After November: 5 Middle East Headaches That Await the U.S.

Last week's U.N. General Assembly session served up reminders that the next White House may have little option but to deal with a number of crises previously deferred

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Zac Baillie / AFP / Getty Images

A rebel fighter is carried down from a third-story apartment after being wounded by a Syrian government tank shell during a battle between rebels and Syrian army forces in Aleppo on Sept. 26, 2012

4. Making a Silk Purse from a Sow’s Ear in Afghanistan

It’s not actually part of the Middle East, but it’s not entirely unrelated, either — and despite being the longest war in American history, Afghanistan also scarcely rates a mention on the presidential campaign trail. And at the General Assembly last week, Obama brushed by the issue with a curt aside: “We have begun a transition in Afghanistan, and America and our allies will end our war on schedule in 2014.” Obama and Mitt Romney agree on that exit date, and beyond that, there’s not much uplifting to say. The Taliban is far from defeated, and it’s not likely to be so by 2014; and the Afghan government and its security forces on which hopes for a stable transition are pinned still look like a dodgy bet. The two U.S. troops killed at an Afghan army checkpoint on Saturday took the total number of Americans killed in that war past the 2,000 mark. And like more than 50 soldiers of the U.S.-led NATO alliance this year, they were killed by members of the very Afghan security forces they’re mentoring.

The “surge” strategy that quietly came to an end last month was designed to pummel the Taliban into accepting U.S. terms for a political settlement, but that doesn’t seem to be in the cards, either. It’s politically difficult for the U.S. to offer concessions that might tempt the Taliban, which recognizes that the U.S. has reached the limit of its military commitment in Afghanistan. And the movement’s longtime backers in Pakistan’s security establishment won’t press the insurgents into a deal unless their own security interests in Kabul are accommodated. In that respect, the Obama Administration’s recent decision to add the Haqqani network, a Pakistan-based faction of the broader Taliban insurgency, to the U.S. list of international terrorist organizations, may actually complicate efforts to reach a political solution before the U.S. withdrawal.

(PHOTOS: A Long and Distant War: Photos from Afghanistan, 1988–2009)

As things stand, Afghanistan may be on course toward a protracted and messy civil war once the U.S. departs, with dangerous implications for regional security. It will behoove the next Administration to mitigate that danger, and given the limited means at its disposal — the U.S. public is overwhelmingly opposed to continued military involvement in Afghanistan — doing so will require negotiating compromises with power players on the ground, and in the neighborhood, that may further smudge the sheen of the U.S. achievement in its longest war.

5. Learning to Play a Weaker U.S. Hand

Speaking on the sidelines of the General Assembly at the Clinton Global Initiative last week, Romney spoke of Americans being troubled by developments in the Middle East. “We feel that we are at the mercy of events rather than shaping events,” the Republican presidential candidate explained, noting the rising death toll in Syria, Iran’s nuclear progress and the fact that “the President of Egypt is a member of the Muslim Brotherhood.” Formally, of course, President Morsy resigned from the Brotherhood after being elected, in order to better represent all Egyptians, but politically speaking, Romney is correct: a movement long-demonized in the U.S. political conversation has emerged as the most powerful mainstream political force in the emerging Arab democracies. But it ought to have been obvious for some time now that when people in the Middle East are given the right to freely choose their own leaders, more often than not they don’t pick Washington’s preferred candidates. After all, despite the U.S. invasion having gotten rid of Saddam Hussein, democratic elections in Iraq have repeatedly returned a government closer to Tehran than to the U.S. And when the George W. Bush Administration demanded democratic elections in the Palestinian territories in 2006, voters chose Hamas as their ruling party.

Whereas the Romney campaign likes to attribute the declining U.S. influence over events in the region to some fecklessness on the part of the Obama Administration, or a failure to more forcefully champion American values, the reality is that an objective shift in the balance of power has been under way for a number of years now. What made the limits of U.S. power more abundantly clear than anything else was the failure of the massive projection of force by the U.S. military in Afghanistan and Iraq — and by Israel, urged on by the Bush Administration in Lebanon in 2006 and Gaza in 2008 — to impose Washington’s will in those places. Not only did those wars underscore the limits of U.S. power to remake the wider Middle East, but Washington has been further sapped of its appetite for military adventure by a protracted domestic economic crisis.

(PHOTOS: Protests Rage in Middle East, Sparked by Anti-Islamic Film)

Iran was emboldened by the U.S. failures on its eastern and western flanks and continues to defy Security Council resolutions on its nuclear program; Syria’s Assad has been unmoved by Obama’s demands that he stand down. Even longtime allies in the region are less inclined to follow a U.S. lead: Saudi Arabia ignores U.S. support for democratic reform in the region by aggressively backing the repressive option for Arab monarchs; Israel ignores U.S. demands for a settlement freeze to enable a revival of the peace process with the Palestinian Authority; the Authority half ignores U.S. demands that it refrain from taking matters to the U.N. and so on.

