Obama, Neo Cons and the Middle East

I do not regard myself as a Neo Con. As readers will know, I have been sceptical of the wisdom of being in Afghanistan, and a critic of the way Iraq was handled.

However, the Neo Cons do have at least one good point. If the President is going to remain engaged in the Middle East, as he seems to want to do, he needs to show resolve and strength. Dithering, alternating between more diplomacy and more military intervention, whilst wavering over alliances, is not the best way to handle a very volatile situation.

Recently the Vice President went on a visit which passed off relatively well. On return Washington became very critical in public of Israel. Shortly afterwards Mrs Clinton had to issue a statement stressing the closeness of the Israeli relationship to the USA. It was a bad wobble, leaving most people more on edge and dubious about the US position.

The Neo Cons say rightly that any US President, Democrat or Republican, Clinton, Bush or Obama, is going to remain engaged in the Middle East. Each successive President is heir to what his predecessors did, whether he likes it or not. In practise all recent Presidents have followed a similar general policy. This has been broadly supportive of Israel and the moderate Arab states, has sought to export democracy to certain troubled states, and has fought a war against people the US characterises as radical and armed insurgents. From time to time a peace process is offered.

When President Obama came into office, he implied that it would be different. He seemed to want to offer the hand of friendship to people the USA had seen as enemies before. This was popular with many around the world, and with the liberal wing of US politics. One year or more on, and it all looks very different.

After long deliberation, he has intensified the military involvement in Afghanistan. After flirting with a friendlier approach to China, he has agreed to contact with the Dali Lama, inflammatory to the Chinese, and agreed to send weapons to Taiwan, even more inflammatory to them.

The new fulcrum of the Middle east conflicts is the issue of Iran. Is Iran arming herself with nuclear weapons? Should Israel take pre-emptive action? Would the US allow her to do so by standing aside, would the US support her, or try to bring pressure to bear against it? If the US is not going to condone military action or undertake it itself, what is Plan B if diplomacy fails to prevent a nuclear armed Iran emerging?

The President is going to discover that diplomacy works better if difficult countries and forces think there could be resolve and military intervention. If diplomacy fails and leads to military intervention that often proves difficult to guide and to end successfully. It is especially difficult if the President’s heart is not in a military solution, whilst sending troops into action. He who would commit his country’s troops has to give them full backing, and plenty of time and resource to do what he wants them to do. Each expedition has to have realistic aims and enough force to make victory likely. The danger of intervention in the Middle East is that it has too many diverse aims, and is a backdrop to some fluctuating diplomacy.

This entry was posted in Blog. Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.

17 Comments

  1. Norman
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 6:59 am | Permalink

    President Obama certainly has made a hash of things so far, let’s hope for better in the future for the sake of our troops and their families who are serving in Afghanistan.

    One can’t imagine things improving any time soon as his domestic policies are hardly proving to be the unifying factor he portrayed during his campaign.

  2. alan jutson
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:52 am | Permalink

    Foreign Policy always a problem when you have to please one set of people (the Jewish lobby) at home, and the need for oil, as it means you cannot play everyone with a straight bat.

    Life then gets complicated as you build up resentment, and thus more opposition with some Country’s than would perhaps normally be the case.

    • Acorn
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 8:57 am | Permalink

      Alan. Put AIPAC into google and see what Obama is up against. Even Hilary has been summoned to their conference to explain herself. This lobby group is so powerful it is never mentioned in any election campaign.

  3. lola
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 8:42 am | Permalink

    Essentailly you are recommending the strategy instilled in me by my old dad – talk softly and carry a big stick. Yep, I’d go with that. On a national or international basis this implies more defence spending and in particular ensuring that our military (and the American military) retain the ability to project force over long distances. So why does no party make clear that defence spending will have to rise again?

