Saturday, November 28, 2015

America’s “Gospel of Democracy” meets Putin’s Realpolitik: Russia’s return in force to the Middle East

“Russian media reported earlier that Russia may sign a deal with Egypt for the delivery of Kamov Ka-52K helicopters. Last week the two countries signed a deal to build four third-generation nuclear reactors in Egypt.”

For more than a decade I have described on JPost and other Israeli web-based forums the retreat of the United States from the Middle East and the world. Since Bush invaded Iraq and sued for peace in 2007 America has desperately sought a graceful exit from the region. America, I concluded, would soon be replaced by a more determined and aggressive Russia, with dire consequences for the US and the EU. 

With 70% of the world’s oil reserves; with the Suez Canal as transit point for global commerce; with the surrender of the region as military crossroad between north/south, east/west: it seems beyond the ability of American politicians and their academic advisers to see the implications of abandoning the region to Russia. Apparently overlooked in the rush to vacate is that along with control of the ground, Russia would also achieve its likely principal goal, control also of the Mediterranean Sea. And, lest American policy-makers need reminding Europe, already dependent on Russia for natural gas to heat its homes and fuel its factories will find itself sandwiched between the Russian Navy to the south and The Russian Army to the north. Does it really require deep strategic imagination to appreciate that the loss of NATO will leave the United States naked and alone, with but two oceans as buffer in a world of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles? Is Isolationism a viable option in a world which views the United States with equal measures of envy and hate?

In an op-ed piece appearing recently in JPost, Defeating Islamic State, Amitai Etzioni describes a counter-script to the general impression of the US Government and its military. America, he insists, did not lose the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Just the opposite, it
“won both wars easily and quickly, suffering few casualties and low costs, and causing little collateral damage. Both campaigns ended up badly once the US decided to make out of these nations stable, democratic, US-friendly regime." (emphasis added)
I agree. It was the politicians: the White House backed by Bush’s "yes-sir" appointees, including his defense secretary and chairman of the Joint Chiefs who decided that the two war’s outcomes be determined not on the field of combat but by the democratization of the invaded countries. Etzioni is correct in describing both recent US presidents as committed to nation-building after “America’s image.” It is this which for a decade I have described as America’s Gospel of Democracy. Blind-sided by Ideology successive US administrations failed to learn the lessons of serial failures of US diplomacy at least back to Carter and Iran.

Whatever Bush’s true motivation for deposing Sadam Hussein, in the end he fell back on, "providing the Iraqi people the gift of democracy.” And the outcome was Iraq as failed state and hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis. Obama, determined to be “Not-Bush” wound up pursuing the same Bush agenda with identical results: the failed states of Libya and Syria and hundreds of thousands more dead Arabs. And while Obama did his best to add Egypt to that list by ousting America’s loyal and secular ally Hosni Mubarak in favor of an Islamist for president intent on imposing Sharia law on Egypt, in the end it took another general to oust the Islamists and restore Egypt to secular governance. Adding insult to injury Obama then refused to recognize the new Egyptian president with the result that Egypt has now turned to Russia for military materiel needed in fighting MB-inspired terrorists. Egypt is also purchasing several nuclear reactors, a response to Obama welcoming the terror-state Iran into the nuclear community. 

It is likely that an Arab Spring and its revolutionary anti-West Islamism was an event waiting for an opportunity. That it emerged when it did is clearly the result America’s faith-based “diplomacy,” its stubbornly-held Gospel of Democracy.


The single, most obvious lesson of United States-imposed regime change in the Middle East is that not only does the American model of “liberal democracy” fail as an option for ill-prepared states (recall it took two centuries for the West to arrive at its present approximation of that political ideal), but most of the world today is only recently emerging from a century and more of western-imposed colonialism. And how many states born of that oppressive regime even approximate the basic social stability fundamental for an “educated” electorate? Imperialism created “states” without recognition or regard for religious and traditional tribal distinctions. While a strong colonial military with superior weaponry provided the appearance of “native” social tranquility, rivalries simmered for centuries beneath that apparent tranquil surface. And so the much heralded by the West Arab Spring; and al-Qaeda in Iraq have metastasized into today’s “Daesh.” Amitai Etzioni' article, Defeating Islamic State, describes the hoped for end to the terror empire. But Daesh as seething memory of defeats past will continue to survive and evolve, to metastasize likely into something even more brutal. 

Cultural grudges are not soon forgotten.


Christopher Slabchuck said...

"How energy markets evolve within these circumstances is
hard to predict, so this report considers a range of possible energy
outcomes, each of which would have a direct impact on U.S. Middle
East policy options under any administration. This study is aimed at
informing such a geopolitical discussion"

The difficulty with identifying or associating Obama's Middle East policy is its close association with US energy interests and the lack of any real alternatives. There is no guarantee that future US administrations will not also follow in Obama's footsteps as the "path of least resistance". This creates the basis for an argument that challenges your underlying assumptions without necessarily denying or contradicting your conclusions. There is basis for a substantive argument that future US policy in the Middle East will continue to disinvest US interests independent of what administration takes office. The US has to all appearances surrendered portions of its regional control under the Obama administration which it no longer views as essential due in part to the development of the US domestic energy industry.

In contrast Russia appears to be economically driven by its general success in the Middle East and in Syria particularly. I would expect future confrontations between the US and Russia to involve Russian escalation as Putin seeks to resolve Russia's economic exposure to emergent market risks. Hence, American action with regard to Iran and Russia appears focused on delaying confrontation. See:

Under this paradigm achieving the goals you identify seems problematic.

Christopher Slabchuck said...

I would to reframe this response by mentioning the current nanotech race who's primary actors are the US, Russia, China, and Germany. According to a report at

The US is losing its dominance to China. The nature of this technology is considered to be such that the first actor who achieves dominance will be permanently vested as the single future superpower and all other actors will become dependent. With in the concentration of power nanotech makes possible is the ability to co-opt democracy by providing a bottom up control paradigm where nanotechnologies directly influence and control democratic process. Whether or not this reality will ever emerge, however, is an unknown. What concerns me is the possibility that irresponsible use by Islamic militants and state actors may set the stage for a George Orwell 1980 scenario.

When we introduce the nanotech arms race into the American disinvestment it creates the inference that these may be interrelated activities. That is to say the US disinvestment may be at least partly driven by the demand for resources to support the American military industrial complex. America, after all, has a finite limit to what it can support. It is not inconceivable therefore to wonder at what the impact would be if demand outstrips capability.

Perhaps equally important is how such an emergent technology would impact government decision making. I fear the emergence of a silver bullet mentality in US administrations which views US strategic interests through a very narrow lens. While the nanotech arms race may produce this effect it is by no means the only possibility for this paradigm. There is no such thing as a monopoly on narrow mindedness or fixated thinking. What is important is the disinvestment and how it may be remedied.

In that respect these issues would more properly impact the potential remedy rather than defining the problem.

Christopher Slabchuck said...

For background information on the Brexit's potential impact on Russian conflict management I recommend the following backgrounder from JINSA. It brings up several interesting mechanisms which I think contribute macroscopically to Putin's aggressive posture towards the US: