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11 July 2012

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Sean Paul Kelley

Is the word 'bizarre' or 'incoherent'? I'd definitely say incoherent with multiple contradictions built in that are beginning to collide with each other. It's at that point that history usually takes over and forces some kind of denouement.

Also too the Russians and Chinese just put their thumbs in our nose. We don't do to well with that, do we? We've forgotten how to play with others, we've grown so use to ordering everyone around or having them, at the very least, fall in to line.

RE

i have always wondered how important the recycling of petrodollars into US markets is for our ME policy. i believe this is the final gasp for speculative finance based capitalism and everything that has to do with global liquidity seems very important.

Andy

I think the biggest problem is with US foreign policy more generally. It lacks a framing vision to guide actual policies and goals as well as priorities when policies and goals come into conflict. During the cold war the strategic frame was opposition to communism, access to strategic resources, and military support to allies. What is our strategic framework today? I honestly have no idea. It is a meandering mess, a strategy of tactics, what Mark Safranski called "tactical geopolitics."

TWV

Bush and his neocons are long gone.
At least - misguided as they were - they were pro-American.

Now, we have the "perfect" storm:
An administration of OWS juveniles who don't like this country teamed up with the sell-out State Dept.

The best thing for America is developed North American energy resources that allow us to tell the ME (Arabs, Israels, Iranians) to go kill each other; we'll watch.

Bill

What was the US policy in Europe? for NATO, it was to keep the Americans in, the Russians out, and the Germans down. I think if you replace Germans with "Arabs," you're more or less there.

ked

perhaps, sometimes, tactical geopolitcs (which might be a form of American Pragmatism) IS a valid "strategy". must one be slaved to an over-arching framework - does history confirm that being superior?

given the paucity of quality in statecraft elites worldwide these days, bizarre (hopefully, not to the point of wildly irrantional) & tactical may be a valid position.

Herb

Oh, we have a Greater Middle East policy? I thought we just had wars, war wind-downs and drone strikes. That is pretty much the only "policy" in evidence. Basically "kill all baddies". The baddie du jour being variable and sometimes yesterday's or tomorrow's goodie du jour.

Generally, this has been our policy since Gulf War I (if not before), kicked into high gear when Bush binned our civil liberties in the (AQ hoped for) over-reaction to 9/11. If we expected Obama (and his flunkie HRC) to stray far from the script, that would have been foolish. It was clear that no matter who won the last election, the GWB course would not likely have been changed. Even if that was desired. But it wasn't, just a little tinkering needed.

Honestly, I don't think HRC (and therefore Obama) is naive enough to believe that the "flower of democracy" would lead to anything other than the sets of Islamic states that we now see blooming. Could she be? Therefore, the most sensible analysis is that this is precisely the goal (res ipsa loquitur).

Depending on your point of view, in some ways, why not? A hostile (or as in Pakistan, semi-hostile) government removes the pretext of seeking their permission to extend our own "justice" within their borders via drones, special forces, computer viruses, what have you. This policy hinges on two things, our intelligence gathering, and a willingness to ignore international law. Plus the arrogance to believe we can sustain the practice.We have shown we have the last two requirements in spades.

Basically in the brains of Washington, the Greater Middle East is broken into three sometimes overlapping areas, Israel, The Places Where Oil Comes From, and The Places Where Terrorists Come From. The first is our pampered child who can do no wrong (think Macauley Caulkin as The Good Child), the second is the cantankerous cow whose milk we need to stay alive (kick it and kiss it), and the third is where we send the drones and kill teams without concern.

Pretty simple for them, really.

Bill H

After saying that "China will find itself isolated" if it doesn't go along with us on whatever it was that was her cause' du jour a couple of months ago, Hillary Clinton is now demanding that China and Russia be made to "pay a price" for standing in the way of our stated goal of "regime change" in Syria. This is what passes for our nation's chief diplomat?

I think "bizarre" is the right word.

mbrenner

As Pat and all have pointed out, our incoherent actions in the Middle East are bizarre in overall appearance and affect because they do not constitute a policy. There is no thought going into them - just random impulses of a purely tactical kind animated more by careerist and political considerations than any considered objective whatsoever. Most disturbing, there is barely any condemnation of this abjwect failure of responsibility in the public discourse. Moreover, the same can be said for the foreign policy community in general. Raise serious questions, and the response is silence or ad hominum disaragement. It's like spitting at the ceiling - as the Russians say.

Are we doing any better elsewhere? Well, Hillary is making a Cook's tour of out-of-the-way Asian locales like Mongolia, Laos and Mynamar. Rehetorically encircling China I suppose - in her mind. Do we really believe that anyone is paying attention, or even listening, at this point? Beijing shaken by the emerging entente cordial of Ulan Bator, Bangoon and Vientiane? Even when we add our eternal ally in Kabul?

