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The Middle East Doesn’t Matter

The ISIS rampage through Iraq and much of Syria, roiling Washington and other world capitals, gives rise to an interesting question: Who would win a contest to be named America’s most worthless Mideast ally? Competition is fierce, but three countries are clear frontrunners.

There is Saudi Arabia, whose princely emissaries to Washington have been confidants of presidents and fixtures on the Georgetown party circuit, a country whose rulers and princes possess seemingly unlimited amounts of discretionary income. They have used this wealth to subsidize worldwide the teaching of the most extremist and intolerant variants of Islam, but also to prop up the US defense industry by buying at every opportunity the most elaborate weapons systems we would sell them. It isn’t yet known whether Saudi pilots can actually effectively fly these advanced fighter aircraft under combat conditions. (There is sufficient evidence however that even relatively untrained Saudis can learn to steer a fully loaded 747 into a fixed ground target.)

What do the Saudis do with their shiny F-16’s and spanking new tanks? One might have hoped to see Saudi forces in action against ISIS—which really hasn’t had any success against a military formation that has been systematically trained and adequately armed. But this isn’t happening, probably because Saudi leaders realize that a great many Saudis (a majority?) actually agree with the ISIS ideology, and there is no guarantee they wouldn’t defect to ISIS if called upon to battle it. Among the best few sentences written since the onset of the crisis comes from veteran observer William Pfaff [1], who pointed to the stakes:

Moreover, is it fully appreciated in Washington that the “New Caliphate” has every intention of taking over the existing role in Islamic society of Saudi Arabia? It wants to conquer and occupy Mecca. If it succeeds, the Saudis themselves will be submitted to the ferocious discipline the ISIS practices. The Saudi ladies who now complain that they are not allowed to drive cars will find themselves in a new world indeed!

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Then there is Turkey, an actual NATO member, a Muslim majority country which bridges Asia and Europe, a country with a considerable middle class and millions of educated and highly trained citizens. There are smart people in Washington and beyond who have held great hopes for Turkey: that it might solve the seemingly intractable riddle of how to combine Islam with modern democracy; that it might provide meaningful diplomatic support to the Palestinians; that it could both restrain America from disastrous blunders (as it tried to do in Iraq) and exert its growing influence on behalf of social and scientific progress in the region as a whole.

I shared those hopes, but have to admit they now seem pretty naive. Faced with an aggressive extremist Sunni movement beheading people on its borders, Turkey’s leaders choose to focus on the alleged dangers posed by its own long-restive Kurdish minority, while remaining obsessed with the Alawite (i.e. not Sunni Muslim) regime in neighboring Syria. Turkey has allowed ISIS to be replenished by allowing its own territory to be used as a transit zone for jihadist volunteers. If, as seems plausible at this writing, the Syrian-Kurdish town of Kobani falls while Turkey’s powerful NATO-armed military observes placidly from just over the border, it will be a long time before anyone in Washington will be able to say “our ally Turkey” with a straight face again.

Then there is Israel, usually touted as the best of American friends in the Mideast, if not the best ally any nation has been blessed to have, ever. Recipient of nearly as much American foreign and military aid as the rest of the world combined, Israel, with its crack air force and large stockpile of nuclear weapons, stands unchallenged as the region’s dominant military power. Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu shows up on American news talk shows more than leaders of the rest of the world combined; were it not for John McCain, he would surely log more “Face the Nation” time than any American politician.

Once again, events illustrate what utility Israel has as a regional ally when the crunch comes. Faced with a unforeseen, rapidly moving, and dramatic crisis, Americans watch as Israel does absolutely nothing except antagonize the Muslim world further by announcing new land seizures so more illegal settlements can be built in Jerusalem. Of course this isn’t without precedent; Israel was of no help in the first Iraq crisis, and of course no help in the second—beyond providing a parade of prime-time cheerleaders to encourage George W. Bush in his lurch into war. Indeed, almost by definition Israel is no help in any regional crisis. The Israeli military may well remain formidable, though it is hard to be sure, as its most recent campaigns have been conducted against essentially undefended civilian populations.

What distinguishes Israel from Turkey and Saudi Arabia, is that no one is particularly surprised that it gives no help; it is not expected to do so. Congress will respond anyway with new resolutions demonstrating to major campaign donors its absolute submissiveness to Tel Aviv; perhaps Israelis will be permitted to travel to the U.S. without visas while Israel doesn’t reciprocate the favor, or the Pentagon’s replenishment of Israeli military stocks, exhausted by Gaza bombardment, will be prioritized.

Might there be a silver lining in all this? As we witness the emergence of a violent new force, simple realism forces upon us the fact that the friends we’ve been wooing for decades just don’t see it that way. They may not like ISIS, but for various reasons they have other fish to fry. That should tell us something about the strategic vision underlying our policies for the past two or three decades. (I would give a passing grade to the American Mideast policies pursued during the heat of the Cold War, when strategists considered keeping oil flowing and the region out of the communist orbit to be a pressing national priority, superseding all other considerations. In this they succeeded.)

