In a recent article in Foreign Policy, Stephen M. Walt argues that the US government’s policies toward the Middle East have been muddled, incoherent, and counter-productive to the interests of national security; and that the Middle East no longer has the kind of strategic value that it had in the Cold War, and the US government really ought to just walk away, since its not going to make a difference either way. As he concludes:
…here’s a radical thought: If the strategic importance of a region is declining, if none of the local actors deserve unvarnished U.S. backing, if our best efforts make both friends and foes angry at us, then maybe — just maybe — the United States ought to stop trying to fix problems that it has neither the wisdom nor the will to address. In the end, the fate of the Middle East is going to be determined by the people who live there and not by us, though we might be able to play a constructive role on occasion. And the sooner Americans recognize that they’re better off coaching from the sidelines, instead of getting bloodied on the field, the better off they’ll be.
As far as perspectives from the standpoint of US national security goes, its a good argument, and something that Walt has been arguing for a while now.
But on the flip side, how damaging has recent events in the Middle East actually been to US interests–or more specifically, to particular segments of US elites and their global allies? Plenty of people made an enormous amount of money from the Iraq War; the destruction of the Libyan and Syrian states have taken out two thorns in the side of Western regional hegemony; and the continuing military and intelligence partnership between the US and Saudi Arabia has ensured the security of the the Shia-dominated oil-rich regions of the Gulf monarchies. Israel in particular has never looked more secure, not in spite of, but because of the regional chaos.
So, when Walt writes that
…when it comes to the Middle East, the Clinton, Bush, and Obama administrations have been King Midas in reverse: Everything they touch turns not to gold but to lead or, even worse, into a violent conflagration.
perhaps we should maintain our cynicism about whether wrecking Middle Eastern society wasn’t precisely the whole point all along.