Dump that old Middle East map

Dump that old Middle East map
The Middle East which Mr Obama will leave behind when he completes his presidency will be very different from the one he put at the top of his agenda when he first stepped into the White House.

Characteristically, United States President Barack Obama needed more than a week to weigh his options in dealing with the crisis in Iraq.

None was good: Doing nothing risked Iraq's rapid disintegration, but sending in American troops raised the spectre of "mission creep", precisely the sort of military adventure the US President has always been keen to avoid.

Yet just as typically, when Mr Obama did reach a decision, it amounted to splitting the difference between such choices by "going small" on all of them. The US, he announced, will assist Iraq with intelligence, send advisers and, if circumstances justify it, even use its military to hit extremists belonging to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) who are now threatening regional stability. But the US will not otherwise get involved in handling the Iraq conflict; that task is left to the political actors on the ground.

As is the case with many of Mr Obama's other policies, this new strategy is eminently reasonable and logical. But it is also irrelevant, for the map of the Middle East is now changing in profound and irreversible ways, with the US increasingly relegated to the role of an arbiter between competing factions. The Middle East which Mr Obama will leave behind when he completes his presidency will be very different from the one he put at the top of his agenda when he first stepped into the White House.

It is tempting, but almost always wrong, to blame the US for all the ills in the Middle East. Yes, the Americans often supported venal and cruel regimes whose rule contributed to the current troubles. But so did the Europeans and Chinese who benefit far more from the region's oil and gas reserves. And yes, the US led the 2003 Iraq invasion, an act which many warned at that time would prove to be disastrous. But it is very likely that even if the invasion never took place and Saddam Hussein still ruled Iraq today with the aid of his psychopathic sons, the Middle East would not have been much better. In short, blaming the Americans is often just a form of escapism, an easy route to avoid dealing with the far more significant developments now tearing the region apart.

The first is the grossly misnamed Arab Spring, the wave of revolutions that began in 2011 with the promise of democracy, only to end up with chaos. The revolutions not only toppled a number of Arab leaders, but also shattered the old method of ruling the region's states.

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