What silver lining? It’s rooted in the fact that the Mideast may now actually matter much less than we think it does. We do have the option of pretty much ignoring it, if we choose. Its contribution to the world economy is negligible. Its oil will reach the market one way or another. The security and well-being of the American people is not linked to the survival of a Shi’ite regime in Baghdad, a medieval monarch in Riyadh, or, for that matter, a Jewish state in Jerusalem. Recognition of this fact is only beginning to seep into the discourse: Justin Logan argues persuasively here [2] that virtually nothing that goes on in the Middle East can threaten us very much, that no country in the region is worth starting a war over, and that the amount of money we’ve spent combatting terrorism in the region is wildly disproportionate to the actual threat. (It goes without saying that American bombing, with its inevitable “collateral damage,” will create a growing class of Muslims who have concrete reason to want to harm Americans.) In an recent interview, Francis Fukuyama elaborates [3] on this view. 9/11 didn’t “change everything” as many claimed, or shouldn’t have; it was essentially a lucky shot.

“These are really marginal people who survive in countries where you don’t have strong states … Their ability to take over and run a serious country that can master technology and stay at the forefront of great-power politics is almost zero,” he says. Elsewhere he notes that the crisis over ISIS is really a subset of the Sunni-Shia civil war, and America’s ability to have any lasting impact on that is also almost zero.

This perspective—that the Mideast isn’t actually all that important to American security and we should pay much less attention to it—should now become a critical part of the American conversation. The thinkers cited here—Logan and Fukuyama, and one should add the popular blogger Andrew Sullivan, also writing along these lines—are far from knee-jerk “isolationists.” Fukuyama posits particularly that we should use military offshore balancing to ensure that no single power controls the oil fields; and obviously Iran would not want or allow ISIS to shut off its ability to export oil. But beyond that, we can afford to take the region much less seriously.

Unfortunately, there are no major American politicians now ready to make this argument. Rand Paul, regrettably, seems to have folded into a “me too” ISIS hawk after the first atrocity appeared on television, and the entire debate in Washington is now between neocons who want to send American ground troops now, and Obama establishment figures who hope, against much persuasive evidence, that some combination of bombing and special forces and our “coalition partners” will halt the ISIS advance. This narrowing of our true choices is madness.

There is a third, quite realistic, option: ISIS doesn’t matter all that much, and in any case if our “allies” don’t want to fight it, there’s very little we can do about it. If it one day rules Mecca, more the pity for the Saudi women and their driving aspirations. But the impact on American life will be minimal.

Scott McConnell is a founding editor of The American Conservative.

49 Comments (Open | Close)

49 Comments To "The Middle East Doesn’t Matter"

#1 Comment By Tom On October 15, 2014 @ 1:47 am

The less involvement we have in the Middle East, the fewer enemies we will create.

Look at what happened in Spain. As soon as they pulled out of the Iraq War, the jihadists stopped setting off terrorist bombs.

We’ve already tried everything else, let’s try something that has been proven to work.

ISIS militants aren’t going to make it to Mecca. If Saudi Arabia feels an existential threat, then they can afford to rent a couple of divisions from Pakistan and Egypt to help out.

#2 Comment By johnny On October 15, 2014 @ 5:01 am

Scott, one minor correction, you do not need a Visa as a US citizen to go to Israel. A US citizen only needs a Visa to go to the West Bank and “Occupied Territories.” [4]

#3 Comment By Marko On October 15, 2014 @ 5:03 am

“Rand Paul, regrettably, seems to have folded into a “me too” ISIS hawk after the first atrocity appeared on television,”

I’m glad you noted this as TAC people seem to largely have a blind-spot that prevents them from seeing that Rand Paul is just another career-politician, in the way his father was not.

#4 Comment By Philip Giraldi On October 15, 2014 @ 7:15 am

Great article Scott, time to pull up the pegs, fold the tents and leave the region on its own. Turkey is however pursuing an identifiable though idiotic policy. Opposing ISIS means supporting the Kurds and as Syria and Iraq are dissolving that would possibly mean new demands for an autonomous Kurdish state, which would include one third of Turkey. So no way Turkey is going to help in that direction. So it is bombing Kurds, not ISIS.

The Erdogan delusion that drives much of this is that Turkey will somehow emerge as the top dog in a Sunni dominated region after all the dust settles and al-Assad is removed. One can call it recreating the Caliphate or the Ottoman Empire as one wishes, but Erdogan clearly is somewhat taken with the prospect and has referred to it numerous times.

#5 Comment By Chris Mallory On October 15, 2014 @ 8:56 am

“Rand Paul is just another career-politician”

One elected term is a career? Who knew? Come back in 8 years and maybe you can use that word.

#6 Comment By Kurt Gayle On October 15, 2014 @ 9:33 am

Great article, Scott!

I especially value this part:

“…The Mideast may now actually matter much less than we think it does…Its contribution to the world economy is negligible. Its oil will reach the market one way or another.”

