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Old 01-26-2020, 08:09 AM
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Arrow Have you always wondered why - America Can’t Escape the Middle East

Have you always wondered why - America Can’t Escape the Middle East
By: Yaroslav Trofimov - The Wall Street Journal - 09-25-19
Re: https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-u-s...st-11572016173

Ever since the national trauma of the war in Iraq, both winning presidential candidates have run on pledges to extricate the U.S. from costly Middle Eastern entanglements.

Barack Obama promised in 2008 to end the war in Iraq launched by President George W. Bush, and during his 2012 re-election campaign, he touted America’s withdrawal from Iraq as a striking achievement. By the time Donald Trump won the Republican nomination in 2016, Mr. Obama had been forced to send some U.S. troops back to Iraq to prevent a takeover by the newly arisen Islamic State. Still, Mr. Trump campaigned on plans to finally end America’s “endless wars” and to cease nation-building abroad.

“We have done them a great service, and we’ve done a great job for all of them, and now we’re getting out,” Mr. Trump said this week. “Let someone else fight over this long bloodstained sand.”

Nor is there much appetite for Middle East conflicts among the Democratic front-runners trying to replace Mr. Trump. “I think that we ought to get out of the Middle East,” Sen. Elizabeth Warren said at a debate earlier this month.

The past decade has shown, however, that the U.S. can’t wish away the Middle East, no matter how tempting that may be for American voters. The 2003 invasion of Iraq proved to be a debacle, but subsequent attempts to pivot away from the region or ignore it altogether have contributed to humanitarian catastrophes, terrorist outrages and geopolitical setbacks, further eroding America’s standing in the world.

Mr. Trump’s abrupt decision earlier this month to pull out from hitherto relatively calm northern Syria—permitting a Turkish invasion and triggering an exodus by America’s abandoned Kurdish allies and a gleeful Russian takeover of deserted U.S. bases—is the latest such shock. The president’s decision has elicited unusually bipartisan pushback in Congress, alarmed American partners and emboldened Iran—a country that Mr. Trump, despite his often bellicose rhetoric, allowed to get away with being the staging ground for a debilitating attack on Saudi Arabia’s main oil installation in mid-September.

“States, including Arab states, that have depended on America for a long time are suddenly feeling very worried whether this support is really there in very difficult times,” said Nabil Fahmy, who served as Egypt’s foreign minister in 2013-14.

Such worries predate Mr. Trump’s administration. In 2013, Mr. Obama’s unwillingness to enforce his self-declared “red line” on the use of chemical weapons in Syria emboldened the regime of Bashar al-Assad and sowed global doubts about America’s fortitude. The worsening crisis in Syria contributed to the rise of Islamic State and to a refugee crisis that has jolted European politics, fueling the rise of the anti-immigration far right. Before that, in 2011, Mr. Obama’s withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Iraq gave room for Islamic State to regroup and grow, catalyzing radical groups as far away as Nigeria and the Philippines.

“Obama made a professorial, intellectual case for retrenching from the Middle East, and Trump is offering a gut-driven argument for it,” said Emile Hokayem, a Middle East expert at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “Both have the tendency to understate the immediate and medium-term costs of retrenchment, including the possibility that they will be drawn back in.”

America’s involvement in the greater Middle East dates back to the country’s earliest days—and also began with casting aside an ally. The U.S.’s first overseas war was the 1801-05 campaign against the ruler of Tripoli in today’s Libya, Yusuf Karamanli, who interfered with American merchant shipping in the Mediterranean and enslaved captured American sailors. That Barbary War, still celebrated in the opening lines of “The Marines’ Hymn” (“To the shores of Tripoli”), sought a 19th-century form of regime change: replacing Karamanli with his exiled older brother Hamid. After initial battles, however, the U.S. changed tack, abandoned Hamid and instead made a deal with Yusuf.

Only after World War II did the U.S. become a dominant power in the Middle East, taking over from the region’s former colonial overlords, Britain and France. President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1945 meeting with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz aboard the USS Quincy in Egypt began a relationship in which the U.S. ensured the kingdom’s security in exchange for access to its vast oil reserves. In 1957, in the early days of the Cold War, President Dwight Eisenhower proclaimed the so-called Eisenhower Doctrine that allowed any Middle Eastern nation to ask for American military aid if it feared outside attack. He sent U.S. Marines to Lebanon later that year.

