January 15, 2016 8 Comments
In 1949, the Truman administration withdrew the American forces occupying South Korea and in January 1950 the Secretary of State, Dean Acheson, delivered his famous ‘Perimeter Speech’ which pointedly placed Korea outside our perimeter. It was a major blunder. In June 1950, North Korea attacked, causing the Korean War. The war was fought gallantly by amongst others, the very US forces that had been withdrawn. It was a costly mistake, in both treasure and blood. The war ended mostly because the newly elected General Eisenhower would not rule out the use of nuclear weapons to end it.
Why are we rehashing this now? Because a similar scenario faced Obama in 2009. In Iraq, we had defeated everybody who cared to play. Yes, the initial war (and especially its aftermath) had its problems, mostly caused by not enough troops there to do the job of pacification. But again, when Bush bit the bullet and committed to the surge, eventually the country was pretty much pacified.
In his rush to leave Iraq, Obama made the same sort of blunder. Unlike Truman, he didn’t immediately institute repairs, however costly. Going all the way back to World War II, we had been a counterweight to any and all the extremist groups in the area. Jess said a few day ago, that Britain never had all that much force east of Eden, but British forces were feared. The same was true, except occasionally for the United States. The Middle East never required huge forces over time. Although, at times, it did require large forces, as during the gulf wars. What they did require was the absolute support of Israel, and some small forces, in theater, and the fact of large forces available. That was enough to hold the balance, and keep the fanatics, mostly quiet. That was really not all that much strain for America. Simply having a few thousand troops in Iraq seemed to intimidate all the nutters into keeping the peace. And, in fact, it was safer than Chicago is now.
In a way, it was a less stable counterpart to the Cold War. The forces were held in equilibrium, not so much by what America would do, as by what she could do. But even what she would do was impressive. I doubt many Arab powers were unimpressed by the steady flow of American supplies, flown nonstop from CONUS by the Air Force, during the Yom Kippur war in 1973, in the face of denied overflight rights from all Europe. Who doesn’t want friends like that? You think that maybe had something to do with peace between Israel and Egypt, signed a few years later at Camp David, and which has held (mostly) ever since? Much the same is true for Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, problematic as its religion has always been for the US.
This carefully wrought work of generations, starting possibly with Eisenhower’s intervention, against our two oldest allies, Britain and France, in Suez, in favor of Egypt. This is what Obama has ruined. he has brought it to the point that no one in the region, has any trust in the word of the United States, nor should they. Over the last 8 years, we have proved to be a feckless, toothless allies, almost always willing to support the wrong side.
The post-Pax America middle east is proving to be a cesspit, that threatens the health of the entire world. Jess’ title was (and is) apt. The tectonic plates are in fact shifting, and where they will end up and the earthquakes they will cause is unknowable but very unlikely to be good for much of anybody.
Lessons? Probably a few. The main one might be that countries driven by the voters are not very reliable over the long term, at least usually. Perhaps living under the existential threat of the Soviet Union forced the people of the United States to buckle down and think long-term, but perhaps instead it was the World War Two generation’s horror at what they had to endure to repair the mistakes of their father’s generation that caused the unusual situation. I think it likely was both. There’s something that sharpens the mind, when in elementary school, you are seriously practicing “duck and cover” that the softer generations that followed mine will never know. or maybe they will, on the streets of home, as the terror attacks mount.
But whatever the cause, Obama has thrown away the carefully crafted perception of power that sustained quasi-peace in the middle east for generations. What will replace it, other than deadly chaos, is unknown. Although the Pakistani guaranty of Saudi territorial integrity may provide a gruesome clue.
I do know this, whatever (if anything) that is to replace that chaos, America will have to lead, and the will to do so has been lacking for ten years. If she doesn’t, and that doesn’t really mean she’ll have to intervene that often, but she must show her inflexible will on behalf of her friends, or chaos will ensue, and likely envelop Europe as well.