Tag Archive: Middle East


You don’t want to be in these wars. This is not your grandfather’s battlefield. When the enemy is nested in homes and apartments and no one wears a uniform but everyone has a cellphone camera, you have a real strategic and moral challenge — as the U.S. has discovered with its own drone wars. It’s hard to defeat this enemy without killing a lot of civilians. It’s no accident that every Israeli brigade now has a legal adviser.

Thomas L. Friedman, “A Wonderful Country”, The New York Times (2 February 2014), SR11.

Predicting next year’s Middle East is impossible. So we better not try. The last three-four years in this region were anything but predictable, and the coming years might be just as temperamental (or maybe not – but this would also qualify as a major unpredictable surprise). Using the word “unstable” is a safe bet for all writers of predictions, but it doesn’t really say much, does it? Unstable means that we only know that we don’t know what’s coming.

Shmuel Rosner, “Hindsight”, The Jewish Journal (31 January – 6 February 2014), 14.

How then should…

How then should Israel look to the future? This is a difficult proposition for a country whose leaders are notorious for their short-term perspectives on policy. Nevertheless, it is a question that Israelis and their American supporters must face. Geography is relatively unchanging, and Israel will always find itself caught between rival great powers, whether those proximate to it, like Egypt or, more likely, those further afield, like Turkey or Iran, or those even more remote, but with expanding military reach, like China and India.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 16.

The war is now being waged by petty warlords and dangerous extremists of every sort: Taliban-style Salafist fanatics who beat and kill even devout Sunnis because they fail to ape their alien ways; Sunni extremists who have been murdering innocent Alawites and Christians merely because of their religion; and jihadis from Iraq and all over the world who have advertised their intention to turn Syria into a base for global jihad aimed at Europe and the United States.

Given this depressing state of affairs, a decisive outcome for either side would be unacceptable for the United States. An Iranian-backed restoration of the Assad regime would increase Iran’s power and status across the entire Middle East, while a victory by the extremist-dominated rebels would inaugurate another wave of Al Qaeda terrorism.

There is only one outcome that the United States can possibly favor: an indefinite draw.

By tying down Mr. Assad’s army and its Iranian and Hezbollah allies in a war against Al Qaeda-aligned extremist fighters, four of Washington’s enemies will be engaged in war among themselves and prevented from attacking Americans or America’s allies.

That this is now the best option is unfortunate, indeed tragic, but favoring it is not a cruel imposition on the people of Syria, because a great majority of them are facing exactly the same predicament.

Non-Sunni Syrians can expect only social exclusion or even outright massacre if the rebels win, while the nonfundamentalist Sunni majority would face renewed political oppression if Mr. Assad wins. And if the rebels win, moderate Sunnis would be politically marginalized under fundamentalist rulers, who would also impose draconian prohibitions.

Maintaining a stalemate should be America’s objective. And the only possible method for achieving this is to arm the rebels when it seems that Mr. Assad’s forces are ascendant and to stop supplying the rebels if they actually seem to be winning.

This strategy actually approximates the Obama administration’s policy so far. Those who condemn the president’s prudent restraint as cynical passivity must come clean with the only possible alternative: a full-scale American invasion to defeat both Mr. Assad and the extremists fighting against his regime.

That could lead to a Syria under American occupation. And very few Americans today are likely to support another costly military adventure in the Middle East.

A decisive move in any direction would endanger America; at this stage, stalemate is the only viable policy option left.

Edward N. Luttwak, “In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins”, The New York Times (25 August 2013), SR 4.

…too often we forget that the people in these countries are not just objects. They are subjects; they have agency. South Africa had a moderate post-apartheid experience because of Nelson Mandela and F.W. de Klerk. Japan rebuilt itself as a modern nation in the late 19th century because its leaders recognized their country was lagging behind the West and asked themselves, “What’s wrong with us?” Outsiders can amplify such positive trends, but the local people have to want to own it.

As that reality has sunk in, so has another reality, which the American public intuits: Our rising energy efficiency, renewable energy, hydraulic fracturing and horizontal drilling are making us much less dependent on the Middle East for oil and gas. The Middle East has gone from an addiction to a distraction.

Thomas L. Friedman, “Foreign Policy by Whisper and Nudge”, The New York Times (25 August 2013), SR 11.

Geography has not changed much in the Middle East over the past several thousand years. Modern Israel remains at the crossroads of the Middle East and in the crosshairs of potential regional and extra-regional great power rivalries. Egypt is certain once again to emerge as a strong regional force; so too, for that matter, will powerful states to the north, be they Iraq or its successor state, Iran/Persia, or Turkey. The dilemma of whom to choose as an ally, if anyone, and how to resist predations by external powers will never be far from the thoughts of future Israeli policymakers, just as they were for those of the rulers of the ancient Jewish kingdoms.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 12.

The original post-1948 Israeli policy of relying on an “outer circle” of friendships—Iran, Turkey, Ethiopia—to counter the hostility of neighboring Arab states proved modestly useful for a time. It came apart when Israel signed a peace treaty with Egypt in March 1979, which seemed to reduce the need for a peripheral strategy. It came completely apart when Iran was taken over by the mullahs that same year. Israel’s strained relationship with Turkey after a kind of golden age of cooperation lasting no more than two decades, and the general regional unrest of the past two years, have forced Israel to look further afield for support, to India and China, for example. But it has no real alliances other than with the United States. Should America indeed pull back from the Middle East, even if it were to continue to arm Israel, the Jewish state would in effect have become a kind of super Sweden—a de facto non-aligned regional superpower, much as was the kingdom of David and Solomon in its day.

Dov S. Zakheim, “The Geopolitics of Scripture,” The American Interest (July/August 2012), 11.