  4. Kevin Lohse
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 1:00 pm | Permalink

    Dear John. Certainly not neo-con. Neo-Clauzwitzian perhaps?
    On Iran, I would suggest that the moment to intervene in Iran passed when the US entered Iraq not as liberators, but as conquerors. That is when Western diplomatic aims and policies for the ME Region were destroyed. Iran has used the loss of prestige and increased distrust in the ME to further it’s cause of being able to gain a nuclear capability. Only a fullscale invasion of Iran will stop the present regime, and the ham-fisted business of Iraq makes the possibility of such an operation political suicide for any government to even suggest it. That is quite apart from invasion for regime change being illegal under various UN resolutions, in the main proposed and voted through by a devil’s brew of centerist authoritarian regimes and tin-pot dictatorships.
    As to our own diplomatic effort, I would suggest that the time has come to accept that we must accept that we are no longer a major influence in world affairs, In the years since Labour took power, our political reputation has been trashed, our armed forces have been disabled to the point where it will take a generation and a lot of money to even defend ourselves in an adequate manner, let alone meet our treaty obligations. Maybe the time has come to relinquish our permanent seat on the UN Security Council and concetrate our resources more on facing down the socialist construct that is the EU – a danger to our peculiarly British freedoms which 2/3 of the electorate believe needs a more sceptic eye.

  5. Ray Veysey
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Whatever is going to happen in Iran, it needs to happen soon, because if Iran can manufacture any kind of nuclear weapon, you can guarantee it won’t be sitting around waiting to be found by a squadron of bombers from wherever they are sent. The likelihood is that they will not be in Iran either but somewhere where they can create the most political damage, such as anywhere in Israel, Jordan or Egypt. Or maybe even further afield. The IRG is mad enough that nowhere is safe.

  6. Robert Eve
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    I would support Israel taking action against Iran.

    • SJB
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

      Israel killed 320 (three hundred and twenty) children when they took action against Gaza in Dec 2008-Jan 2009.

  7. Kevin Peat
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:16 pm | Permalink

    Whatever the American position on Afghanistan I see no reason for our troops to be there – especially in consideration of the lack of respect shown by the Obama administration and American owned companies towards Britain. Every claim that we are standing against terrorism, drugs, tyranny can be shot down in flames with even the most rudimentary arguments.

    It seems it would do us good to be a little more French in our dealings with the US. Besides. We're brassic and can't afford to be fighting wars which is quite manifest in the underfunding of our troops.

  8. Josh
    Posted March 19, 2010 at 7:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m not a Neocon but I am a hawk when it comes to supporting Israel. Israel is the only fuctioning and stable democracy in that region. The Arab states that surround Israel are committed to its destruction, so we shouldn’t be surprised when Israel expands its borders to protect itself from Hizbollah and Hamas. Also, the so called Palestinian people have been offered their own state 5 times, and each time they have rejected it because they cannot abide a state for the much persecuted Jewish people to reside in. When you deal with that kind of stubborness and obstinacy it is hard to maintain a cordial diplomatic relationship.

    • SJB
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

      More Jewish people have chosen to reside in the United States than Israel. Perhaps a major factor in their choice is that the US provides them with greater security than the more hostile environment of the Middle East. Therefore, surely the best way of protecting the Jewish people is by helping them all move to the safest area. I am sure the Saudis and other rich Arab nations would be happy to fund any relocation costs.

      • John Walker
        Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:08 pm | Permalink

        SJB,
        Wouldn’t that be ethic cleansing? Isn’t this a BNP type position?

  9. Citizen Responsible
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 12:58 am | Permalink

    Barack Obama became US President without a lot of experience in government or of foreign affaires. After his election he changed US foreign policy towards unfriendly nations. His new policy was based on embracing the Muslim world and offering dialogue with rogue states such as Iran.

    He said Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was unacceptable and repeatedly offered Iran “engagement.” Iran responded that it had no intention of abandoning its nuclear program. President Obama said that his “engagement” would make it easier to enlist other countries to stop Iran. The result is the opposite as virtually every country President Obama approached has rebuffed him. Without a credible threat of force, “engagement” has no chance to stop Iran’s military nuclear program. Meanwhile we hear the President plans to substantially reduce America’s nuclear weapons “as an example” to the rest of the world.

    Unfortunately, many of the states the President has courted such as Iran, North Korea, Cuba, and Syria, see his charm offensive as weakness. His currency is not as strong as he thought it was.

  10. DennisA
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    Not so much about WMD, but as usual, energy.

    The scheduled start of drilling this month by China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) in Iran’s South Pars gas field could be both a harbinger and explanation of much wider geopolitical developments.

    First of all, the $5 billion project – signed last year after years of foot dragging by western energy giants Total and Shell under the shadow of US-led sanctions – reveals the main arterial system for future world energy supply and demand.