About the oil: Back in ’64 in Vienna I was a casual friend of an Iranian medical student. She was involved in one of the many active anti-Shah student groups at the University. She hated the American-trained SAVAK and became very emotional when she told me that friends back in Tehran had “disappeared.” She was not a girl to be trifled with and I admired her. She used to say to me something like this:

“You Americans. You know that no matter who’s in power in Iran we’ve got to sell the oil. It’s just that we don’t want you or the Soviets running Iran. So why don’t you let us sell you the oil and otherwise leave us alone?”

She was right about Iran. And about the entire Middle East. Buy their oil. Otherwise bugger off. Leave them alone.

#7 Comment By Bette On October 15, 2014 @ 10:00 am

This article is very biased against Israel, this tiny sliver of a nation that could help the entire Middle East flourish, who could help peaceful Palestinians have a decent life, whose medial and technological genius is saving lives of people of all races and religions………..if and only if the radical factions would stop paying terrorist groups to be just what they are TERRORISTS.

#8 Comment By a spencer On October 15, 2014 @ 10:21 am

>>in any case if our “allies” don’t want to fight it, there’s very little we can do about it.

Spot on.

#9 Comment By Clint On October 15, 2014 @ 10:32 am

Ben Friedman,
“He started off by saying what he thought about foreign aid and shifted to saying what he thought would help him get elected president. I doubt that he’s under the illusion that he can win over the part of the Republican Party that has always been most vociferous and supportive of Israel but he probably thinks he can neutralize them.”

Rand Paul saw how his dad was marginalized and rendered unelectable by the neoconservative faction and is dealing with that problem.

#10 Comment By Jdk47 On October 15, 2014 @ 11:03 am

Completely wrong about Israel. The author has completely ignored Israel’s immeasurable, tangible military help by aiding us in creating Stuxnet, planting deep agents inside Iran that have bombed their nuclear plants and assassinated key nuclear personnel, and by bombing weapons facilities in Syria.

This is far more than any other Middle Eastern country has done.

#11 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On October 15, 2014 @ 11:59 am

This should get the Article of the Year Award. I hope this article goes viral, because we desperate need to counter the neo-con propaganda that is everywhere, although I fear that it is too late.

#12 Comment By Tom On October 15, 2014 @ 12:08 pm

The Middle East does matter, that is to Washington, or more accurately, who Washington works for. The media, especially the right wing media, is full of fear about Islamic Law infiltrating America, and yet there is no basis whatsoever for this fear, it is pure hatemongering. How many people from Muslim nations have dual citizenship with America, and are working in OUR government, none that I know of. Yet when how many people with dual citizenship with Israel are there, and actively serving in our government, at the highest levels? John Bolton for God’s sake, yet no concern there. The arch zionist Sheldon Adelson single handedly ran the Republican primaries, and again not a peep from the American media or public. The Middle East matters because it exemplifies the power of a small group of people over our government and its actions. Our support for Israel is a primary reason America has become so loathed in the world, and Israel does not care, only weeks after America spends hundreds of millions resupplying Israeli armaments, Israel turns around and does another land grab…no accountability, because America is run buy gutless traitors, who value power and wealth above loyalty and honor to our nation.

#13 Comment By Chris in Appalachia On October 15, 2014 @ 12:22 pm

“Rand Paul, regrettably, seems to have folded into a “me too” ISIS hawk”

If we’ve lost Rand then we’ve lost everything. Just close this website down. The American government has been hijacked, and there’s nothing we can do about it. No one knows how to get our government back. You might change the minds of a great deal of the citizenry, but the wishes of the citizens don’t matter anymore to our “representatives.” Maybe you give up trying to stop the madness and let the madness go full steam until it collapses under it’s own weight. Of course it will take a lot of people down with it (already has), but then maybe some sane people can pick up the pieces.

#14 Comment By Hassan Dibadj On October 15, 2014 @ 1:33 pm

Please read the article from a former MI6 analyst. This is the most insightful article about ME that I have read in years, especially part II. I wish AC would link to this tremendous article:

[5]

#15 Comment By Wile E. Quixote On October 15, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

It was Otto von Bismarck who famously said “There is nothing in the Balkans that is worth the bones of a single Pomeranian grenadier”. When will we have an American politician who is willing to stand up and say “there is nothing in the middle east that is worth the bones of a single American infantryman”?

#16 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 15, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

Good article. There is also a good article in the “Of Note” section to a similar effect on the Politico magazine site by Justin Logan.

[6]

Logan destroys, in turn, the oil, Israel and terrorism rationales for US over involvement in the ME.

Oil, he writes, is fungible. It also produced in many places. And there are spot and futures markets to help rein in fluctuations. No ME nation itself has any real chance of cornering the market, co operation is hard to come by, and, I might add, no outside force, besides the USA, even seems to think the effort to dominate the ME is worth the effort. I might also add that whoever rules in any of the oil producing countries, whether they are Westernizing liberals, traditional kleptocratic monarchs, radical jihadist Sunnis, Sh’ia mullahs, or whatever, all have an overriding incentive to keep producing and selling oil. Finally, I would also add that oil is simply not as important as it used to be…new energy sources, improvement of alternative sources, and conservation have all made ME oil less and less important.