Romney sees the situation as a policy failure by the Obama Administration but offers only bromides in response: “Strengthening the three sinews of our influence: our economic strength, our military strength and the strength of our values,” writes Romney, “will require a very different set of policies from those President Obama is pursuing.” And what are they? If he knows, he’s not telling.

No question Obama has largely improvised, with mixed results. But, like “fixing” the economy, there’s no magic bullet to turn back the clock to a time of unchallenged U.S. supremacy in the Middle East. Romney plainly has no greater appetite for new military adventures in the Middle East than Obama does. “I do not believe that in the final analysis we will have to use military action [against Iran],” he told reporters last Friday. “I can’t take that option off the table — it must be something which is known by the Iranians as a possible tool to be employed to prevent them from becoming nuclear. But I certainly hope that we can prevent any military action from having to be taken.”

Hard to tell how that differs from the Obama approach. And whether it’s avoiding a war or a nuclear-armed Iran, the challenge of forging a principled relationship with mainstream Islamists dominating newly democratic Arab polities, ameliorating the downside of U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan, settling on a Syria strategy that limits the risks to the U.S. and its regional allies, and even finding a way to prevent Israel becoming increasingly isolated over the failure of the peace process, achieving U.S. policy goals for the next president is going to require some new thinking — and policies that align realistic goals with available means in an erstwhile U.S.-dominated region that has begun to remake itself on its own terms.

MORE: How Many Civilians Would Be Killed in an Attack on Iran’s Nuclear Sites?

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25 comments
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Dardo_Staniel
Dardo_Staniel

The results of the "Arab Spring" (which is more the Muslim Spring) are highly predictable and speak volumes about the rock-bottom average IQ

of Muslim "voters". Backing the wrong side (the rebels) has produced a very bad predicament going forward. Morsi and his ilk will never be ousted. Just look at Iran, 1979 and still counting and look how dangerous that is increasingly becoming. Having a very weak President in the US doesn't help either as it gives the wrong people wings.

geordiegit
geordiegit

For all the White House's good intentions by helping the Libyans and pouring money into other middle east countries, there is one issue that counteracts all that: Israel and the Palestinians. 

While Netanyahu's government continues to allow conservative Jews to encroach onto Palestinian land in the West Bank, and America just groans but does nothing concrete about it, Arabs will still hate America.

Israeli leaders have always had America by the scrotum, through blackmail with their hysteria re: Hamas, Hezbolla and now, Iran. America has continuously caused it's own problems and will never be trusted unless it changes it's foreign policy in the middle east. 

Jthemover
Jthemover

I think it will take a much more astute politician to wade through these issues than either candidate available at this point.  It is really a question of which issues will be bungled, or how they will.

Thomas Hildebrand
Thomas Hildebrand

Thus says The Lord God of Israel: I have seen the pride of men, and how hate builds within their hearts. For My hand is removed, and who is able to withhold them? Who is able to turn them back, once their minds are set?... Behold, they shall come as a whirlwind, as a flood to cover the land. With a sound like raging waters shall they come forth from their places, and the earth shall tremble, the ground shall shake beneath the multitude of their devices. 

Their intentions are not hidden, and that which they do in secret is always before My face...Behold, an evil plan has come into their hearts. And that which is conceived of in the hearts of men is known to Me; indeed, everything whispered in secret enters into My ears. For they plot an evil thing, saying, “The God of Israel sleeps and will not arise to defend His people; The Holy One of Israel will not see it. Therefore, let us go up and fight against the people of Jacob, and murder the inhabitants of Judah, and wipe Israel from all remembrance... Let their name die with them. Yes, let us go swiftly, and many peoples with us, to destroy them, that we may cast their name out of the earth, forever”...

Come! Says The Lord... COME FORTH! For by the blood of your fathers and by the blood of your sons, and by the blood of all your great and proud men, shall I be glorified in the sight of many nations! Behold, you shall fall upon the mountains of Israel!... A feast for the birds, a dwelling place of the worm... And in the open fields shall you leave your spoil! For I have prepared a valley... Your resting place.

Therefore come forth, all you loathful nations! Bring your multitudes with you, all your mighty men of battle! Come up for the day of slaughter! Says The Lord God Almighty. For My anger has come up into My face and My hand is raised for battle! I am poised in My strength, ready to strike you down with a great vengeance!... 

Therefore come, O mighty men! Come down from the north as the whirlwind, and fight against Me! Says The Lord. And bring the fullness of Ishmael with you! GATHER TOGETHER AND COME! Bring forth the weapons from the storehouses, from Asia to the kings of the south! Come forth! For The Lord God of Israel has prepared a great slaughter!

Enemies of Israel, I call you out! COME FORTH!...

For indeed, the world has turned a deaf ear, 

And many nations are in agreement...

And not one will prevent you. 

Therefore, come forth! Come out and fight against Me!... 

It is time.

