Let Them Kill Each Other

The U.S. is better off staying out of the region.

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Four out of five Egyptians believe the country is worse off now than it was under the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, according to a new Gallup poll.

Ten years ago, I wrote this in an op-ed about radical Islam and its associated international terror:

[W]e must "shoot the messenger" where he lives or he will shoot us where we live. However, we should not, in most of these situations, plan to keep forces on the ground to "settle" the postcombat environment. There will prove little to be gained by such ventures; in fact, it may be to our security advantage to allow the postconflict situation in certain regions to remain in chaos for a time. Let them dissipate their anger and resources by killing each other in the struggle for power; this is more like a gang war than anything else, and we should both encourage and contain it in certain regions.

If what emerges is again a threat to us, we should again take the leadership down and be prepared to repeat this whenever necessary -- in other words, we should have a very low threshold for going back in and removing dangerous successor regimes.

If ever an accurate prediction about the "success" of our post 9/11 national security policies was made, it was this one – and I don't mind saying so. It was right on the money.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on the Middle East.]

The protracted war in Iraq was a disaster for us: It killed and wounded a lot of our very bravest people, was fought with mostly borrowed money and was a primary cause of the "Great Recession" of 2007. It also signaled the end of the Republican Party's traditional leadership and expertise in national security matters, hard earned with the fall of the Soviet Union and end of the Cold War.

The primary reason most anyone, most anywhere in the world cares at all about the Middle East is their oil. And the new abundance of it has, ironically perhaps, fractured OPEC's ability to set world oil prices, and may soon return the world to prices set by the true intersection of supply and demand. Even the Saudi's are worried about this – and they should be, the forecasts are not good for them.

In addition to fracking, new sources of replenishable oil substitutes –  algae, for example – primarily for diesel and aviation fuels, will further weaken the demand and force traditional oil prices even lower. Eventually, the corrupt regimes and families in the Middle East will have to take their stolen trillions and move to the South of France, joining "Baby Doc" Duvalier and the like.

[ VOTE: Was Obama's Response to Egypt's Violence Enough?]

Radical Islam, stuck as it is in the time warp of the 12th century, cannot flourish without money, and the money has come from two primary sources over the years: oil and opium. The rise of terrorism in the world is directly related to the increases in price and demand for these two products. They plot as almost identical curves on a chart.

Bottom line: They must sell their oil and drugs or they will have no money for sponsoring terror.

Next, look at the latest spate of violence in Egypt and Syria. In short, they want to kill each other, as do the various factions fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, and viewed from our own selfish perspective perhaps, that's probably not such a bad idea.

And, we may have to – finally – accept the idea that we can have little, if any, impact or effect on the "outcome" of any particular struggle for power in any particular Middle Eastern country. In fact, the absolute "best" we have been able to do in this ménage of perverted mix of politics and religion was to "lead from behind" in the struggle that toppled Moammar Gadhafi in Libya.

[ See a collection of political cartoons on Syria.]

And see where that got us: A 9/11 "anniversary" terror attack, four very brave and dead diplomats and a burned consulate. Next, who do we like in Syria? Egypt? Any "side" might easily end up hating us if they win, and how do we know which faction really "wins," and for how long?

So, I'm sticking with my basic policy call of 10 years ago: Our stated and practiced policy in the Middle East should be to take out the leaderships/regimes that are a real threat to us and not interfere in the various religious, tribal and other corrupt regime struggles and internal wars that put a particular regime in power.

Let them kill each other first – we'll see who wins and take it from there.

Daniel Gallington is the senior policy and program adviser at the George C. Marshall Institute in Arlington, Va. He served in senior national security policy positions in the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Department of Justice, and as bipartisan general counsel for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.