We are beyond the bizzare well on the way to utter farce.

Andy

By framework I mean the values, principles and interests which guide policymaking toward some end. A framework shouldn't be strictly determinative and inflexible. In practice our "commies, bad" framework during the Cold War had it's pragmatic elements (rapprochement with China, for instance).

Who can answer a couple of fundamental questions - What is the purpose of our foreign policy? What is our foreign policy trying to achieve that is in the long-term interest of the United States and its citizens? I don't think we in the US have a collective answer beyond some vague notion of maintaining the status quo with America at the top. There's a reason strategy documents from the national security establishment (both in government and think tanks) read more like bureaucratic protection programs than actual strategy linking ends-ways-means. So we stumble around from one crisis to the next considering each largely in isolation. We appear erratic because we are. We can get away with it for a while (and we have), but it can't last forever. Budgetary reality will enforce some real choices sooner or later.

Fred

The neocons are alive an well. OWS running the county? Now that's humorous as that crowd wants to prevent most bank foreclosures and put the banking crooks in jail, along with allot of career politicians.

The Moar You Know

We don't have a "Middle East policy" as such (save for KEEP THAT OIL COMING!) but simply politically expedient reactions from both parties where the end goal is to keep visible turmoil from erupting across the computer monitors of American citizens. Past experience seems to indicate that Americans seeing bad news about a place they know nothing about - save that the inhabitants appear to put bags over the heads of their women and settle their differences with bombs - makes those same Americans stop shopping for coffee and cheap Chinese crap, bringing the economy to a halt...which as we know puts us all at mortal peril.

"Bush and his neocons are long gone.
At least - misguided as they were - they were pro-American."

TWV, I'm going to need to see some proof of that. Your assertion and the lack of any visible evidence supporting your claim is going to require some extraordinary supporting material. Which I'm sure you can provide.

toto

The Places Where Oil Comes From, and The Places Where Terrorists Come From.

Indeed - and that's a really problematic division.

JohnH

I'm one of those who believes, contrary to everything you see on TV, that the twin pillars of US policy in the ME still revolve around Israel and oil and gas.

The language of democracy and human rights is served up like cotton candy to garner support and assuage the values of the American people and as many other gullible souls around the globe as possible.

Now what could go wrong with that policy? Well, first of all, hubris. America's boy in Iran, the Shah, spent 20% of GDP on arms and security, while the country languished in poverty. Instead, of reacting like grown men to the Shah's overthrow, the foreign policy elites got vengeful and refused to have anything to do--ever--with those bastards that did their boy wrong.

Can you think of a less productive way to bring Iran into the fold of the US' liberalized oil trading system?

What else could go wrong? Well, over-dependence on the remaining ME oil and gas, where the US feels increasing pressure to cover the oil producing royals' asses, no matter how badly they behave.

The royals keep raising the ante. Now they want the US to take their side in their religious wars against the kafirs in Syria, Lebanon, as well as Iran. Can the non-salafi Sunni in Turkey be far behind? And so, the US gladly obliges in return for some measure of say over the flow of oil and petrodollars.

Then, of course, there's the special case of Israel, whose example makes mincemeat out of every serving of US democracy and human rights candy, an equal opportunity offender of everything Muslim and anything related to human rights. And, because of pressure from the Lobby, the US became a tacit offender of everything Muslim as well.

Screwed up? You, bet. The US desperately needs to figure out how to restrain a few pint-sized bullies.

Hans

"Try to avoid dwelling on US/Israel relations excessively."

This single sentence summarizes succinctly why the US policy in the ME has become so bizarre.

Lars

Very good analysis but as long as no US troops are involved in a shooting war, there is progress. It may not last but as incoherent as US policy may be, for the time being, it is working.

Locally, even after about 13 000 years, they still have not figured it out. Should you expect more from one of the youngest nations around?

Jackie

JohnH,
How dare those Iranians not like our favorite ME leader that we foisted on them in 1953 on behalf of BP and England?

Babak Makkinejad

I agree with you to a certain extent.

I think the US invasion of Iraq in 2003, however, was a departure from what you described.

I think much of the current situation flows from that decision and the events that followed it (and those that did not).

That the policy looks incomprehensible is perhaps because the chain of events form 2003 have set forces in motion - that like a chaotic explosion - cannot be coherently handled.

Based on Internet sources, I have come to the conclusion that OMB attacked US due Israeli depredations in the Levant; Israel being a vassal of the United States.

Now, in the middle of a war, one could not expect an overlord to turn around and punish his own vassal for having caused that war in the first place.

Nor would one expect that that overlord to redress the griviences of a conquered and defeated people - by her vassal - to avoid future calamities.

This much is quite clear if one studies the history of Middle Ages.

