Sunday, January 5, 2014

Power Vacuum in the Middle East

Strangely enough, the newspaper that went out of its way last week to absolve Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton for what happened in Benghazi has continued to do excellent reporting about what is happening in the Middle East today.

This morning the New York Times highlights the most important point. The chaos and violence that has descended on the region is a direct result of the Obama administration’s withdrawal. With America gone from the region, the field has been left open for jihadis and sectarian interests.

The Times reports:

The images of recent days have an eerie familiarity, as if the horrors of the past decade were being played back: masked gunmen recapturing the Iraqi cities of Falluja and Ramadi, where so many American soldiers died fighting them. Car bombs exploding amid the elegance of downtown Beirut. The charnel house of Syria’s worsening civil war.

But for all its echoes, the bloodshed that has engulfed IraqLebanon and Syria in the past two weeks exposes something new and destabilizing: the emergence of a post-American Middle East in which no broker has the power, or the will, to contain the region’s sectarian hatreds.

Amid this vacuum, fanatical Islamists have flourished in both Iraq and Syria under the banner of Al Qaeda, as the two countries’ conflicts amplify each other and foster ever-deeper radicalism. Behind much of it is the bitter rivalry of two great oil powers, Iran and Saudi Arabia, whose rulers — claiming to represent Shiite and Sunni Islam, respectively — cynically deploy a sectarian agenda that makes almost any sort of accommodation a heresy.

The Times suggests that the same fate awaits Afghanistan:

With the possible withdrawal of American forces in Afghanistan looming later this year, many fear that an insurgency will unravel that country, too, leaving another American nation-building effort in ashes.

Called upon to respond, the administration trots out its efforts to broker an agreement with Iran over nuclear weapons and its work on resolving the Israeli-Palestinian dispute.

Is there anything quite as pathetic as Secretary of State John Kerry shuttling between Israel and the Palestinian territories while all around him the region goes up in flames:

The Obama administration defends its record of engagement in the region, pointing to its efforts to resolve the Iranian nuclear crisis and the Palestinian dispute, but acknowledges that there are limits. “It’s not in America’s interests to have troops in the middle of every conflict in the Middle East, or to be permanently involved in open-ended wars in the Middle East,” Benjamin J. Rhodes, a White House deputy national security adviser, said in an email on Saturday.

Better yet, the Times recalls the Obama administration’s 2012 optimism about Iraq’s future:

For all the attention paid to Syria over the past three years, Iraq’s slow disintegration also offers a vivid glimpse of the region’s bloody sectarian dynamic. In March 2012, Anthony Blinken, who is now President Obama’s deputy national security adviser, gave a speech echoing the White House’s rosy view of Iraq’s prospects after the withdrawal of American forces.

Iraq, Mr. Blinken said, was “less violent, more democratic and more prosperous” than “at any time in recent history.”

And let’s not forget the American diplomatic failure. Having no troops in the country, we have no leverage over Prime Minister Maliki, a man whose policies have obviously fanned the flames of conflict.

The Times explains:

But the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, was already pursuing an aggressive campaign against Sunni political figures that infuriated Iraq’s Sunni minority. Those sectarian policies and the absence of American ground and air forces gave Al Qaeda in Iraq, a local Sunni insurgency that had become a spent force, a golden opportunity to rebuild its reputation as a champion of the Sunnis both in Iraq and in neighboring Syria. Violence in Iraq grew steadily over the following year.

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