As for Israel, Logan points out that it is more than capable of defending itself, these days. I would go even further, and argue that it has always been able to do so, and more. And, furthermore, and more fundamentally, that there is not now and never has been much moral or material benefit to the USA in propping up Israel in the first place.

As for terrorism, the price is simply too high given that the risk is so low. And, as he implies, the more we fight in the ME, the more we inspire new terrorists. What is the point of spending hundreds of millions of dollars trying to kill terrorists at the source, when it is ever so much easier and cheaper to simply keep them out of the USA with border and law enforcement and intelligence work?

I found this paragraph to be an excellent encapsulation of the issues:

“Otto von Bismarck, Nicholas Spykman or any of the other great strategists of centuries past would be puzzled at the degree of interest Western elites give to the Middle East. The region is an economic dwarf. Its combined GDP—even including oil—represents roughly 6 percent of world GDP. Its population is closer to 5 percent of world population, and its military forces are similarly unimpressive. As the iconoclastic scholar Edward Luttwak has pointed out, America’s Middle East analysts frequently fall victim to the ‘Mussolini syndrome’ when thinking about the region, attributing ‘real military strength to backward societies whose populations can sustain excellent insurgencies but not modern military forces.’ No Middle Eastern state can project power outside the region—not Iran, which spends about $18 billion per year on defense, and not Saudi Arabia, despite its roughly $60 billion in annual military spending.”

Indeed, what these societies seem the best at is producing insurgencies, which, despite the lack of good terrain in mostly desert countries, manage, through their refusal to let scruples stand in the way of terrorist tactics, through the power they get second hand from the strong belief in Islam in the region, and, perhaps, from the lack of any alternatives, having proven quite good at keeping the sophisticated militaries of the British, the French, the Americans and the Israelis wrong footed and mired in combat stalemate for decades.

#17 Comment By Michael Tracey On October 15, 2014 @ 3:40 pm

Israel wins this sordid three-way contest, in my judgment. While Saudi engages in ghastly crucifixions of religious dissidents, and Turkey launches airstrikes against Kurds within its own borders, neither two nations come anywhere near exerting the outsized cultural influence on the United States as does Israel. There are few political costs to criticizing Saudi or Turkey here on the home-front. But as Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-TX) recently learned for daring to vote against additional unregulated “Iron Dome” funding, uttering even the mildest peep against our alleged grandest ally in the Middle East can be a career-killer. Astonishingly, this dynamic only seems to be getting worse.

#18 Comment By collin On October 15, 2014 @ 4:07 pm

Hey at this point, if Turkey pulls a Putin and starts trying to rebuild an old empire, all I have to say is that “it is their funeral.” At this point Stephen Walt’s analysis that Obama is the most cold hearted realist is looking more true by the day.

#19 Comment By SmoothieX12 (aka Andrew) On October 15, 2014 @ 4:31 pm

@Phillip Giraldi

One can call it recreating the Caliphate or the Ottoman Empire as one wishes, but Erdogan clearly is somewhat taken with the prospect and has referred to it numerous times.

I believe it was Davutoglu who articulated this concept of Turkey as the leader of Sunni Islam.

#20 Comment By JohnG On October 15, 2014 @ 4:44 pm

Great article, thank you!

As far as Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and to some extent Israel, let them meddle and then discover the law of unintended consequences. You do one thing hoping for A and you soon discover that B and C are happening, and now you have even worse problems on your hands. We’ve seen this so many times courtesy of our neocon class, I just hope we are finally learning our lessons (Lesson #1: STOP LISTENING to those folks to begin with. I just find it astonishing that anyone would be taking Cheney or McCain seriously at this point.)

So I say let these 3 “allies” duke it out, and my prediction is that the division of Iraq and Syria will only solidify. Turkey will then be fighting to keep its part of Kurdistan, possibly cooperating with Iran which will end up having the same problem. Saudi royals will be freaking out over Saudi Arabia being taken over by the Islamic Sunistan carved out of Iraq and Syria, that is, they WILL get a caliphate, just not one ruled by THEM but by the thugs they are now helping and financing (the same goes for Erdogan, he is playing with fire without realizing he won’t be able to control it). And Israel will find itself cooperating with the Kurds and Druze-Alawite parts of Syria and Lebanon, and will probably be wondering “why the heck did we want a regime change in Syria in the first place?”

But in any case, we can and should stay out of it, especially now that we don’t even need the region’s oil, and whoever ends up controlling it will keep pumping in order to finance its battles and ambitions. Time to stop wasting money and other resources on this thing, definitely!

#21 Comment By JS On October 15, 2014 @ 4:50 pm

This is mostly right, with one major caveat.

The Gulf produces most of the exported oil in the world. It matters a great deal. In every oil-producing country which has had stability issues (Libya, Iran, Iraq, even Egypt) production has seen huge and permanent decreases. If Gulf oil production fell at all, oil prices would skyrocket.

But there’s a decent argument that every non-oil producing state is pretty irrelevant to US security.

