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America’s Fading Middle East Influence

Friday, April 1, 2011

The middle east has gone through eras of projection of power by external powers, and it has adapted to the balance of power between them. This was the case during the age of colonialism (predominance of Britain and France), the Cold War (competition between the U.S. and the ussr), and the period of American predominance since the end of the Cold War. For the last two decades, the region has been characterized by the conflict between “status-quo” and “anti-status-quo” forces. The former were represented by the existing regimes in Egypt, Tunisia, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, etc., and the latter by Iran, the Islamic movement, Hezbollah, and their allies. For over two decades, the United States has been the predominant superpower in the region and the main force in maintaining the status quo.

However, today, the Middle East is undergoing a sea change. The revolutions in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya were the result of developments within the countries themselves: deep economic and social malaise and the perception of the loss of domestic deterrence by ossified regimes led by aging leaders. However, the popular perception that the United States had abandoned its erstwhile allies to support those revolutions facilitated their spread to other theaters. This turnabout in American policy is not seen in the region as reflecting American power though intervention, but rather the decline of American power, manifested in a policy of “bandwagoning” after years of proactive American policy. Clearly, the decline of American projection of power in the region will have as profound an effect as the projection of American power had at its height.

The policies of the United States under the Obama administration have given rise to a broad perception in the region that the United States is no longer willing to play the role of guarantor of the security of its allies there; America is indeed “speaking softly” but has neither the present intention nor the future willpower to wield “a big stick” if push comes to shove. This perception is reflected in seven, key interrelated regional issues: (1) Islam and jihadi terrorism; (2) revolution and democratization in the region; (3) nuclear proliferation; (4) Iran; (5) the Israeli-Arab peace process; (6) Iraq; and (7) Af-Pak. In all these issues, the U.S. is perceived as searching for the path of least resistance, lowering its strategic profile, and attempting to accommodate the de facto powers in the region. In all these areas, the United States is projecting an aversion to proactive action, disinclination to project power, and lack of resolve to support its allies. Remaining American allies in the region realize that they cannot rely on the United States and must adapt themselves to pressures of the masses, predominance of radical ideologies, and Iranian strategic hegemony.

Obama’s strategic Weltanschauung

The obama administration views the revolutions in the Arab world as a rerun of the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989, which resulted in a surge of democracy that was conducive to American strategic interests. However, the transformation of America from staunch supporter of status quo (even in Iran) to surfer on the wave of revolutionary change is not without a price. Having lost the already waning confidence of its remaining allies from the “anciens régimes” in the region, it has not gained that of the new regimes, which have yet to take form.

This transformation, though, did not take place overnight. It came after a long-perceived decline in the American support of its allies against external and domestic challenges, decline in its resolve to employ force to support them, and decline in its willingness to persevere. This perception was not unfounded; the Obama administration came to office with an agenda, according to which the United States is strategically overstretched and must implement a drastic reduction in its strategic profile. Such a change could be brought about, according to the worldview of the administration, only through engagement and dialogue with those very forces which had been perceived as anathema to the previous administration and by eschewing the confrontation — the projection (not to mention actual use) of hard power and unilateralism — which characterized the Bush administration.

Islam and jihadi terrorism. The hallmark of the policy of the Obama administration towards the Middle East is its strategy of engagement with the Muslim world. President Obama came to office at a time when relations between the U.S. and the Muslim world had reached their nadir and he saw himself as particularly suited — as one who had lived in a Muslim country — to rectify them. This policy of engagement includes not only moderates and mainstream Muslims, but also the Muslim Brotherhood, its affiliates, and “moderate” Taliban elements on the Sunni side and Lebanese Hezbollah and Iraqi proxies of Iran on the Shiite side. The rationale for such engagement is rooted in a belief that these parties are not irrevocably anti-American but angry over American and Western support of Israel and of autocratic and oppressive regimes in their countries. Thus, they will respond to changes in the American policies on these issues. Engagement is also rooted in a belief that preemptive engagement of these movements will neutralize their radicalism and anti-Western positions, and that unwillingness to invest the necessary soft and hard power perpetuates the “old guard” of pro-American regimes in the region.

The Obama administration views the revolutions in the Arab world as a rerun of the fall of the Soviet bloc in 1989.

As part of this policy, the administration denies any link between Islam and the phenomenon of jihadi terrorism, presents the latter as an aberration with no real link to “true Islam,” downplays terrorist attacks on the part of individuals as acts of personal violence,1 and obfuscates the strength of the radical Islamist ideology in the Muslim street and the broad support that the terrorist organizations succeed in gathering.2 Unlike the Bush administration, the Obama administration does not view radical Islam as antidemocratic per se, but believes that once they come to power, the exigencies of power will moderate their positions.

The Arab revolts and democratization. It is ironic that the Obama administration, which initially rejected what it perceived as the naïve effort of its predecessor to impose democracy on the Middle East, has become an even more forceful and vociferous proponent of immediate passage from old and tried autocratic regimes to untested “people power.” However, the American policy of support for revolution may not serve U.S. interests in the long run. While the U.S. has influenced events in Tunisia and Egypt, its power is limited to deconstruction and is not enough to be constructive. Paradoxically, the American posture did play a pivotal role in creating the tipping point which brought about the fall of the leaders in Tunisia and Egypt and encouraging the wave of protest in the Arab world. However, this influence was not the result of American projection of power but, rather, of the perception of American weakness. Similar to the encouragement that the Iranian protestors drew from reports that the Carter administration had abandoned the Shah in 1979, the Obama administration’s jumping on the bandwagon of regime change was viewed not as a sign of a strong America supporting democratic revolution, but rather of a weak America, which abandons its embattled allies. The loss of American support — explicitly for the regimes that were directly threatened, and implicitly for all the others — was perceived as rendering them vulnerable and encouraged the escalation of protest. The credibility of any American assurances, including strategic assurances against external threats from Iran, for these regimes therefore has been dramatically degraded.

