Noah denkt™ - The Power of Balanced Reasoning
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Which comprehensive US strategy for the Middle East?
Dialogue with the Alter Ego on Iraq, ISIS, Syria and Obama’s Middle East policy, drafted and published on Aug.
15, 2014
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Question by Alter Ego of Noah denkt™ (AE):
The surprising swiftness of the ISIS advance in Iraq has reignited
the debate about President Obama’s Middle East policy. There is an abundance of foreign relations experts
coming forward now
(most notably among them Council of Foreign Relations’ president Richard Haass (on Fareed Zakiri,)
and David Kilkullen, a former Counter-Insurgency Advisor to General Petraeus (
on Charlie Rose)) who argue that the
administration’s insistence on retreating from Iraq (and later Afghanistan) was (i.e. is) a mistake, that the US
should have intervened more forcefully in the Syrian civil war and that there is a general lack of coherent US
strategy in the Middle East. What does Noah denkt™ make of this assessment?

Answer by Noah denkt™ (Nd): Well, what these experts are basically saying is that the US should maintain a
sizeable military presence in Iraq, Afghanistan and perhaps Syria and Libya, until new democratic leaderships in
these countries are established firmly enough for them to be able to maintain and defend themselves on their
own account. From our point of view, that however implies that the US should stay there forever because it is
quite unlikely that these countries will have solid democratic structures any time soon. And obviously, we all
know that such a prolonged military presence in said countries is simply unsustainable for the US given the
multiple other challenges and duties which the US faces at home and abroad.

AE: You were not nearly as pessimistic as you are now about the possibility to establish democratic rule in the
Middle East when it came to defending the Arab Spring uprisings in
Tunisia and Egypt and the pro-revolution
intervention in
Libya. Did you misjudge the situation then or are you getting it wrong now?

Nd: Neither nor. We were always
skeptical about a Western ability to export democracy anywhere, but above all
to Afghanistan and Iraq. Nevertheless, we also felt though that it was worthwhile at the time to actively support
the Arab Spring uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Egypt (and to a lesser extent in
Syria) since these regime
change movements came from within and weren't the product of a foreign intervention.

AE: The democratic success record of these uprisings is quite wanting though, isn't it? Egypt is effectively
under military rule again, Tunisia is hobbling along unsatisfactorily and Libya is in a state of extreme turmoil and
internal emergency. So again, given the 20/20 hindsight we have now, was it a mistake to side with the
revolutionary forces at the time?

Nd: It was the best you could do at the time, since everybody in that region (and anywhere else for that matter)
deserves a fair chance to find his or her own, sometimes bloody, sometimes painful path to emancipation,
freedom and rule of law. And that is true despite the fact that it may ultimately take a long, long time until that
liberating process comes to fruition.

AE: If it is true, however, as you say that this process will ultimately come to fruition, why then not accept the
idea of a sustained military presence in Iraq and elsewhere until that long walk towards rule of law reaches its
goal?

Nd: No one knows how long it will take to get there. And nobody knows how many dialectic steps backwards will
be needed to finally find the energy for major advances. It is simply impossible to think that any foreign entity
would have the resources and the capability to push that process towards success by being not just a
benevolent, outside tutor but, above all, an active agent that continuously operates as the ultimate military
decider. That is not how freedom is made to be understood. To learn how to manage and live with freedom
adequately, you have to experience it.  And a democratic local government that acts only as a junior (“puppet”)
partner to an overwhelming foreign military presence does not allow the country to experience that subject
freedom adequately.

AE: So what can the US really do in that Middle East conundrum?

Nd: Other than the occasional slap on the wrist it can’t be much more than an outside tutor that nudges and
admonishes here and there but that also leaves room for local mistakes to be made. In other words, the present
Obama approach isn't as bad as it seems. Because other than taking it step by step and being in a somewhat
haphazard crisis response mode there isn't really much more that you can do.
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Keywords:

US strategy in the Middle East, US policy objectives in the Middle East, Exporting
democracy, Obama's Foreign Policy in the Middle East, US Policy in the Middle
East in the face of the ISIS advance, Middle East Conundrum