#22 Comment By Michael Morgan On October 15, 2014 @ 6:21 pm

Scott,I think you are engaged in a bit of wishful thinking here. I doubt the US would be able to disentangle itself from the Mideast without perhaps dire and unforseen consequences. America has a vital leadership role in the world whether it like it or not, and as an Australian I would rather it be you guys playing world cop rather than see Russia or China fill the vacuum. Also, you have conveniently ignored the growing problem of home-grown jihadis that ISIS appears to be inspiring and galvanising like never before. Accept the fact that America is a target. As for ISIS being incapable of establishing a viable state it is not so inconceivable – most of the infrastructure is alreasy there, at least in Iraq, and they would have all the oil revenue to finance there expansionist goals. After all, it isn’t unprecedented that a small band of committed guerrillas can overrun a country and establish long-term rule. Think Cuba. With ISIS entrenched a whole new generation of terrorists will have a base to launch a new wave of attacks on the west. 9/11 a lucky shot? Perhaps so, or perhaps merely the first shot in a long and deep war.

#23 Comment By Dave On October 15, 2014 @ 8:06 pm

Since the ME ‘doesn’t matter’ I take it that McConnell will write about something else.

Of course this is not meant as a prediction.

#24 Comment By Jonathan On October 15, 2014 @ 8:26 pm

As to the two conflagrations in Iraq, we do not know what assistance if any Israel provided the U.S. with intelligence. Israel was in no position to actively assist the U.S.

The rest of the article is spot on as they say. Israel has not only antagonized the Muslim world for its persistence in further occupying Palestine but its policies have certainly contributed to the mass exodus of Christian Palestinians. Today, only a remnant of Christians reside in Bethlehem.

My narrow concern is can we together with the U.K. keep Basra secure from insurgents?
But as the article point out, it just might not matter who controls the port when money whether in dollars or euros or other denominations dictate. With oil financing, how far could IS spread its borders? It certainly behooves us to develop energy alternatives that are affordable and cost effective. Is that even in the realm of the possible?

#25 Comment By john werneken On October 16, 2014 @ 3:48 am

Amen. Politics ought not to be about values, morals, opinions, or self or group identity, as people really really resist compromising any of those. Material interests are COUNTABLE; USA has none in the Middle East, other than a strong propensity to benefit from and thus to support relative stability and the freer exchange of people, ideas, goods, and services which depend of a semblance of security.

#26 Comment By D505 On October 16, 2014 @ 11:47 am

“There is sufficient evidence however that even relatively untrained Saudis can learn to steer a fully loaded 747 into a fixed ground target.”

This is sarcasm?

#27 Comment By Don G. On October 16, 2014 @ 1:27 pm

Would all be fine if it wasn’t for the US’s interest in destroying Russia. But then it’s not to be acknowledged that the US has promoted the Ukraine problems with that aim in mind. However, the US moderating of it’s support for the Israeli apartheid against the Palestinian people would go a long way in stopping the ISIS threat and their main purpose of revenge. Too bad domestic politics stands in the way of accomplishing that!

#28 Comment By Christina Mitchell On October 16, 2014 @ 3:43 pm

Why the Middle East Currently Matters: CHEMICAL WEAPONS!

This article’s reasons for staying out of the Middle East sound like the rationale of American isolationists who wanted the U.S. to stay out of WW2.

As late as 1940, the Isolationists said, ‘America is not threatened by Hitler’s invasion of Europe’ or ‘America has nothing to gain, especially economically, by entering the European war’. Today, the New Isolationists are pretty much saying the same thing about the Middle East.

OK, the arguments of both the Old and New Isolationists hold some water. HOWEVER, WHAT ABOUT OUR MORAL IMPERATIVE?

In 1940, stopping Hitler’s monumental campaign of genocide was sufficient reason alone to fight the war. Today, stopping the use of chemical weapons against civilian populations is good cause for stepping into the Middle Eastern conflict.

The year 2014 is the 100th anniversary of World War 1. That horrific war introduced and unleashed chemical warfare for the first time. The monstrous cruelty of slaughtering people with chemical agents was every bit as vicious and brutal as Hitler’s extermination of Jews in Death Camps.

Did the nations learn from the experiences of WW1? Apparently not! One hundred years later, monsters are still massacring people with chemical weapons, subjecting them to excruciatingly painful and hideous deaths. The international response of so-called civilized nations is feeble at best.

ARE CHEMICAL WEAPONS BEING USED TODAY? By ISIS? Plenty of evidence indicates ‘yes’–if you bother to look for it!

Mainstream media is downplaying this grave issue, such as this Washington Post article today at [7] But if you dig a little deeper, you will find the Truth, such as this article showing graphic evidence of mass murder by ISIS chemical weapons: [8]

The United States needs to finish what it failed to do in the aftermath of World War One, which is to aggressively spearhead an international initiative to effectively ban chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the first step is severely punishing ISIS for its use of chemical warfare.

For those who are tempted to call me a blind, stupid ‘hawk’, let me say I am an American mother with a 21-year old son. Therefore, I know very well what is at stake.

