The United States is backing off from the Middle East — and the Middle East from the United States.
is in the midst of the greatest domestic gas and oil revolution since
the early 20th century. If even guarded predictions about new North
American reserves are accurate, over the next decade the entire
continent may become energy-independent, with little need of petroleum
imports from the Middle East.
coincides with mounting Chinese dependency on Middle Eastern oil and
gas. So as the Persian Gulf becomes less important to us, it grows even
more critical to the oil-hungry, cash-laden — and opportunistic —
two wars in the Middle East, Americans are as tired of our forces being
sent over there as Middle Easterners are of having us there.
usual Arab complaint against the United States during the Cold War was
that it supported anti-communist authoritarians in the oil-rich Gulf and
ignored democratic reform. After the 1991 Gulf War, the next charge was
that America fought Saddam Hussein only to free an oil-rich,
pro-American monarchy in Kuwait, without any interest in helping
reformists in either Kuwait or Iraq.
the Gulf War of 2003, there was widespread new anger about the use of
American arms to force-feed democracy down the throat of Iraq. Finally,
during the 2011 Arab Spring, the Arab world charged that the United
States was too tardy in offering political support for insurgents in
Egypt and Tunisia, and again late in “leading from behind” in helping
European nations remove Libyan dictator Moammar Khadafy. Now the Arab
world is hectoring America to help overthrow Bashar al-Assad in Syria.
get this all straight. America has been damned for its Machiavellian
shenanigans in supporting authoritarian governments; for its naive
idealism in using force to implant democracies; for its ambivalence in
not using force to protect democratic protestors; and for its recent
isolationism in ignoring ongoing Arab violence. Why, then, bother?
subtext of Middle Eastern anti-Americanism is that the region, if given
a chance, will embrace its own brand of freedom But that doesn’t appear
to be happening in Egypt. And democracy doesn’t seem to be the common
glue that holds together various Syrians fighting to overthrow the
odious Assad dictatorship.
Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood attended
college and later taught classes in California. Apparently Morsi once
came here to enjoy American freedom and for his family to be protected
by our tolerance and security. Is that why he is crushing liberal
opponents and the Egyptian media — to ensure that they never enjoy the
protections and opportunities that were offered to him while a guest in
the United States?
that anti-Americanism was often attributed to the unique unpopularity
of Texan George W. Bush, who invaded two Middle Eastern countries, tried
to foster democracies and institutionalized a number of tough
antiterrorism security policies. In turn, Barack Obama was supposed to
be the antidote — a Muslim family on his father’s side, his middle name
Hussein, early schooling in Muslim Indonesia, a number of pro-Islamic
speeches and interviews, apologies abroad and a post-racial personal
Yet recent polls show that Obama is even less popular in the Middle East than was Bush.
US debt also explains the impending divorce. With $5 trillion in new
American borrowing in just the last four years, and talk of slashing $1
trillion from the defense budget over the next 10 years, America’s
options abroad may be narrowing. President Obama also envisions a more
multilateral world in which former US responsibilities in the Middle
East are outsourced to collective interests like the United Nations, the
European Union and the Arab League.
soon the problem will be that we simply will not have enough power to
use it for much of anything — and would have to ask the UN for
permission if we did.
nothing good comes from American isolationism, especially given our key
support for a vulnerable democratic Israel. But for a variety of
reasons, good and bad, our Humpty-Dumpty policy of Middle East
engagement is now shattered.
And no one knows how to — or whether we even should — put it together again.
Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution,
Stanford University, and author, most recently, of "A War Like No Other:
How the Athenians and Spartans Fought the Peloponnesian War." You can
reach him by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.