A Hot Balancing Act

Americans are famous for looking at a newborn and saying that they may grow up to become president. Perhaps we shouldn’t wish that on them. The Middle East has been a mess for centuries and it appears to be getting hotter once again.


When American troops died as a result of a rebel group’s attack you knew we couldn’t let that go unaddressed. As of this writing (Saturday morning) 85 targets have been struck and I have to assume that, if nothing else after damage assessments, more strikes are forthcoming.

One of the many complicating factors is that most of the attacks (with some poetic license, some of Israel’s action being the exception) are not the actions of states, but of rebel groups. I am among the vast majority who feels that those groups are basically proxies of states but the degree of control the sponsoring states have over them is both open to debate and certainly not total. However, the “reactions attacks” often take place in the sovereign territory of states. In reality the specific turf in question is not under the control of said states. Interesting fact: Friday’s attacks took place in Syria and Iraq where we have a combined boots on the ground presence of less than 4,000.

One of what I consider to be a distracting factor in the drone attack that killed three Army reservists on active duty is that it may have been successful because of a miscue (that seems like too soft of a word) on the part of American air defenses at the base. That is beside the point! Three Americans died “inside the wire” because of a deliberate attack on them. Their deaths crossed a line! I (who never wore the uniform in any capacity and therefore do not have a bias position) was especially struck by the fact that the deceased were reservists on active duty. (I’ll leave it there for today, anyway.)

The Middle East is largely comprised of countries that were “manufactured” by America and white Western European nations in the aftermath of the two world wars. They were constructed largely to satisfy the oil interests of the West with no regard for the denizens. In many cases we put the Hatfields and the McCoys together expecting them to live peacefully and in harmony.

Let’s take a look at the combination of economics and politics as it pertains to this region for a bit. The region supplies a significant portion of the oil that the democratic nations consume. If oil prices rise due to supply interruptions that is bad for the economies of those nations. In immediate reaction the consumers/voters tend to blame the current president or prime minister. American President Joe Biden is up for reelection this November. I’m going to anger some people here, but I maintain that by and large Americans will tolerate a few dead soldiers much more than increased gasoline prices. Ugly? Yes, but that is the political reality.

The big player on the other side is Iran and thanks to Donald Trump we really don’t have much of a handle on how close to being a nuclear power they are? Or are they already? It is difficult to plan when you don’t know what the “other guy’s” capabilities are.

The Middle East is far from static. Alliances are constantly forming, breaking up and morphing. Add to that the fact that more than one player is covertly playing both sides simultaneously. Also, a player may be aligned with you on Issue A but with your foes on Issue B.
American are not very good at asymmetrical warfare which is largely what is practiced in the region. As evidence I offer Vietnam, Iran and Afghanistan. Americans have a very short-term stomach for war as opposed to many other countries and people. One way to beat America that has proven effective is simply to wait us out. The problems in the Middle East are much older than America itself; we just exacerbated them.

All that brings me to the strategy of the opposition and the current situation confronting President Biden. The bad guys want us out of the region. Their latest strategy is to draw us further in, wait us out and then, largely by virtue of American public opinion and politics, drive us out. Basically, suck us further in to expel us. Biden’s goal is to find a response that is both appropriate and effective putting a lid on the crisis and quickly getting shipping back to normal.

So, do you really want that baby to grow up to be president?

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