I’d rather my boy run for Canada if the cause of war was merely to ‘Keep the Middle East Safe for Democracy’ as Bush II’s hogwash peddled to us in 2003. But this time around, I’d sadly feel as my grandmother once did when she sent her two boys off to fight Nazis.

Some things have to be fought for. Stopping Hitler’s mass genocide was one reason. Stopping chemical warfare is another good reason.

Freedom is not free…which includes freeing the world from chemical weapons.

#29 Comment By Clint On October 16, 2014 @ 6:03 pm

Israel’s national interests are not necessarily helpful to U.S. national interests.

“Other Israeli officials expressed further concern that the US and Iran are on the same side in the ISIS war, with Iran already deploying troops to help Iraq before the US arrived. The ‘concern’ seems to center on the belief that Iran would benefit from ISIS’ defeat, the same reason Israel has long looked the other way on ISIS and al-Qaeda in Syria.”

Israel ‘Concerned’ US War On ISIS Will Temper Hostility Toward Iran

[9]

#30 Comment By arrScott On October 16, 2014 @ 6:20 pm

Exceedingly picayune correction:

(There is sufficient evidence however that even relatively untrained Saudis can learn to steer a fully loaded 747 into a fixed ground target.)

The Saudi-national pilots of the various 9/11 attacks flew 757s and 767s. While some trained on 747 simulators, we don’t actually know whether they were capable of flying the older, larger jet. If mere classroom training doesn’t count for Saudi fighter pilots, then it also shouldn’t count for Saudi hijackers.

#31 Comment By amspirnational On October 16, 2014 @ 6:26 pm

The US entry into the war caused as much genocide as it prevented.

#32 Comment By Stephen On October 16, 2014 @ 10:45 pm

Because Hitler! Munich!

I do love this line: “Freedom is not free…which includes freeing the world from chemical weapons.”

Does this include our own chemical weapons? You know, like we sold to Saddam and other freedom-loving allies? I wonder how much of the ISIS arsenal has “Made in the USA” stamped on it.

I probably shouldn’t have fed the troll … Sorry.

#33 Comment By tomorrow’s headlines today On October 17, 2014 @ 12:12 am

“The United States needs to finish what it failed to do in the aftermath of World War One, which is to aggressively spearhead an international initiative to effectively ban chemical weapons. Unfortunately, the first step is severely punishing ISIS for its use of chemical warfare. “

Ha ha. I can hear our UN Ambassador now:

“Today the United States is announcing its intention to aggressively spearhead an international initiative to effectively ban chemical weapons, like the ones that we manufactured and sold to Saddam Hussein a few decades ago, and which, as you learned yesterday, were inadvertently detonated by US soldiers during the Iraq War, and some of which, for reasons that for present purposes are best left undetailed, may now be in the possession of ISIS.”

(Uh oh, I seem to be making a “credibility” argument …)

#34 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 17, 2014 @ 1:03 pm

Michael Morgan: I love Australia and plan to take my family there in a few years. Nonetheless, we really don’t care whether non-Americans prefer that our young men continue to be killed and maimed, and our fed gov pushed towards insolvency, to fulfill your preference for the US as world policeman.

Russia will not be able to police the world or pose any serious long-term threat to the USA, not least because its population is stagnant (declining in something like 20 of the past 25 years), increasing in average age, and severely damaged by widespread alcoholism. The only group whose population is steadily growing in Russia is the Muslims, not only in the Caucasus but far north of there in Russia proper. Russia is beset by a younger, growing, expanding Islam and China and has no readily apparent way out.

China is a different story, of course.

Australia, in any event, is giving away the store and becoming an Asian country — though not admittedly not nearly as quickly as the USA is becoming North Mexico.

#35 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 17, 2014 @ 1:09 pm

Christina Mitchell: People who do not favor the US starting, exacerbating, or interfering in foreign wars far from our shores are not “isolationists.”

First, I for one favor greatly increased American trade & profitable commercial relations with any and all nations. No hostile acts like government-imposed “sanctions.” (Individuals & companies, of course, are free to boycott goods and services of whatever nations they wish.)

Second, I favor substantial increases in student-exchange programs from many nations, and other means of enhancing our understanding of each other’s cultures, lifestyles, and mores. Those programs probably tend to lead to increased trade, as well.

Third, our economy sorely needs and would benefit from massively increased tourism, especially from China and India, which have the numbers to make an appreciable difference. With more stringent security screening, we could promote and allow many more tourists to visit our country.

On a personal level, I speak one foreign language, my wife speaks two, and our children will be learning three.

None of that is remotely “isolationist.” That’s just a term that people like you use to stifle debate and make it harder to oppose your latest favorite non-defensive war.

#36 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 17, 2014 @ 1:12 pm

Christina Mitchell: Your grandmother’s boys risked their lives not to defeat totalitarianism, torture, and political imprisonment, but to enable the Soviet Union’s brand of cruelty to prevail over the Nazis’ brand.

They were surely brave men who thought they were doing the right and necessary thing, but they were not.

