Will Hil­lary Clin­ton re-es­tab­lish the US po­si­tion in the Mid­dle East?

Pakistan Observer - - OPINION - [Azeem Ibrahim is an RAI Fel­low at Mans­field Col­lege, Univer­sity of Ox­ford and Re­search Pro­fes­sor at the Strate­gic Stud­ies In­sti­tute, US Army War Col­lege. He com­pleted his PhD from the Univer­sity of Cam­bridge and served as an In­ter­na­tional Se­cu­rity Fel­low

DR. AZEEM IBRAHIM OR all its high-minded ide­al­ism, we must con cede that the Obama doc­trine in the Mid­dle East has been a ter­ri­ble fail­ure. To be sure, there was plenty to be crit­i­cal about the United States’ ap­proach to the re­gion be­fore­hand. And the Iraq war il­lus­trates those fail­ures bet­ter than any­thing else.

So it is un­der­stand­able that a coura­geous vi­sion­ary / as­sertive ide­o­logue (de­pend­ing on which side of the isle you are on) like Obama would try to do things dif­fer­ently. In­deed, his At­lantic in­ter­view shows that this is what he self-con­sciously set out to do: to over­haul the

F“Wash­ing­ton Play­book”.

But the irony is that, in the end, his ap­proach has dis­played the same kind of naïve op­ti­mism that Bush had vis-à-vis the prospects of Iraqi democ­racy postin­va­sion. And it has floun­dered on the same op­ti­mism.

Obama, and the rest of us, have en­cour­aged the peo­ple of the Mid­dle East to rise up against tyran­ni­cal dic­ta­tors, and have cheered them on when the Arab Spring looked like it would mark a glorious demo­cratic re­nais­sance from Tu­nisia all the way to Syria.

But just like Bush and Blair, we thought that once tyrants were top­pled, democ­racy would just magic it­self into ex­is­tence in coun­tries with lit­tle to no civil so­ci­ety, and no cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence of demo­cratic com­pro­mise. And, barely out of the Iraqi in­sur­gency, we have still man­aged to be sur­prised when Syria, Libya and Egypt turned into a vi­o­lent mess soon af­ter.

Two waves of op­ti­mism later, the first of the Bush era neo-con project for the “New Amer­i­can Cen­tury”, and the sec­ond of the Obama era pla­cat­ing dovish paci­fism, have left the Mid­dle East in ru­ins.

Even as we speak those ru­ins are still burn­ing. And they will con­tinue to burn for the fore­see­able fu­ture.

Just like Bush and Blair, we thought that once tyrants were top­pled, democ­racy would just magic it­self into ex­is­tence in coun­tries with lit­tle to no civil so­ci­ety, and no cul­tural ex­pe­ri­ence of demo­cratic com­pro­mise.

There has been mount­ing frus­tra­tion at US pol­icy, even among Obama’s own ad­vis­ers. And only a few days ago it has emerged that as many as 50 US diplo­mats have used in­ter­nal State Depart­ment chan­nels to beg the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion to change tack in Syria – num­bers that are be­lieved to be un­prece­dented.

The prob­lem for the US is that it sits atop a global se­cu­rity and trad­ing em­pire.

The def­i­ni­tion of a state is a monopoly of force over a given ter­ri­tory. And though tech­ni­cally ev­ery UN rec­og­nized state is sov­er­eign and in­de­pen­dent, for all prac­ti­cal in­tents and pur­poses the US, I reckon, could im­pose its will by mil­i­tary force al­most ev­ery­where in the world, with few no­table ex­cep­tions: China, Rus­sia, and any coun­try that these two are will­ing to stick their neck out for (e.g. North Korea backed by China).

NATO mem­bers are fully cog­nizant of these facts, and they are happy about the sit­u­a­tion. Ev­ery Mid­dle Eastern and African coun­try is also per­fectly aware of this, though their opin­ions on the mat­ter vary: Is­rael and Saudi Ara­bia are very pleased about it, Iran less so. Wil­ful ig­no­rance But the pub­lic in the United States ap­pears to be res­o­lutely ig­no­rant of these facts.

And very many US politi­cians are ei­ther wil­fully ig­no­rant on this, see for ex­am­ple Don­ald Trump and re­ally most of the Repub­li­can pres­i­den­tial co­hort this year, or ac­tively op­posed to this fact. Obama is not com­pletely op­posed, but he is clearly un­com­fort­able with this sit­u­a­tion. And herein lies the prob­lem: he has been un­will­ing to as­sume the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that come with that po­si­tion Amer­ica was in. Through the suc­ces­sion of the Bush and Obama doc­trines, Amer­ica’s role in the Mid­dle East since 2000 has ef­fec­tively been a hit and run. No won­der, the sit­u­a­tion is a com­plete car crash.

Hi­lary Clin­ton, how­ever, is in nei­ther of those cat­e­gories. In­deed, she is of­ten de­rided as a hawk in for­eign pol­icy. Next to Obama, that is cer­tainly true. But there is no ev­i­dence that she is an im­pe­ri­al­ist fan­ta­sist on the scale of the neo-cons in the Bush ad­min­is­tra­tion. Rather, it seems to me that she is sim­ply aware of the po­si­tion of the United States in the world – and the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties that po­si­tion en­tails. Amer­ica is, whether we like it or not, still the World’s Po­lice­man.

When the po­lice stops pa­trolling the streets, vi­o­lent crime will go ram­pant. This is as true with gang­sters in in­ner city US, as it is with the cow­boys who run a large part of Mid­dle Eastern coun­tries or non­state Is­lamist groups.

The gang­sters, just as Mid­dle Eastern politi­cians, will al­ways moan about po­lice in­ter­ven­tion and heavy-hand­ed­ness.

But it re­mains the case that the threat of force from the po­lice­man smoth­ers the ac­tual vi­o­lence of the crim­i­nals. That is the es­sen­tial truth of the “Wash­ing­ton Play­book”.

The ques­tion now is whether Pres­i­dent Clin­ton would be able to re-es­tab­lish Amer­ica’s au­thor­ity in the cap­i­tals of the Mid­dle East, and re-im­pose or­der. And whether the Amer­i­can pub­lic has the stom­ach to sup­port what needs to be done. —Cour­tesy: AA

Mi­grant work­ers sup­port­ing Myan­mar For­eign Min­is­ter Aung San Suu Kyi wave to her dur­ing a meet­ing at the coastal fish­ery cen­tre of Sa­mut Sakhon, Thai­land.

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