Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The disaster that is our Middle East "policy."

Steve Clemons is traveling in the United Arab Emirates and reported this yesterday:
But let me just put something out there that I learned this evening during a 90 minute discussion from one of the most prominent incumbent national security officials in the Middle East:

This senior policy official stated that he had never seen a Secretary of State as weak, disorganized, and without a plan of any kind than Condoleezza Rice -- and this from someone who strenuously insists that he and many other regional foreign policy officials want to be supportive of her and the U.S.

He stated that American withdrawal from Iraq -- despite the growing clamor for that -- would yield a complete change in the profile and character of nearly every one of the Middle East's 22 countries. He said that several governments in the region -- outside of Iraq -- could very easily "and would probably fall."

He said that America would be facing a new roster of regimes that were loyal either to Tehran or to al Qaeda.

He said that there is only one non-military way to break Iran's current course, and that the military option was not credible and would not be supported in the region. This official said that the only way to stop Iran at this point was to make the price of oil plummet.

He said that America could engineer this with coordinated support from oil producers in the Gulf Cooperation Council.

The price of a dramatic increase in oil production would be expeditious movement -- real movement -- on Israel-Palestine negotiations towards a viable state of Palestine and a clear, coordinated plan on Iran.

He said that though the GCC were close, many-decades-long allies of America that the U.S. regularly ignores its regional allies and has not communicated its basic policy course on Iran.

Without a clear and credible plan, there would be no confidence in America's effort to knock back Iran's growing pretensions and nothing would be done on the oil front.

But it seemed clear to me that this prominent person believed that it was well within the power of major oil suppliers to get the price of oil below $40/barrel -- and that this would stifle Iran's growing influence significantly.

He said that America needed only to get re-engaged, set a course, and build allies to move forward -- but that America continues to approach these matters in disconnected, reactive, and ultimately futile ways that show no fundamental understanding of regional realities and demonstrate a lack of strategic vision or common sense.
Sounds a lot like the Bush administration handling disaster relief on the Gulf Coast and in New Orleans, doesn't it? America seems to need disaster relief from the expected supplier of disaster relief. Let's look at what this man said more closely.
  1. Our Secretary of State is disorganized, weak and has no plan to guide America's Middle East actions.
  2. America has many long time allies in the Middle East who want to help, but the administration has not communicated with them, either to solicit views, to share a plan or to organize actions against Iran or the fundamentalists who threaten them as well as us.
  3. America's failure in and withdrawal from the Middle East will cause either the collapse of the governments of many of our allies, or their reorientation towards al Qaeda and Iran if they are to survive.
  4. Iran's ability to influence events in the Middle East would be sharply reduced if the price of oil could be reduced to below $40/barrel. This is within the power of major oil suppliers if they could be induced to work together within the framework of an overall plan.
  5. America could move effectively if it were to get re-engaged, set an organized course, and build allies to work towards a mutual goal. Instead the Bush administration (personified in the ME by the hapless Secretary of State) shows no fundamental understanding of ME realities and an absence of either common sense or strategic vision. This is shown by the disconnected and reactive approaches taken to the entire Middle East adventure in which there are three civil wars currently brewing, one in Iraq, one in Lebanon, and one between the Israelis and the Palestinians.
The clear victory by the Democrats in last month's election amounts to a resounding vote of no confidence in the Bush administration. Ask Sen. Lincoln Chaffee who had approval ratings of about 65% at the same time he lost his election to a Democrat.

If America had a Parliamentary government, the government would have fallen November 8th, and it would have been replaced by one that was a broad-based coalition. As it is, all we have gotten is a new Secretary of Defense. Better than nothing, I guess, but we also need a new Secretary of State.

Certainly I would appoint a roving ambassador to the ME, with command authority over all diplomacy in that area. He would be co-located with the Centcom Commander (who already has the same kind of unified control of military forces in the ME), and the two directed to coordinate their activities. They would have to have mostly a free hand from the President and the two Secretaries. This would only work with a hands-on President to knock heads together when they disagreed, so with Bush in office, it would not happen.

In the absence of some strategic vision, further changes in personnel and coordination of activities between the U.S. and our ME allies, the next two to three years looks pretty damned bleak to me.

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