#37 Comment By RadicalCenter On October 17, 2014 @ 1:13 pm

Christina Mitchell: Lastly, it is not just your son who may squander his precious life in an unnecessary, non-defensive war.

All of us and OUR children pay the price when blowback hits hard here and abroad.

That is true even without conscription and will become much more so when conscription (involuntary servitude) is reinstated.

#38 Comment By C. L. H. Daniels On October 17, 2014 @ 1:50 pm

Amen. It’s too bad that this type of thinking is so limited in Washington, but it’s exactly what we need. I thought Obama would be wise enough to keep us out of the ME once he got us out of Iraq, but I was sadly mistaken.

#39 Comment By Duncan Kinder On October 17, 2014 @ 5:31 pm

My MidEast policy, since about the time of the first Arab oil boycott in the 1970’s, has been “Develop solar power and get the hell out of there!”

I agree we need to downsize the MidEast, but this requires attention to energy policy. Unfortunately, this is rather like going into rehab to cure an addiction.

#40 Comment By Dick Thompson On October 17, 2014 @ 7:49 pm

Great article, Scott! And right on the money as an overview of our disastrous mid-East policies since WW II. We and Europe do indeed need oil, but as you and others point out, the nation states of the region need to sell it as much as we or Europe need it – and we in the US are indeed in a position to minimize our requirement for Saudi oil in particular.

More important, I think, is that our political class is spineless with respect to Israel – because of the outsized and pernicious influence Israelophiles have on US policy via money politics (see Mearsheimer & Walt, Jimmy Carter, Norman Finkelstein, etc.).

Among US presidents since WW II, only Dwight Eisenhower seems to have appreciated the disaster of supporting Israel. In an avowedly post-colonial world, and a United Nations which absolutely rejects acquisition of landmass by armed force, Eisenhower brought the Brits, French and Israelis to heel in the 1956 Suez Crisis, denying that very land grab-by-force activity to all three.

Playing the Holocaust card, abetted by World War I and post-WW I Britishand French diplomatic duplicity (Lord Balfour, Sir Henry McMohan, Sykes-Picot, Lord Rothschild, Peel Commission, Malcolm MacDonald, etc.), and fanning undeserved guilt by nations which had restricted European Jewish immigration before WW II, Jewish terrorists successfully conducted precisely such a land grab by illegal immigration, insurrection / assassination, ethnic cleansing / forced migration, and armed force (see Haganah, Irgun, Lehi / Stern Gang, Lord Moyne, Count Folke Bernadotte, King David Hotel, Palestinian Arab forced migrations, “right of return”, ad nauseam) in May, 1948.

Thus pre-statehood declaration, Palestinian Jews formed the first major modern mid-East terrorist organization, and Israel has continued under US protection as the premier mid-East terrorist state.

On moral grounds alone, we need to remove all support of any kind from Israel, a state in violation of more UN resolutions than any other, and a cancer on the region. From a purely practical standpoint, Israel has done nothing to support US policy, has expended neither blood nor treasure on our behalf, actively sabotages US diplomatic efforts, kills US service members and civilians (see USS Liberty), and cons us into military actions which cost us – not Israel – large loss of life and huge loss of funds. As the old saw goes, with friends like this, we don’t need enemies.

Turkey we might find useful. Saudi Arabia we don’t need, except as employer of the Congressional-military-industrial triad. But none of the three, and particularly Israel, is worth American blood and treasure, and the same goes for the rest of the Levant and broader west Asia. We surely don’t need to be isolationist, and we need responsibly sized, trained and equipped defense forces. I can find nothing in our Constitution which commands us to police the world, defend other nation states, or force our brand of “democracy” on others at the point of a gun.

US war party lunatics aside, it is simply none of our business if others choose to be different from the way we might prefer they be. So long as they don’t threaten us in some credible way, we should trade with them and leave them alone. Neither we nor any other nation state will ever be able to entirely suppress small bands of fanatics who wish to kill some of us (see British India / Raj). But those maniacs will inflict far less death and destruction on us than we do to ourselves with our automobiles.

We desperately need some perspective and common sense – and far fewer politicians and voters just waiting for a new high of indignation and outrage over trivia (see Faux Noise, Limbaugh, Tea Party, House Republicans, ad nauseam).

Thanks for the eye-opener, Scott. Maybe, just maybe, our national conversation will begin to include seriously questioning any need to involve ourselves in this miserable landscape. We most assuredly don’t need to continuously make new enemies by supporting a terrorist regime that is both illegal and immoral by all post-WW II conventions and law, nor any of our other present “allies” in the mid-East.

#41 Comment By Mitch Haegel On October 18, 2014 @ 10:28 am

Yah! another Isolationist puff peace, praising Turkey, smacking Israel (golly, what should the Jews do so appease their Muslim betters?) Okay, don’t antagonize! But when they do, like the Gaza giveback, we hear the silence from McConnell, weeping bitter tears. Israel has wised up to Obama and Kerry’s foreign policies, and so why offer “help” that would never be accepted because it offends the Muslims. Yup, just jump off the building. This is the tactic of the Left, now of the extreme Right.

