The ongoing changes in the Middle East lend a sense of the U.S. losing influence in the region. No time, in my recollection, has the Middle East's future been more in doubt. Further, no moment within my lifetime has seemed to put the U.S' interests more at risk. The Middle East has always been a difficult region, that goes without saying, but have the pieces of the puzzle ever been more disjointed? Even after Israel's initial declaration for independence, at least there was a predictable them (Arab) vs us (Israeli) factor you could count on. It is hard to forecast the future of the Middle East and the future of U.S.' success in dealing with the states and non-state actors which have filled the gaps of Arab Spring's unhinged regimes.
I suppose my own aweness of the international world came into focus on 9/11. That day provoked the United States to respond in an expedited fashion to an agressor which murdered our innocent citizens. The U.S. had every right to respond initially the way it did. However, we overblew our response by invading regional countries not linked to al-Qaeda. If you are a proponent of Iraq war, well there are other ways we could have tried to oust Saddam void of an 8 year war. These two wars with a combined timetable of 19 years, and a complimentary war on terrorism everywhere has seemingly spun the Middle East more out of our control than ever before. The U.S., I believe is more in danger, from Middle East regional powers and non-state actors than prior to 9/11. The hundreds of billions of dollars which have been poured into our conflicts and homeland defense have drained the U.S. economy and shortened our reach as our interests extend.
The immediate pre-9/11 Middle East was in no way a perfect place, far from it. The region had ruthless leaders in Western terms. Recent deposed individuals suched as Ghadaffi and Hussein had their way in the region. However, we knew our enemy. We had interacted with Saddam before and could gauge his strengths and weaknesses. There was a sunni- shi'a balance in the region between Iran and Iraq. Since the fall of Iraq, regional checks on religious sects, Iran has gained relative power, but more so lacks a coherent Middle East rival. These extremists were more likely to attack each other than us. That is not the case any longer, from a humanitarian aspect we should have helped to ease the violence, but from a U.S. security perspective, matrys were killing matrys, and this was more acceptable than them attacking us on our territory. Saudi Arabi could be a balancing factor today, but the monarchy has been hesitant to fight within the region post 1948 overtly.
Further pre-9/11, our focus did not just centralize around terrorism alone, we were able to focus on peace initiatives (Bush speaking of trying to reinitiate further Arab-Israeli peace accords), ensuring weapons and nuclear materials were not picked up by non-state actors after the fall of the Soviet Union and increasing Western-Middle East links of trade and investment. Religion was still an important factor, but had trailed nationalism. Nationalism was more apt to be controlled by the U.S. than an unwavering sense of religious fanaticism that has taken over the region.
Today, we have fewer countries who are governing in any capacity, let alone in a democratic sense. The uprisings have allowed for vast pockets of land, with little oversight to be traversed by Islamist extremists looking to recruit new members. We led Iraq to a civil war that has been somewhat silenced, but is likely to be stoked back up with U.S. diplomats leaving at the end of this year. I believe Afghanistan will surely followIraq's path if the Taliban is able to garner power, whether through a "compromise" or duping all of those who fought for so long to replace them that the only way for violence to stop, is to put them back into government. What will the world say of U.S. effectiveness if after 10 years in Afghanistan, the Taliban comes back to power within the next 4-5 years? Will we be able to spin it as a success, more importantly, will it be?
Overall, after all these resources spent, all these American lives lost and the U.S. reputation diminished, what will we truly have to show for it? The answers lie in the way that Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan turn out. The answer further lies in whether regional "allies" such as Pakistan step in tune with our interests. Finally, will Iran cease its possible nuclear program and terrorist sponsoring when the U.S. is in harsh economic times and its society's political support is almost null? do you feel confident that the things we need to happen will? I have very little confidence in the outcomes of this wishlist
It is finally time for the U.S. to move on and regauge how to approach Middle East issues. It is not just the nature of having a high-cost and low-return method in the Middle East, but it also seems that the United States for the last eleven years has had no coherent plan for the region. We have supported regimes only to contribute to their demise later on. Fighting terrorism cannot be our only mission in the Middle East. Terrorism is abhorrent, but there are more important matters in the Middle East which will pay greater dividends for our own interests and subsequently for halting terrorism if we can formulate a plan to act. With the U.S. troops coming home, it is time that the policy-makers meet them at the border to say that all you have done will not go to waste, we have a plan. A plan, although late, is undoubtedly what we need.