Even though it has been more 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, the world still has yet to settle on any kind of a new political axis. China is growing more and more adventuresome in the Pacific as it expands its territorial claims in the open seas. Russia seeks to preserve its control over Eastern Europe and the breakaway republics through energy – particularly natural gas – instead of through military might. In South America there's a new – and unfriendly to the United States – power bloc shaping up. And in the Middle East things are going from bad to worse.
Where has the Obama administration been in all of this? For all intents and purposes, they have largely been absent from the scene. There have been some actions taken, like the use of military force in Libya, but even that appears to have been more of an accident, a distraction if you will, than something growing out of a well thought out tactical and strategic vision. Even the Clinton administration had a more muscular foreign policy than the current occupant of the White House.
The latest hot spot is Syria, where rebels that appear to have the support of the al-Qaida terrorist organization have put the continued survival of the despotic Assad regime in real jeopardy. That the government in Damascus is now confirmed to have used chemical weapons – and one wonders where they got them – against its opponents has given the Syrian crisis a new sense of urgency. Yet the administration has yet to outline a clear plan for dealing with events that have been unfolding for much of Obama's presidency.
Syria is not the first Middle Eastern nation to have undergone a kind of revolution over the last five years. Many of the regional changes arguably have their roots in the Bush's administration's decision to use military force to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq. Yet even there the nascent democratic government is not without its problems, leaving many to fear that the final withdrawal of U.S. troops from the country will bring with it the onset of a civil war led by insurgents and guerillas backed by the Iranian theocracy.
Based on its public statements, it's hard to believe the Obama administration and the State Department care about this very much at all. Rather they seem confused, even mystified about the changes, uncertain which side to back, and confused about the potential outcomes. What America does not need, and yet what appears very much to be happening, are events that will leave Israel, the United States' only true ally in the region, surrounded to the east, to the west and to the north by countries hostile to its continued existence and led by regimes and governments heavily influenced by Iran and its peculiar brand of state sponsored terrorism. Should that come about, the long term implications for the U.S., militarily and economically, are profound.
The energy revolution here at home makes the United States far less dependent on Middle Eastern oil than it has been for some. The flagging economy means that the demand for energy is down, keeping the price of fossil fuels relatively stable around the globe. The development of new fracking technologies coupled with the discovery of new and abundant oil and natural gas reserves on the outer continental shelf means that "energy independence" in an otherwise energy interdependent global economy may actually become something close to a reality.
If that happens, the United States' relationship with Israel will clearly become the most important factor in determining our policy in the region. If Israel ends up surrounded by nations aggressively unfriendly rather than just passively disdainful of its continued existence, with governments backed by a regime in Tehran that believes it has a higher calling to end its existence permanently, America could be drawn into a situation of profound consequences that will alter the life of the nation and its position around the globe.
If attacked, the Israelis will fight. There is no doubt about that. What is now in doubt is whether or not the United States will comes to its aid militarily, as it did under Richard Nixon in the 1973 war. The domestic political pressure to do so would be enormous but there seems to be no guarantee that President Obama would respond in a meaningful way to any calls for help but might instead limit his response to useless rhetorical flourishes from his new ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Powers, and empty threats against the aggressors while the direction of U.S. foreign policy would be changed and determined for the next half century at least.
In the late 1940s the Democrats in the White House lost Eastern Europe and China. America is still dealing with the consequences. In the late 1970s the Democrats in the White House gave away Iran and America is still dealing with the consequences. Now Obama appears to have, though both covert and overt means, helped engineer regime change in Libya and Egypt and may be doing the same in Syria without any sense that the new government may in any way be better than the one it replaced. Creating a mess you are going to leave for someone else to clean up is not a good way to manage U.S. foreign policy or to protect America's strategic global interests. There is too much at stake to do that, yet that is exactly what the Obama administration has done and continues to do.