THE U.S. MIDDLE EAST “BALANCING ACT” — DID RUSSIA HELP OBAMA?

THE U.S. MIDDLE EAST “BALANCING ACT” —
DID RUSSIA HELP OBAMA?

“The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes.” (PROVERBS 21:1)

Political scientists are still trying to make sense of why Russia left Syria so suddenly and what to make of Barack Obama’s “defense” in his March 10 interview in The Atlantic composed by Jeff Goldberg.   Concludes Goldberg in what could be a good summary assessment, “Obama has found world leadership wanting: global partners who often lack the vision and the will to spend political capital in pursuit of broad, progressive goals, and adversaries who are not, in his mind, as rational as he is.”

The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic, March 10, 2016
The Obama Doctrine, The Atlantic, March 10, 2016

David Frum in The Atlantic of the same date, provided his assessment of Obama’s lament:

And when his understanding proved wrong, that only confirmed Obama’s disdain for everybody else. Early on, Obama had pulsed with excitement over the so-called Arab Spring. But there too, as Goldberg observes, the president “grew disillusioned” as “brutality and dysfunction overwhelmed the Middle East”—a development that apparently caught the president entirely by surprise. Now, Obama wistfully says, “All I need in the Middle East is a few smart autocrats.” “Smart” here is shorthand for “conforming to Obama’s wishes.” Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has certainly ruled autocratically. Yet Obama is vexed, reports Goldberg, that Erdogan “refuses to use his enormous army to bring stability to Syria.”

Obama seems to feel gathering disdain too for both sides of the Arab-Israeli dispute. On the one hand, Obama appears annoyed that Muslims worldwide did not heed his advice “to more closely examine the roots of their unhappiness.” On the other hand, “According to [former Defense Secretary] Leon Panetta, [Obama] has questioned why the U.S. should maintain Israel’s so-called qualitative military edge.” [1]

Karan Bokhara wrote an article for Geopolitical Futures entitled, “Shaping a Presidential Legacy”.  Here is segment of Bokhara’s perspective:

In an article published yesterday in The Atlantic titled “The Obama Doctrine,” U.S. President Barack Obama called on Saudi Arabia and Iran to establish a form of “cold peace” in order to manage the growing chaos in the Middle East. In the extensive interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, Obama warned that the region cannot see an end to anarchy unless the Salafist kingdom and the Islamic republic can come to terms with one another on how to “share the neighborhood.” The interview clearly shows that the president is more frustrated with traditional U.S. ally Saudi Arabia than with Iran, which for nearly two generations has been a foe of the United States. In the article, Obama criticized the Saudis for the kingdom’s role in spreading violent extremism in the wider Muslim world and for oppressing women at home.

The phrase “The Obama Doctrine” is just a way of describing the decisions Obama had to make in the past seven years. [I disagree that Obama was forced to make these decisions questioning what was in fact driving his decisions.] The driving force behind the doctrine was ultimately not Obama’s personal ambitions or ideals, but rather the U.S. moving toward a balance of power strategy. It’s a retrospective designation, trying to make sense of eight years of decisions, rather than an orienting principle through which Obama directed U.S. policy. Policy is what someone wants to happen – geopolitics is what does. [2]

Saying that it is a “retrospective designation, trying to make sense of eight years of decisions” would be better stated as, “eight years of indecision and trying to justify what now is, based upon what we failed to do right”…  Obama now is willing to admit that what transpired in Libya after Gaddafi was eliminated amounts to “the greatest mistake of his presidency”.  More specifically, “Probably failing to plan for, the day after, what I think was the right thing to do, in intervening in Libya,” Mr Obama told Fox News.

Perhaps.  But it was a consistent series of decisions to eliminate old-school autocrats and create disruption (intentionally or otherwise) in the Middle East.  And where we had established some sense of order (like Iraq and Afghanistan), we elected to reduce our commitments and in Iraq’s case, pull out altogether.

The “Obama Doctrine” in the Middle East (including the war in Iraq) may be comparable (in terms of achieving its objectives) to the famous military and political farce from exactly 100 years ago:  Gallipoli. This campaign was an Allied plan to battle the Turks at there, a 8-month World War I campaign (1915) to win the Dardanelles in the south of Turkey that ended in a stalemate with almost 350,000 dead (180,000 Turks and 170,000 Allies). Gallipoli ended many military careers and nearly did Winston Churchill in for his role in overseeing what was judged a mismanaged and utterly humiliating campaign. Happily, the major difference between then and now is that U.S. losses in this series of wars in the Middle East (unlike Gallipoli) has cost the Allies only a fraction of the lives lost at Gallipoli. However, given that the ambiguous policy of the U.S. in the Middle East (from 2002 to today) has cost taxpayers billions and secured nothing for the country but more hatred of the West by Arabs, Palestinians, and Iraqis, the pointlessness of Gallipoli may be a most apt comparison.

