Obama’s cruelly pragmatic strategy in the Middle East

Gary Sick writes: [The current] violent chaos and unpredictability have prompted comparisons between this moment in the Middle East and the Thirty Years War in Europe (1618-1648). That terrible time, which started as a religious war but which was actually a restructuring of the power relationships in the center of Europe, destroyed entire regions and killed or displaced so many people that it took many generations to recover. In that case, the warring parties fought themselves to exhaustion and then settled their disputes in a series of agreements that defined a new rule-based political order — the Westphalian system — that is widely regarded as the essential underpinning of modern Europe and the West.

The Middle East could follow such a trajectory out of the current chaos. Certainly the process of peace-making after all other avenues have been exhausted — the so-called Lebanonization of the crisis — seems to be the way events are presently moving. But the timing and nature of the end game are impossible to know.

Under these circumstances, the Obama Doctrine, in which the United States will intervene only in the event of an external attack against one of its allies or to prevent a threat to the U.S. homeland, appears to be the least worst of the available options. It is a cruelly pragmatic strategy. It starts with the assumption that the United States cannot solve all the problems of the region — even those for which the United States bears a considerable degree of responsibility — and is unwilling to act as a surrogate for our friends in the region. This is a huge change from the unilateral containment doctrine adopted during the Clinton administration, and it is a total reversal of the Bush Doctrine of actively reshaping the Middle East. It is perhaps a distant relative of the Nixon Doctrine of the early 1970s when the United States relied primarily on local allies to protect U.S. interests in the region, while providing them with military training and support. [Continue reading…]

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