The 1973 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors turned a commitment to the Jewish state’s security into another cornerstone of America’s foreign policy. And in 1980, amid a surge in oil prices and the Iranian hostage crisis, President Jimmy Carter announced his own doctrine, under which the U.S. would repel an “attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region” by “any means necessary, including military force.”

Still, not until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in 1990 did the U.S. permanently deploy tens of thousands of troops to the region. Their presence in ultraconservative Saudi Arabia, in particular, became a rallying cry for the Islamist extremists who coalesced around Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda.

Following al Qaeda’s Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and, in 2003, Iraq—two post-9/11 wars that have cost trillions of dollars and killed some 7,000 U.S. service members so far. Thousands of American troops remain in both countries today.

Meanwhile, Washington went from striking a nuclear deal with Iran in 2015 under Mr. Obama to abrogating that pact under Mr. Trump and seeming to push for regime change in Tehran—then to once again trying to engage the Iranian regime diplomatically in recent months. And Mr. Trump, despite his recent decision to remove all U.S. forces from northern Syria, is now considering options for leaving about 500 troops there and sending dozens of battle tanks to retain control of oil fields.

For Middle Eastern governments, the whiplash of U.S. policy has left a sense of bewildered chaos. “American allies and America’s foes are all totally confused about what the U.S. wants in the region. We don’t understand, to be honest with you,” said Iraq’s former national security adviser, Mowaffak al-Rubaie.

‘American allies and America’s foes are all totally confused about what the U.S. wants in the region.’ (Me Too?).

On the surface, the arguments for why America should now give less attention to the Middle East, with its violent conflicts and maddeningly complicated alliances, seem compelling. The 1973 oil embargo championed by Arab countries crippled America’s economy, but the energy picture has changed dramatically since then: The fracking revolution has turned the U.S. into the world’s largest oil power, one that can no longer be easily blackmailed with supply cuts. The Middle East is also a relatively small part of today’s global economy and—with the exception of Israel—contributes little to the technological revolution transforming the world.

“The United States is over-invested in the Middle East,” said Jeremy Shapiro, the research director of the European Council on Foreign Relations in London, who worked in the State Department during the Obama administration. “Every day, you see people saying that the U.S. is losing Syria, which may be technically true—but Syria is not worth anything…It serves absolutely no purpose for U.S. foreign policy, and if the Russians and the Turks want to divide Syria, why should the U.S. care about it?”

Debate in the U.S., Mr. Shapiro added, should center on how to properly allocate the country’s scarce resources to the Middle East relative to America’s other areas of interest, such as East Asia. In an age of increasing big-power competition, costly commitments to policing the region have come at the expense of the assets needed to confront a rising China and an expansionist Russia.

Mr. Trump, in a recent tweet, pointed to these two global rivals, which seek to reshape the international order at America’s expense, as he justified his Syria retreat: “The two most unhappy countries at this move are Russia & China, because they love seeing us bogged down, watching over a quagmire, & spending big dollars to do so.”

But there is no avoiding the fact that the Middle East still matters a great deal to U.S. interests. Islamist terror groups with a proven record of bringing devastation to New York, Washington, Paris and London remain a major security concern. In the past, jihadists used havens in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria and Iraq to plot more ambitious and deadly attacks, including 9/11. Though Islamic State’s self-styled “caliphate” has been dismantled, the extremist movement still hasn’t been eliminated—and can bounce back. U.S. intelligence still relies on Middle Eastern partners such as Jordan for counterterrorism cooperation, information sharing and early warnings. Intelligence officials now worry that the hasty American retreat from Syria and the loss of on-the ground information from formerly U.S.-allied Kurdish forces may leave Washington in the dark about a comeback of hostile radical groups.

The world’s main shipping lines, the bloodstream of the international economy, run through the region, which is why an impoverished country like Yemen, ravaged by a proxy war between Saudi Arabia and Iran, remains strategically significant. The Middle East’s proximity to Europe also means that millions more refugees could be on the move if the region spins further into chaos. Nuclear weapons—already possessed by Israel and possibly in the future by Iran, Saudi Arabia and Turkey—add to the mix of global threats.

Another reason may be even more important, however. In other parts of the world, people and leaders are closely watching the fallout from America’s behavior in the Middle East—and drawing conclusions that will affect the global balance of power.

