Serious Thinking About the Middle East

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Are things moving in the right direction in the Middle East? Most Americans, I think, would say no. But perhaps they should ponder a trio of interesting columns. Two weeks ago, the military historian Edward Luttwak wrote a column in the Wall Street Journal arguing that George Bush's policies have created a Middle East much more hospitable to American goals. Here is his summation:

When the Bush administration came into office, only Egypt and Jordan were functioning allies of the U.S. Iran and Iraq were already declared enemies, Syria was hostile, and even its supposed friends in the Arabian peninsula were so disinclined to help that none did anything to oppose al Qaeda. Some actively helped it, while others knowingly allowed private funds to reach the terrorists whose declared aim was to kill Americans.

The Iraq war has indeed brought into existence a New Middle East, in which Arab Sunnis can no longer gleefully disregard American interests because they need help against the looming threat of Shiite supremacy, while in Iraq at the core of the Arab world, the Shia are allied with the U.S. What past imperial statesmen strove to achieve with much cunning and cynicism, the Bush administration has brought about accidentally. But the result is exactly the same.

The implication is that this happy state of affairs came about by accident.

Last week in the Washington Post David Ignatius wrote a column based on an interview with Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in which he described a "realignment" toward the United States that came about in large part because of the administration.

Rice said the new approach reflects growing Arab concern about Iran's attempt to project power through its proxies: "After the war in Lebanon, the Middle East really did begin to clarify into an extremist element allied with Iran, including Syria, Hezbollah, and Hamas. On the other side were the targets of this extremism–the Lebanese, the Iraqis, the Palestinians–and those who want to resist, such as the Saudis, Egypt, and Jordan."

America's recent show of force against Iran–seizing Iranian operatives in Iraq and sending additional warships to the Persian Gulf–was part of this broader effort to reassure the Saudis and others that, despite its troubles in Iraq, America remains a reliable ally against a rising Iran. "The U.S. has to demonstrate that it is present in the gulf, and going to be present in the gulf," Rice told me.

Ignatius also mentions possible downside risks.

Finally, in today's Washington Post, Sen. Richard Lugar, formerly the chairman of and now ranking minority member on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, points to administration moves to create such a "realignment":

The president's plan is an early episode in a much broader Middle East realignment that began with our invasion of Iraq and that may not end for years. Nations throughout the Middle East are scrambling to find their footing as regional power balances shift in unpredictable ways.

At the center of this realignment is Iran, which is perceived to have emerged from our Iraq intervention as the big winner. We paved the way for a Shiite government in Iraq that is much friendlier to Iran than was Saddam Hussein. Bolstered by high oil revenue, Iran has meddled in Iraq, rigidly pursued a nuclear capability, and funded Hezbollah and Hamas.

But the pendulum of Middle East politics may be swinging back against Iranian assertiveness. Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, the gulf states, and others have become increasingly alarmed by Iran's behavior and by widening regional sectarian divisions. Because of this dynamic, U.S. bargaining power in the Middle East is growing. Moderate Arab states understand that the United States is an indispensable counterweight to Iran.

Lugar calls for "a potent redeployment of U.S. forces in the region to defend oil assets, target terrorist enclaves, deter adventurism by Iran, and provide a buffer against regional sectarian conflict."

Read all three pieces and see if you don't see a more favorable picture than the one that is usually portrayed.

Senate Iraq Resolution

Here's a link to my Creators Syndicate column for this week, which I would like to amend. I wrote, last week, that the Iraq resolution approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee "seems sure" to pass. But Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says it lacks the 60 votes needed to pass.