitute a military force capable of defeating extremism. A union of Egypt, UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Kuwait could pool military assets into a Middle East NATO with the U.S. as a member state offering logistics, Special Forces and sophisticated hardware.
Although Israel is not a beloved member of the Gulf nations, its military prowess and intelligence apparatus would make it an “unregistered” member of the coalition. After all, since Iran is the enemy of the Sunni states in addition to the other terrorist networks originated by the Muslim Brotherhood, and it is an enemy of Israel, the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Well, that is probably going too far. Israel would be a pragmatic ally. Under exceptional conditions and the passage of time, it might be called a friend.
Like NATO, this would be a military alliance designed to thwart terrorism and the imperial ambitions of Iran. It could also be a cultural institution that extirpates the interpretation of religious texts that inspires violence. King Abdullah of Jordan and President al Sisi have made this clear. The coalition would provide this viewpoint with a megaphone.
It is instructive that President Obama has conspicuously avoided reaching out to traditional allies, Egypt and Jordan. His policy emphasis is on reaching an accord with Iran, the nation on whom Obama is attempting to build his legacy. For the president, this rapprochement is equivalent ot Nixon’s overtures to China – a world changing event for which Nixon will always be remembered. The problem is that Iran is not China and with four capitals under its control – Beirut, Damascus, Bagdad and Sana’a – Iranian leaders have constructed a Middle East Empire.
In fact, it is late in the day to conceptualize a countervailing influence, but there isn’t any choice. History has impinged on decision making. The Gulf States may be facing existential choices if Iran is permitted to have nuclear weapons or the fissile material to build them. Should that be the result of the June negotiations in Geneva, the Sunni defense condominium will be obliged to develop a nuclear umbrella of its own as a regional deterrent.
In an unstable area with many state and non-state actors, nuclear proliferation is the pathway to a doomsday scenario. Surely that isn’t the legacy Obama planned. Hence a regional alliance, like NATO, may serve as the most reasonable alternative for the future. President Obama won’t embrace it now, but it is looming in the recesses of this imagination. Should he need some guidance, he could cite the Middle East Strategic Vision, written by Eli Gold, Pete O’Brien and Tony Shaffer on the London Center for Policy Research website. This isn’t a plug, merely a suggestion.
Herbert London is President of the London Center for Policy Research, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute and author of the book The Transformational Decade (University Press of America). You can read all of Herb London’s commentaries atwww.londoncenter.org
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