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.