THE LORD GOD of Heaven and earth is speaking to THIS modern generation...

THE TIME HAS COME!... History has an end...

www.TrumpetCallofGodOnline.com 

Heterotic
Heterotic

Key for the U.S. is, and has been all along, is to resolve the Palestinian/Israeli situation. That has been used as an excuse by extremists for decades; take it away and you can tackle each other issue on its own merits.

HerrDirlewanger
HerrDirlewanger

What do you suggest, asking the Israelis to give the country they made back to the Bedouin? After all it's only fair!  

Danyz
Danyz

I think here of Star Trek II and the Kobiashi Maru war game, a no-win scenario...

Would that we had a bright and audacious Kirk who won by covertly changing the program of the game. Obama just barely possibly might surprise us here. Mitt on the other hand, like an excited kid in a video arcade with lots of cool war games, would be be shakily fumbling through his pockets for quarters.  

18235
18235

kurdistan not a headache?

making turkey apologize for their kudish genocide, not a problem?

kurds deserve their own homeland, not a problem?

Plumbline
Plumbline

Joel 3:2.....

I will gather all the nations, and I will bring them to the Jehoshaphat Valley. There I will enter into judgment with them in support of my people and my possession, Israel, which they have scattered among the nations. They have divided my land...

Charles
Charles

We keep sticking our nose in the Middle East and when we get bad results we get mad. Let the Middle East worry about the Middle East. We must take care of American priorities.

SimonLampard
SimonLampard

Alfred replied I can't believe that a person can get paid $5117 in one month on the network. did you look at this (Click on menu Home)   

Talendria
Talendria

That strategy bit us in the butt in 1941.

Arup_2
Arup_2

Read ur history and then comment about 1941!

Arup_2
Arup_2

Talendria..

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/E...

"The U.S. embargoes gave Japan a sense of urgency. It would either have to agree to Washington's demands or use force to gain access to the resources it needed."

IT WAS the opposite strategy that led to Pearl Harbor.  

A school of today's historians feel that US command, at that time, knew exactly what was going to happen and did nothing. This school of thought may be a stretch but is worth reading...

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/P...

HughNew
HughNew

like....@Arup_2:disqus ,

......goo.gl/1pYX0

HughNew
HughNew

Vincent replied I am blown away that someone can make $8260 in a few weeks on the network. did you see this(Click on menu Home)   

Talendria
Talendria

I'm an avid student of history. If you have a counter argument, feel free to make it.

snowleopard (cat folk gallery)
snowleopard (cat folk gallery)

Fine - the next POTUS will have his hands full no matter if it is Romney or Mr Obama; and one mistake or miscalculation can see the area erupt into a regional war, a region in which much of the worlds oil reserves come from.

So the questions to be asked:

What will Romney or Obama do (depending on who wins, and assuming events do not preceed the elections)?

Will anything done by the US even work?

I will say this matter, based on the responses of how the Libyan matter has been handled by the administration (the coverup especially), and Mr Obama's failed 'arab reset' and support of the radicals among the 'arab spring', does anyone honestly think he could do better?

Remember that at his UN speech, he blamed the embassy attacks and demonstrations on a video that was nothing but an opportune excuse; and showed no leadership as each opportunity came forth.

T Marq
T Marq

Nothing like having a bad case of Myopia. The Arab Spring is an effort by the FREE Arabs to get rid of suppression, the same thing that made this country great when it got rid of its British overlords that tried to keep us in check. Both France and Spain contributed to supporting the colonies and as a result, made this country FREE.

As for the president, regardless of whether it would have been a Dem, GOP or whatever, it was the last president that created this global mess by starting a personal war in Iraq just to please his family's personal revenge.

Moreover, given the GOP's taste for greed and power, keeping these areas off balance ensures they are able to tap the internal resources without too much political interventions. China and Russia are both well aware of this and the reason why they prefer the  laissez faire approach to allowing any and all internal issues run their course. However, the Arab Spring is forcing a new change in the game, a political movement is rising up in an area long exposed to tyranny by religious and unscrupulous leaders. The US is being forced to remain on the sidelines by the two largest and controlled economies in that region, both of which will can cause a lot of grief to us and the world. Given our currently weak economy and failing infrastructure, our actions should remain as cheerleaders, and nothing more.

Sometimes, leadership is how well a president measures restraint against adversity when it's measured against what is the most good for his country, and not the special interest or fanatically greedy internal political onslaught.  

hardworker777
hardworker777

You make your bed, you sleep in it. Over 60 years of manipulative, cynical, brutal U.S. foreign  policy. Game over. 

T Marq
T Marq

Yep, and as a result, we had allies that helped our cause to keep the area stable from Russia and China. Now, the current have change because of our oil gluttony, and the burying of our sympathy for freedom.

snowleopard (cat folk gallery)
snowleopard (cat folk gallery)

Anymore I have to agree, maybe I am growing cynical in the matter but bring our troops home and deal with American problems (domestic economy) first.