HankP

I think JohnH has it the closest as far as pure ME policy goes, but what's really driving ME policy (and all foreign policies) is the coming contest with China. The real question for the 21st century is whether the US system or the Chinese system will prevail. I'm not feeling confident at this point.

Patrick D

I think it is bizarre because it is a relic of the Cold War that is no longer linked to well-defined national interests (as most Americans would define them) but maintained by special interests that mostly support the view of the foreign policy elite.

Oil is key but not the way it is usually presented. The U.S. gets a far smaller percentage of its crude supply from the region than Americans are led to believe. I did the math a few years ago and it jived with the numbers I saw elsewhere; about 13% from North Africa, Middle East, and Persian Gulf combined.

-13% is not insignificant but it is not a "choke hold" either.

-U.S. companies buy it, like everyone else, at market prices. The idea they get special access or discounts because of U.S. policy in the region doesn't fly. And remember, we're talking about 13%.

-Most of the crude from the region actually flows to Europe and Asia.

-The market price is fungible/global. Events in the region will affect price regardless of source. However, on that global level, China, Japan, U.S., Netherlands, India, etc. have pretty much the same national interest.

-Fear is expressed regarding a global or regional power seizing a significant chunk of the region's supply to enhance its influence. That was a concern with the Soviet Union 20 years ago. No global player now has the military power to pull that off or the need to finance the export of revolution. Everybody is "in business" now. Who is interested in blowing that kind of treasure when they can just buy the stuff? Does any regional player have the ability to project the power necessary to achieve that kind of objective?

-I don’t buy a showdown with China either. To the extent it is believed is basically the U.S. projecting its own point of view onto the PRC. China’s approach is fundamentally about their national interest, not exporting revolution or “national models”. China is interested in trade. If they want something from county X and party A is the relevant connection, they do business with party A. If A is displaced by B, then they do business with B. No attachments. No belief in the universal appeal of “Chinese values” or a model. Indeed, the very idea that Chinese values would appeal to non-Chinese flies in the face of the Chinese perception of the rest of us barbarians.

So why does the foreign policy elite feel the U.S. needs to dominate the region with the U.S. taxpayer footing the bill on top of what that taxpayer is already paying for petroleum products?

Best hypothesis I've read is Leon Hadar's; the U.S. views Europe and Asia as competitors and wants to keep an American hand on their gas pump to ensure its global hegemony. Everything else may make occasionally things complicated but it is just window dressing.

I don't know if that is true but it is the most coherent explanation I've encountered.

GorgonStare

Someone once snarkly observed that our policy in Iraq made complete sense if you just assumed Cheney was working for the Iranians.

May I suggest somewhere in the KSA there is a very rational actor tasked with making the ME safe for the expansion of Wahhabism and has the appropriate payrolls throughout USG to guide policy.

Ursa Maior

Well writing from the EU let me tell you, that the Russians are already in, the Germans up, both since a couple of years, and the US just decided to stay out (ie focusing on Asia).

As of ME ambiguity kills on the long run. Be they zealous wahhabites, zionists or zarathustrians.

JohnH

The only real rationale for US behavior is to serve as a benign hegemon that keeps Asians and Europeans from fighting each other for oil and gas, why would end up depriving everyone. So the US runs a protection service that forces everyone to play nice and, if they do, they all get enough oil and gas.

Of course, that forces the US to make sure that everyone does indeed get enough. So far this has worked, primarily because everyone has agreed to pay a lot more for what's left.

But is it sustainable? For one, it's the weirdest protection service I've ever seen. Those being protected are asked to pay nothing. The US even opens its markets to those being protected so they can sell here and destroy the US economy. How long can that go on?

Second, I rarely see any policymakers hint at this as the US role. Usually, some elites make a slips of the tongue to reveal their true intentions. I don't see this.

And so, I have to conclude that policy makers have not made benevolent provision of oil and gas their policy at all.

Rather, I suspect the underlying US policy is a confused muddle, a nation trying to remain as king of the mountain while its underlings get increasingly refractory and essentially blackmail the US into pursuing their bizarre notions of national interest. The key piece of evidence here is the US' kowtowing to Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are eager to fight Iran to the last dead American.

Bill H

I don't think there is actually a "coming contest with China" in any but the economic sense in competition for world resources. I think that is a distraction from the clusterflop that is becoming more and more bizarre in the Middle East and our inability to deal with it in any manner other than running from here to there with hand held fire extinguishers.

J

Colonel,

Former DCI Hayden will be propagandizing regarding his boogieman (Iran) via the LIGNET
group and NEWSMAX.com this coming July 17. NEWSMAX has been sending out promo flyers on the 'Special Iran Threat Brief'. It's more NEOCON clap trap stuff. One has to wonder how much Hayden is making off his NEOCON propaganda garbsge.

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