Tuesday, June 25, 2013

From Outreach to Out of Our Reach

Our fight in Iraq didn't create Sunni-Shia hatred and our troop presence in Iraq didn't cause jihadis to set up shop there.

Fancy that:

It's not hard to find stereotypes, caricatures and outright bigotry when talk in the Middle East turns to the tensions between Islam's two main sects.

Shiites are described as devious, power-hungry corruptors of Islam. Sunnis are called extremist, intolerant oppressors.

Hatreds between the two are now more virulent than ever in the Arab world because of Syria's civil war. On Sunday, officials said four Shiites in a village west of Cairo were beaten to death by Sunnis in a sectarian clash unusual for Egypt.

Hard-line clerics and politicians on both sides in the region have added fuel, depicting the fight as essentially a war of survival for their sect.

And that:

Since Kaddafi was overthrown in 2011, Libya has turned into something of a sanctuary for Islamic terrorists. Not so much because the government allowed it, but more because the government could not prevent it. Benghazi was the largest urban area that was hospitable to Islamic terrorists, mainly because it was the last large city to have law and order restored by government security forces (and pro-government armed groups).

And yet President Obama continues to withdraw from the Middle East as if our presence has been the problem:

Barack Obama’s foreign policy has one core principle: Get the United States out of the Middle East wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that he “inherited” from George W. Bush and avoid repeating those mistakes. There have been other themes sounded by the White House, most notably the “Pacific pivot,” but backing out of perceived military overcommitments in the Muslim world has been the prime directive.

You can argue whether the burden of these problems should be ours to shoulder, but we didn't cause the problems or make them worse.

Indeed, I've suspected that our abortive pivot to Asia and the Pacific has been more about providing a strategic cover to the president's pivot away from CENTCOM:

So for our president, who simply doesn't want to fight Islamist radicalism in the Middle East--or admit there is a war on terror--pivoting to Asia--which is already taking place--was really about pivoting away from the Middle East. It is repackaging an unwillingness to fight the war we are currently in as a strategy of preparing for the next war (or preventing it with strength).

But it is way too early to pivot away from the Middle East.

The September 11 embassy attacks, Iranian nuclear ambitions, revolution in Syria, chaos in Yemen and Somalia, the uncertain future of Iraq, Egyptian instability, Gaza and Hezbollah, and Iranian threats to oil exports all remind us that the need to remain active in the Middle East is crucial. Killing Osama bin Laden--while a very good thing--didn't end the long war on terror.

Our efforts may not always succeed. But success is harder to come by when we don't make an effort.