The ‘New Middle East’ revisited

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that the US had a plan to win the battle against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and no plan to win the peace.

October 12, 2016 23:34
4 minute read.
A CEMETERY in Aleppo, Syria.

A CEMETERY in Aleppo, Syria. . (photo credit: REUTERS)

Is it possible that Aleppo is a magnet for destruction not only for the Middle East but of Western supremacy in the region and far beyond? Yes, if everything proceeds as is – which happens to be highly unlikely.

Assuming the victory of Hillary Clinton in November’s US presidential race, because the alternative remains unthinkable (and thankfully appears increasingly unlikely), there will be no immediate change in the conduct of the war in Syria. Except that the US will emerge from its slumber, actively coordinate with its allies and prosecute the battle against Islamic State (ISIS) with alacrity in the Levant, here in America, in Europe and increasingly across the globe.

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How does one do more with less? It won’t be less, but the surge will be more strategic than simple American manpower.

Clinton may be caught between her decision to vote in favor of the Iraq War and her responsibility to fight a multi-dimensional battle against ISIS, but she will return US power and prestige to the region and progressively reestablish US strength until it regains a veto over the fate of Syrian President Bashar Assad and the design of the division of land and authority in both Syria and Iraq. That is indeed a tall order and will take time, persistence and a new set of well defined military goals. It will be up to president Clinton to lead not only in the Middle East, but in NATO, while generating a substantial intensification of cyber-security at home and abroad.

The question is not only whether she can conceive such a policy but implement a real war on ISIS that will be acceptable to both the American public and a divided (at best) Congress.

This is not to ignore the hundreds of thousands that have died in Syria nor the millions that have been and are still being displaced. But President Barack Obama was elected twice to bring American troops home and if you look at the battlefields and count the remaining US soldiers, the American blood spilled and trillions of dollars spent he has been successful on this narrow basis.

It doesn’t take a genius to recognize that the US had a plan to win the battle against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and no plan to win the peace. Nouri Maliki, the Shi’ite leader that was ultimately elected in 2006 with American support and the endorsement of Quds Forces leader Qasem Soleimani led the gradual integration of Iranian-Iraqi policy including development of a date certain for the withdrawal of US forces. The Status of Forces Agreement was signed by president Bush in 2008 and provided a date certain for the total withdrawal, which was December 31, 2011. US military and contractors would be subject to Iraqi criminal penalties unless there was an extension of the SOFA. There remains great disagreement as to whether the Obama administration should have engineered such an extension to enable America to retain a potent residual military force on the ground in Iraq to prevent the gradual destruction of order, the failure of its government and the emergence of ISIS.

It may seem odd to respond to Caroline Glick’s editorial by waiting until the fifth paragraph to bring up Russia and its increasing intervention in Syria and the Middle East, but I set the table carefully. Russian President Vladimir Putin is utilizing Syria as a vehicle to regain a strategic base in the Middle East and to fly into the space ceded by President Obama and his faux red line.

That flight has bombers hitting ISIS and the American-backed rebels that are facing Assad as well as an ever expanding number of civilians in Aleppo and far beyond. It will not be easy to extricate the Russians or for the US to take back the initiative that it has given up. That is a challenge for the next president and the proximity of Russian and American air forces, let alone the IAF, makes the sky over Syria a dramatic theater that will require extraordinary operational care.

One must examine the expanding military and economic nexus between Russia and Iran and Russia and Turkey to understand the depth and breadth of power that Obama willingly chose to relinquish. The next American president will have a difficult job plugging the holes in a dike that is leaking in many directions. It represents in complexity and military tactics the beginning of a new Cold War.

But the New Middle East was Shimon Peres’s concept, presented as a book some 23 years ago and written as a framework for the regional implementation of Oslo. It presented a peek forward at all that might be and a peace that is still to be realized. In 2002 the Saudis produced an Arab peace plan that overlays the earlier vision of Peres, and today, strangely, in the aftermath of the Iranian nuclear agreement the Saudis, the Egyptians and other Sunni states are quietly meeting with Israel to include it in a regional defense network that may in fact open the door to a new peace initiative. It has been said in the song “Shir Lashalom” and again by Peres himself in Tel Aviv: “Don’t say the day will come. Bring the day about! For it is not a dream.”

It is all of ours to realize.

The author is president of ICMEP, Interfaith Community for Middle East Peace, an NGO located in suburban Philadelphia. He may be reached at [email protected]

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