American Strategic Interests in the Middle East. Still Valid?

I was a panelist at a conference the other day in Washington and one of the audience asked the question “Exactly what are our interests in the Middle East? Why should we be involved in this mess?” There was a silence for a few moments among the panelists and  I responded  that the price of non involvement can be measured in the agony of the Syrian refugees and the dangers they present to Europe now, and the U. S. in the future. In my previous blog entry I described what those dangers are, primarily focussing on the problem of integration of a massive wave of refugees from a very different culture.

But we need to review the U. S. objectives in the Middle East that have been endlessly reiterated since 1945. They have been.

  • the security of the State of Israel
  • access to oil at a reasonable price
  • denying Middle Eastern procurement of nuclear weapons

To take them one at a time. Israel, at least in this current era, does not need our military assistance,  but still needs our economic support, and particularly needs our international political support. Of course many in the  U.S. academic  circles, generally anti-Israeli, would reject any US support for Israel. Anti-Israeli sentiments with a hefty mixture of anti-Semitism throughout Europe  has recently rekindled. The traditional European anti-Semitism prevalent among the elite has become fashionable once again. Certainly., despite pro forma denials from the current U.S. administration,  there is a great deal of  similar sentiments among the left wing here  as well. I will not discuss the importance      ( or non importance) of Israel here because much of it centers around political  orientation  of the individual.  At some point later on, I will

The view of the economic importance of the Middle East, particularly Arab oil is being disputed these days. The common refrain is that we do not get that much oil from the Arab world anymore. Some say less than 15%.  but we still receive about 50% from outside the U.S.  Last week as I drove back to North Carolina from Washington, I bought gas at $1.80 a gallon, the least I have paid in years. It is a fools paradise, however. What happens if the Arab Gulf oil became unavailable to the world? We are not the only ones who need oil. Those countries that heavily depend on Gulf oil would frantically search for new sources and as the supply diminished the prices would rise astronomically. I remember very well the Arab oil embargo in the 70’s when cars were lined up for miles to get 10 gallons of gas, people siphoned gas out other people’s cars, and manufacturers were putting locks on the gas tank covers. Any shortage of petroleum brings the American society close to chaos and severely affects the economic health of the country.  The word I hear the oil experts always use is “fungible”

Basically that refers to the fact that one country’s shortage of oil affects everyone. If Japan or China cannot get Arab oil where do they go? The answer is wherever they can get it and whatever price needs to be paid. This is such a fundamental fact it seems strange that so few people seem to understand….or care… that we are always on the edge of an oil shortage.

There is one other strategic objective hat few would care to even bring up. It is the moral responsibility we as Americans have to  maintain some semblance of order in the world of nations. Any talk of moral responsibilities in the West these days seem to be centered around fuzzy puppies and feel good activities. The idea of the hard necessities of moral responsibilities  are simply ignored.  The answer to the refugee problem is not everyone taking in a share of the refugees. It is the fact that the regimes  and barbaric movements   that set the mass of humanity in flight should have been destroyed in their infancy.

As so often mindlessly repeated, we cannot be the world’s policeman. Yes we do have to choose carefully those conflicts and situations that are amenable  to military force. It is a matter of cultural, political and military intelligence to choose those that we can  influence by whatever means. Recently, however, it has become the mantra of those who wish to avoid all responsibility. To those to whom much is given much is expected. We cannot avoid that basic truth. For over 200 years  Great Britain was the primary guardian of  a basic world order  and a semblance of humane values. The nonsense that has been peddled for decades about the evils of imperialism and colonialism has obscured the fact that in many instances those formerly colonial subjects were far better off then than now.

The appalling weakness of the Obama regime in protecting American interests has never been more manifest than in the  events of the past several days. An empowered Iran, becoming free of sanctions and obtaining the consequences of Western greed to do business with the devil, has moved arrogantly in the Middle East to enlarge its empire. Russia feeling the feebleness of American leadership, and understanding than Obama is just a compendium of  teleprompter words, feels free to manuever with impunity. It is a sad state of affairs. It should be added however that the apathy of the Obama regime is mirrored by an American society that wants Islam and the Arab world to simply go  away.

In a recent news conference the White House spokesman accepted the fact that the Obama policy in Syria has been a failure but then in an unbelievable  manifestation of total incompetence,  and shifting blame away from the regime in a way usually seen in the Arab world, averred that the Syrian policy  (arming “moderates”) wasn’t really what he wanted but it was  somehow forced upon him. I can imagine a battalion commander telling his brigade commander that he really didn’t like leaving his artillery weapons to the enemy  but his officers talked him into it.

It is assumed by so many Americans that if we simply tiptoe quietly away from the  harsh realities of the world, the Stalins,  Saddams, Hitlers, and now the Putins and Khamaneis  , will leave us in peace. We have  apparently learned nothing from 9/11.

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About Tex

Retired artillery colonel, many years in a number of positions in the Arab world. Graduate of the US Military Academy and the American University of Beirut. MA in Arab studies from the American University in Beirut along with 18 years as Middle East Seminar Director at the JFK Special Warfare Center and School, Served in Vietnam with 1st Inf Division, Assignments in Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, plus service with Trucial Oman Scouts in the Persian Gulf. Traveled to every Arab country on the map including Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco.
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