    “Within the Middle East, Iran is the undisputed top holder of gas reserves. Its South Pars gas field is the world’s largest. If converted to barrel-of-oil equivalents, Iran’s South Pars would dwarf the reserves of Saudi Arabia’s giant Ghawar oilfield. The latter is the world’s largest oilfield and since it came into operation in 1948, Ghawar has effectively been the world’s beating heart for raw energy supply. In the soon-to-come era of natural gas dominance over oil, Iran will oust Saudi Arabia as the world’s beating heart for energy.

    Both Europe and China stand to be arterial routes for Iranian and Central Asian gas generally. Already, the infrastructure is shaping up to reflect this. The Nabucco pipeline is planned to supply gas from Iran (and Azerbaijan) via Turkey and Bulgaria all the way to Western Europe (signaling an end to Russian dominance).

    Iran also exports gas via pipelines separately to Turkey and Armenia and it is also following up export deals with other Gulf countries, including the United Arab Emirates and Oman.

    Another major arterial route is the so-called peace pipeline from Iran to Pakistan and on to India, through which Iran will export this fuel to two of the region’s most populous countries.

    But perhaps the most tantalizing prospect for Iran is the 1,865-kilometre pipeline that supplies natural gas from Turkmenistan through Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan into China and is due to operate at full capacity in 2012. Turkmenistan shares a 300-kilometre border with Iran to its south and already has a gas export deal with Tehran.

    If the Iranian-Chinese South Pars gas field development can be incorporated into the above transnational pipelines that would confirm Iran as the beating heart of a world economy in which gas is the primary energy source. This is amplified further by rapidly growing demand for gas by China which the EIA predicts could be dependent on imports for over a third of its natural gas consumption by 2030.”

    Same old, same old.

  11. Robert George
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    I would like to add a plea. When is the USA and Europe going to wake up to the fact that we have an invaluable moslem ally nation that we treat very poorly. That nation is Turkey. They have been strong supporters of NATO for 60 years, and have a very effective army the 2nd largest after the USA.They are moderates but Israel abused their trust in peace negotiations, Obama's administration ignores them(as did Bush over Iraq). Europe insults them and the EU is set to keep them out.

    If Turkey is radicalised the West can only blame itself. Iran would be childs play compared to a radicalised Turkey. We place too much confidence on the Turkish army keeping the radical islamists in check within Turkish society. We are have to offer the Turks a better deal or they might just decide to go their own way.

    • Citizen Responsible
      Posted March 20, 2010 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

      I read that last week, a House of Representatives committee has voted for a resolution labeling as “genocide” Turkish massacres of Armenians during World War I. The resolution was driven by pressure from Armenian-Americans on California congressmen. But analysts of U.S. foreign policy understand that passing the resolution would so alienate Turkish voters that vital U.S. interests would be undermined — e.g., supply of U.S. forces in Iraq, the US air base at Incirlik, and the role of Turkish military (NATO’s second-largest) in Afghanistan and elsewhere. Apparently Turkey has also resisted sanctions against Iran and Ahmadinejad boasted in Beirut recently of blossoming Turkish-Iranian ties.

  12. Adrian Peirson
    Posted March 20, 2010 at 11:35 pm | Permalink

    Iran is no threat to us, they are a Sovereign nation, they are allowed to build missiles, perhaps if they did not feel so threatened they might not do so.
    Look at us, we are saying Iran is a threat yet our armed forces remain underfunded, bit of a contradiction there isn’t there.
    Oh and we give £18 Billion away in foreign aid every year.
    None of this adds up.
    Iran DID NOT say they wanted to wipe Israel off the map, they said political Zionism.

  • About John Redwood


    John Redwood won a free place at Kent College, Canterbury, and graduated from Magdalen College Oxford. He is a Distinguished fellow of All Souls, Oxford. A businessman by background, he has set up an investment management business, was both executive and non executive chairman of a quoted industrial PLC, and chaired a manufacturing company with factories in Birmingham, Chicago, India and China. He is the MP for Wokingham, first elected in 1987.

  • John’s Books

  • Email Alerts

    You can sign up to receive John's blog posts by e-mail by entering your e-mail address in the box below.

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

    The e-mail service is powered by Google's FeedBurner service. Your information is not shared.

  • Map of Visitors

    Locations of visitors to this page