Gallipoli Campaign 1915 - The Classic Middle East Stalemate
Gallipoli Campaign 1915 – The Classic Middle East Stalemate

Nevertheless, somehow the U.S. and Barack Obama have stumbled its way into a semblance of a favorable outcome to the Syrian civil war — at least for the time being.  How long the peace lasts is questionable as there are already retaliatory moves by rebels at Aleppo as this is written on April 16, 2016.

Pointing out the irony of what has transpired in the Middle East, George Friedman, the CEO of Geopolitical Futures, surmises that Russia has been asset to the U.S., and the U.S. to Russia, despite of the fact that neither administration started out intending to help to the other. Indeed, they likely intended to harm the other’s position in the Middle East.

The Russians intervened in Syria in order to bail the United States out of a very difficult situation. The United States opposed the Assad regime and wanted it replaced by a coalition of opposition forces. It was increasingly obvious that this was not going to happen. Assad might fall but what would replace him was a fractious opposition as much at war with each other as with Assad. This might be preferable to Assad, but the Islamic State was deep into Syria and had already engaged and defeated some of Assad’s armored forces – not to mention that IS controls far more territory than any other rebel group. If Assad fell, and if he was replaced by the opposition, it was conceivable they could in turn be replaced by IS. The U.S. was aware that it had constantly underestimated IS, and the possibility of IS in Damascus was both real and unacceptable to the United States.

The United States had a political problem. Not only had it opposed Assad, it had been deeply aligned with anti-Assad factions. It could not suddenly become the protector of the Assad regime. At the same time, the United States, at that moment, could not afford the fall of Assad. The Russian intervention solved the problem for the United States. Assad was saved. IS was blocked and a situation that was spiraling out of control was contained. [3]

To be clear, Putin has acted in his own self-interest.  Likewise, the United States Executive Branch has been attempting to act in the self-interest of the U.S. too; however, as I have pointed out several times before, the U.S. has acted in duplicitous ways misleading its allies and U.S. citizens. The White House as even battled the Pentagon unbeknownst to Obama until last summer.   At one point, our President stated we would degrade and destroy ISIS (in the summer of  2014) while secretly employing the CIA to run guns to the rebels and facilitate their financing through the sale of oil by ISIS to countries consuming that oil (as far as I now these remain undisclosed countries, but likely European). Turkey has been highly instrumental in helping get arms both to ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra (Al-Qaeda — among myriad other Syrian rebels fighting Assad).  This gun running rests at the heart of the whole Benghazi affair. Furthermore, President Erdogan of Turkey and his son have personally benefitted from these oil shipments if Vladimir Putin is to be believed (charging that Erdogan knowingly helped the rebels including ISIS for personal profit).  And these oil shipments were not down in the dark.  They were caught on camera during Russia bombing strikes (filmed by the attacking Russian fighter-bombers).  The U.S. has acted like it got caught with its hands in the cookie jar, but without comment officially, being complicit to an extent that likely will never be disclosed.

Russia Bombing ISIS Oil Tankers
Russia Bombing ISIS Oil Tankers

What is the U.S. really trying to accomplish given the facts on the ground today?  According to Jacob Shapiro:

The U.S. is playing a spoiling role in Iraq and Syria. It sees in the Islamic State the potential for a strong Sunni Arab power that could frustrate the balance of power the U.S. is attempting to construct in the region between Turkey, Israel, Saudi Arabia and Iran. Such a power would not be a direct threat to the U.S., but it would be a powerful anti-American force to be reckoned with in the heart of the Middle East. The U.S. cannot afford to occupy Iraq or Syria – but it is in the United States’ interest to make sure that IS is prevented from growing, that local forces are built up sufficiently to at least contain IS and that regional powers take greater ownership over managing regional conflicts… [4]

The U.S., having failed to maintain a balance of power (by maintaining a strong presence in Iraq, having pulled out in 2011-12), seems to be attempting a mishmash of “power balancing” between the various Middle Eastern powers.  This used to be called “playing both ends against the middle.”  But now it could be seen as “covert political detachment” as a means to disentangle itself entirely from the region.  David Langler from the New York Times provides this commentary:

Mr. Obama’s frustration with much of the Arab world is not new, but rarely has he been so blunt about it. He placed his comments in the context of his broader struggle to extract the United States from the bloody morass of the Middle East so that the nation can focus on more promising, faster-growing parts of the world, like Asia and Latin America.