Michael Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to Washington who served until earlier this year as a deputy minister in the Israeli government, recalls meeting recently with an American military delegation and telling them: “If you think the United States as a global power can pull out of the Middle East and not endanger itself, you are deluding yourselves. When America withdraws from the Middle East unilaterally, the Russians internalize this and move into Crimea and Ukraine; the Chinese internalize it and move into the South China Sea and beyond in the Pacific.” Mr. Oren added, “The Middle East is viewed by the world as a litmus test of American power.”

Events in the region are also widely viewed as a litmus test of the value of American friendship. Russia, for one, is winning the argument that it can be a much more reliable ally. Moscow has stood with its brutal client, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and helped him to win his country’s civil war. The U.S., by contrast, has discarded a number of allies, such as Egyptian autocrat Hosni Mubarak amid the pro-democracy protests of 2011.

Mr. Trump’s startling decision to abandon the Syrian Kurdish forces, which fought side by side with U.S. troops against Islamic State, has reverberated across the region, held up as yet another example of American treachery. It wasn’t the first time that the U.S. sold out the Kurds: As national security adviser, Henry Kissinger encouraged a Kurdish uprising in Iraq just to stand aside in 1975, when the American-backed shah of Iran reached a deal with Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein that allowed Iraqi forces to massacre the Kurds.

“No one can ever rely on U.S. promises unless they suffer from amnesia,” said Ertugrul Kurkcu, a leader of the main pro-Kurdish party in Turkey’s parliament, the Peoples’ Democratic Party, which is allied with the Syrian Kurdish leadership. “Yet betrayal is betrayal, and this time it is committed not from behind the veil but openly and crudely, by the most selfish and greedy president of the U.S. This bitter lesson will always be remembered not only by the Kurds but also by the Arabs and the Turks.”

Comment: ‘No one can ever rely on U.S. promises unless they suffer from amnesia.’—Ertugrul Kurkcu, a leader of a pro-Kurdish party in Turkey

While Russia benefits from such U.S. policies, it can gain only so much in the region. “Syria shows that Russia can become a major political player with a rather small investment,” said Yury Barmin of the Moscow Policy Group, a Russian consulting firm. “But nobody in Russia is ready to make huge investments to replace the United States in the Middle East. We just don’t have this kind of financial resources.”

Whatever their verdict about Mr. Trump’s abrupt pullout from Syria, some experts believe that the country was the wrong theater for proving the value of America’s global commitments to its allies. “Nations judge their interests based on what they see on the table, not projections of credibility based on events thousands of miles away,” said Robert Ford, a scholar at the Middle East Institute in Washington who served as U.S. ambassador to Syria under Mr. Obama. “If we make American credibility the reason to stay in Syria, we are on a very dangerous slope—the slope that took us to Vietnam in the 1960s, in competition with Russia and China. If lines are to be drawn in the sand, they have to be drawn in places that matter to us.”

The U.S. difficulty in doing that in the Middle East has bred uncertainty among both its friends and its foes there. “The last two decades, it has been very difficult to read what America really wants to do and how far it wants to go. First it was in a regime-change posture, going into wars without any factual evidence. Then it wants to pivot out and wants to withdraw,” said Mr. Fahmy, the former Egyptian foreign minister. “The problem is that these policies are not just shifting gradually, they are changing day to day. And this creates a political vacuum and instability.”

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Personal note: These are the initial reasons back then. But today we are still there in force with many of our men and women. Why? Is it strictly for the oil reserves? We don't need any beach sand. Why are we shedding our kids blood in these god awful deserts?
It has to be the oil! Why use ours (if we have any - any more) and if we don't use it Russia may come in or China or North Korea and take the oil?

Today we are "all" building more bombs, building up more military arms & weapons. To fight in other lands of which are most likely related to oil? If this is so - we need to become more self-sufficient and come up with an alternate means of power and not just nuclear bombs.

Personal note(s):

Has the entire world gone M.A.D. and to what gain?
Mutual Destruction everywhere - again to what means?

a. Note: Who ever launches they will have to know that a retaliation is bound to occur.
b. There will be "No Winner's" no one can expect to survive - for any length of time.
c. No one can ever live on radiated lands and polluted grounds for centuries.
d. And yet they all call themselves "World Leader's" I'd say more like World Destroyer's.

Boats
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O Almighty Lord God, who neither slumberest nor sleepest; Protect and assist, we beseech thee, all those who at home or abroad, by land, by sea, or in the air, are serving this country, that they, being armed with thy defence, may be preserved evermore in all perils; and being filled with wisdom and girded with strength, may do their duty to thy honour and glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

"IN GOD WE TRUST"
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