#42 Comment By Sooner Than Later On October 18, 2014 @ 12:36 pm

I agree with McConnell’s assessment of the inherent value of the ME to the US. It’s been obvious for a long time, the importance of oil notwithstanding.

Unfortunately it remains important – and McConnell will find himself returning to the subject again – because of the various alien interests that have successfully entangled us there. Oil doesn’t matter the way it once did, Cold War imperatives no longer dictate involvement, Israel not only doesn’t matter, it’s strategically worthless and morally embarassing, and the rest boils down to internal Muslim and tribal religious conflicts that we should never have become involved in in the first place.

We should up stakes and clear out, get our priorities straight and rethink grand strategy. This should have been done in the early 1990s. Instead we had feckless Bill Clinton admiring his own reflection in the Oval Office, hapless post-9/11 G W Bush with creepy neocon advisors whispering in his ear, and now the weird contradictions of Barack Obama, seemingly bent on exacerbating the consequences of the blunders made by his two predecessors.

#43 Comment By Nelson On October 19, 2014 @ 7:49 am

The moral imperative argument doesn’t make much sense. We did not know there was a genocide until we almost defeated Germany. If we hadn’t interfered in WW1, Germany wouldn’t have been crippled enough for the Nazis to rise to power in the first place. Now it is good we defeated Germany in WW2 but we need a more robust philosophy for entering into war than the vague notion of moral imperative, which can be manipulated into an argument for all sorts of unnecessary wars.

#44 Comment By Brett Champion On October 19, 2014 @ 9:42 am

Sarcasm is a poor substitute for thoughtful analysis.

#45 Comment By michael in nyc On October 20, 2014 @ 5:08 pm

Finally, the Truth.

Great article.

#46 Comment By philadelphialawyer On October 20, 2014 @ 6:56 pm

I don’t get the criticism of McConnell for writing about the ME. He is not making US policy. He is commenting about it. It is perfectly consistent for him to believe the ME is overrated in terms of importance to the USA and to write about it a lot, because our policy makers don’t share his, correct in my view, priorities. Our country starts wars there, quite frequently, and in between wars is up to its ears in various crises, policies, disputes, etc in the region. That activity is fair game for McConnell to write about, even if he thinks our country should be doing none of it.

#47 Comment By jay kalend On October 20, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

War involves mythmaking, and this article seems to perpetuate its own myths. You can cite them for yourselves by way of my own propositions.

Yes, we can deal a crippling blow to ISIS, because we (the US and any regional allies) are a great deal more mobile then they are.

Israel is and will be a great deal of help, due to a de facto strategic partnership with Saudi, which contains Iran. The situation is helped by German built submarines designated to bear Israeli nuclear missiles.

Iran is less deterred by ISIS then one thinks. Southern Iraq is under greater and growing control by Iranian operatives than all of Iraq was by the US. Control of oil makes the difference. Never mind interdiction of Iranian oil by ISIS — We’re talking about the largess of Iraqi oil.

The matter of Saudi sympathy for ISIS and support of al-Qaeda is foggy, and has been so for years, from the murky press accounts I have seen. Saudi is at best an oligarchy like Russia, where power is divided between opposing factions. One faction, that of Osama Bin-Laden received no approval from his family, and nothing that could be described as support from an actual social class. The clericy has already come on record as justifying, Koranically, the first US invasion of Iraq, by way of an infidel power defending the Dar.-al-Islam.

It is possible that a cleric led movement could undermine the Saudi government in the same manner as Iran. But since there is nothing like a secular, Western oriented mindset imposed on Saudi society, with anything like a shape-shifting Marxian contingent to facilitate a revolt (whatever became of uncle Karl Marx?) an Iran styled coup seems unlikely. Rather, we would see a replay of the Iraq-Iran War.

But nowhere has TAC ever theorized that Iran is seriously interested in starting such a war again, or that Saudis do not understand what is now at stake with ISIS.

So leadership matters. The US striking the first blow, with or without the help of Iraq or Turkey, will focus some minds wonderfully? What does Erdogan want? What does Baghdad want? In the default scenario, the US will have the Kurds, which is enough for strategy, and a moral stand.

#48 Comment By rob schachter On October 21, 2014 @ 12:28 pm

“Israel was of no help in the first Iraq crisis, and of course no help in the second”

This is an insane criticism. Not only doesn’t us want Israel to provide military aid in its mid east conflicts, we would never even ALLOW Israel to assist the first place for fear of upsetting other arab nations.

In fact, during the first Iraq war, there was a bitter conflict between prime minister Shamir and bush I because Israel wanted to fly missions to Iraq to take out scud launchers and the US flat out refused. But im sure scott already knew that.

#49 Comment By c matt On October 21, 2014 @ 2:31 pm

The Gulf produces most of the exported oil in the world.

And that is key. The US may not need ME oil, but it does need ME oil to be sold in US$ in order to prop up our funny money. The day the rest of the world doesn’t care about ME oil, and therefore it cannot be used to prop up (overvalue) the US$, that will be the day the ME no longer matters to the US. Of course, at that point, the US will have much bigger problems.