“If we’re not talking to them,” he said, referring to young people in those places, “because the only thing we’re doing is figuring out how to destroy or cordon off or control the malicious, nihilistic, violent parts of humanity, then we’re missing the boat.” [5]

It is curious indeed, as the U.S. still “hangs out” conducting bombing raids whenever it feels it has a clear target against a target it believes merits destruction.  Exactly what that policy is, based upon prior actions over the past two years and Obama’s disdain for the region and its leaders, is really anybody’s guess.  Additionally, the U.S. role in relationship to NATO member Turkey is at best puzzling, given that Turkey wants to establish itself as a caliphate and dominate the Middle East from its Sunni standpoint. The U.S. is walking a tightrope over a great chasm with no knowledge of its destination on the other end.  Why?

Turkey now has been attacked multiple times by the Islamic State – most recently on March 19 by a suicide bomber in Istanbul. But the Iraqi Arabs don’t trust the Turks – the presence of Turkish forces to train Kurdish peshmerga fighters in northern Iraq caused a diplomatic spat back in December 2015. The U.S. is cooperating with Iranian-backed troops on the ground in Iraq – the Shiite Popular Mobilization Forces have been some of the most effective anti-IS fighters and are supplied by both the U.S. and Iran. But while Iran has forces on the ground in Syria and Iraq, its intervention has not been enough to stop IS. Israel is too far away to offer any tangible support, and the Saudis cannot decide if they are more afraid of the Iranians or IS – so they continue to support radical jihadist militias in Syria to try and bring down Bashar al-Assad in the hope of scoring a blow against both. Amid the chaos, it’s tempting for an American leader to think that the easiest thing to do is to simply knock out IS and to worry about building a balance among these disparate powers later. [6]

However, it is highly unlikely that IS can be knocked out by half-hearted attempts at its destruction.  If ISIS is to be defeated, it is highly unlikely that Turkey will act in accordance to U.S. wishes as the rebels continue to fight against Assad who the Turks want to oust.  It is likely that the whole story will repeat itself with Russia returning to aid the Syrian president, and ISIS continuing to thwart efforts to overwhelm it with air power alone. How the United States will play its cards in this confusing scene remains to be seen.  Considering that Obama is in the last year of his presidency, and wanting not to be seen as a wartime president, but rather a leader who guided the country to peace in Iraq and Afghanistan, makes it seem most likely that matters will fester and the whole inextricable mess will be handed off to the next President to sort out.

#1 Best Seller in Theology - Amazon, March 2016
#1 Best Seller in Theology – Amazon, March 2016

Meanwhile, look for Russia to continue to strengthen its role with the Shia countries and power groups throughout the “Shia Crescent” and for Turkey to establish itself as a power to be reckoned with, opposing Russia and Iran.  Look for Saudi Arabia to weaken as “the Kingdom” falls into further disfavor globally (with a PR problem we couldn’t wish on our worst enemy) and as the U.S. distances itself further from this primary source of Salafist terror in the world.

For additional study on this topic, please obtain a copy of my book, The Next Great War in the Middle East:  Russia Prepares to Fulfill the Prophecy of Gog and Magog.  One half of the book deals with the geopolitics of the Middle East leading up to the “next great war” which I believe is the war of Gog and Magog.  You can read the introduction to the book for free here on my website under EXCERPTS.  The book The Next Great War is on sale throughout this weekend for $6.49 on Kindle.  I will be releasing a new book, a sequel to The Next Great War, entitled, Mistaken Identity: The Case Against the Islamic Antichrist.  Expect this book to be available in paperback beginning this Sunday, April 17, and on Kindle within two weeks (by May 1st).

MISTAKEN IDENTITY: The Case Against the Islamic Antichrist
MISTAKEN IDENTITY: The Case Against the Islamic Antichrist

The next new book, Mistaken Identity:  The Case Against the Islamic Antichrist, will pick up where The Next Great War leaves off, addressing many deeper issues with the popular view that the Antichrist of the last days will be Islamic.

As I will document, there is much more to the Islamic Antichrist Theory (IAT) than just whether the Antichrist has an Islamic background or was born in a land dominated by the Islamic religion.  The topic is vital for students of Bible prophecy to understand.

This new book is presented as a Quick Study Book (TM), meaning it is in two-column oversized page format (8.5″ x 11″), intended for reading in 2-3 hour timeframe.  I hope you will consider it also.

NOTES

[1] David Frum, “The Disappointment of Barack Obama”, The Atlantic, March 10, http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2016/03/obama-doctrine-goldberg-disappointment/473172/.

[2] Kamran Bokhari, “Shaping a Presidential Legacy”, Geopolitical Futures, March 11, 2016.

[3] George Friedman, “Why Putin Went into Syria”, Geopolitical Futures, March 15, 2016.

[4]  Jacob L. Shapiro, “The Pitfalls of US Power”, Geopolitical Futures, March 21, 2016.

[5] David Langler, “Obama Criticize the ‘Free Riders’ Among America’s Allies”, New York Times, March 10,http://www.nytimes.com/2016/03/10/world/middleeast/obama-criticizes-the-free-riders-among-americas-allies.html?_r=0.

[6] Shapiro, op. cit.