While the U.S. has influenced events in Tunisia and Egypt, its power is limited to deconstruction and is not enough to be constructive.

The chances of democracy in Tunisia are greater than in any other country in the region. The emergence of liberal democratic regimes in the other endangered countries (Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Jordan) seems unlikely. The only political force in Egypt or Jordan that can mobilize itself on short notice to take advantage of free elections is the Islamic movement. It will therefore at least be part of any coalition and will have an impact on the policy of any new regime. The Islamic movements in the region will not feel indebted to the United States for having turned its back on the old regimes when their downfall was already evident; the American policy is more likely to be interpreted as yet another proof of American duplicity and opportunism in the effort to maintain hegemony in the region.

Furthermore, their anti-Western and anti-American sentiment is not political or circumstantial, but based on a deeply entrenched ideology, which blames all the faults of Muslim society on external forces. New regimes, which co-opt these forces, will not succeed in delivering the promises of the revolution in a short period of time and will be swift to point the finger at the enemy within and without: at the pro-Western secularists, Israel, and the United States. Finally, the Islamic movements will perceive the revolutions against regimes that had been supported by the United States as a victory against America and further proof of its decline as a force in the region. This impression will be reinforced by the anticipated U.S. final withdrawal from Iraq by the end of 2011, leaving Iran to play the pivotal role of power broker. From the point of view of the Sunni Arab states, U.S. policy in Iraq, allowing Iran a foothold in that country, acceptance of Hezbollah predominance in Lebanon, and overtures towards the (relatively pro-Iranian) Muslim Brotherhood movement all indicate that the U.S. sees Iran as the future power in the region.

If the impression of American support for popular revolution is not reversed, the dynamics of revolution in the region will spread. The administration has not clarified why, while it is has accepted the downfall of some of its key allies (who the administration suddenly realized were “autocrats”), it remains supportive of others. The key players, now in danger, are:

  • Jordan. The rise to power of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt will be a force multiplier for its sister movements in other countries. The immediate casualty will be Jordan. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is more radical than its Egyptian counterpart, its constituency tends to come from the Palestinian camps, and it has demonstrated a high level of support for the Jihadi-Salafi movement in Iraq.
  • Yemen. The fall of the Yemeni regime will open the door for both Iran and al Qaeda in that country.
  • Bahrain. The Shiites in the country will now be encouraged by Iran to call for full enfranchisement — a demand that the U.S. will find difficult to reject. Such a change may be the first step in toppling the regime and turning this key Gulf country into an Iranian satrap.
  • Saudi Arabia. The potential uprising of Shiites in the Eastern Province, who will demand equal rights or autonomy, would have a dramatic effect on the Kingdom.
  • Maghreb. Both Morocco and Algeria are home to much stronger and more radical Islamic movements than Tunisia. Unrest in these countries will almost certainly lead to the rise of those movements, particularly if it comes on the heels of Muslim Brotherhood ascendancy in Egypt. It is doubtful that the rebellion in Libya against the Qaddafi regime will result in a stable democratic government in that primarily tribal country.

Nuclear proliferation. The strategic worldview of the Obama administration towards the issue of the threat of wmd also stands out in contrast to that of its predecessor. It was expressed in no uncertain terms in a series of major policy documents issued during the administration’s first year.3 According to this worldview the threat of nuclear proliferation derives first and foremost from the stockpiles of nuclear weapons in the hands of the veteran nuclear powers and defensive concerns of the candidates for nuclear armament. Hence these countries can be dissuaded from acquiring nuclear weapons by a policy of global nuclear disarmament, multilateral action by the international community to “isolate” offenders on one hand, and diplomatic engagement and extended assurances by the United States on the other hand. The threat of acquisition of nuclear weapons by terrorists is seen as one that can be dealt with through international cooperation.4 Relying on the experience of the Cold War, the risk that states in the region may actually use their nuclear weapons either intentionally or in scenarios of escalation is treated as low.

The focus on nuclear disarmament in a world that seems rushing toward an era of hyper-proliferation seems somewhat inconsistent with reality. It is unrealistic to believe that the countries of the Middle East may forgo acquisition of their own nuclear weapons in return for American-extended assurances — particularly when the confidence in American support has been so drastically shaken by the abandoning of its erstwhile allies in Tunisia and Egypt. The potential for availability of nuclear know-how and materials from Pakistan and North Korea is likely to increase. There is no doubt that under such conditions supply will breed demand and vice versa. The administrations counter-proliferation policy has no remedy for this scenario.

Iran. Meanwhile, the perceived democratic uprisings in the Arab Middle East should not create the impression that the “Green Revolution” option in Iran is still on the table. Ironically, had the U.S. supported the “Green Revolution” in Iran, at least to the extent it did for the uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt, it may have been able to keep that movement viable. The conventional wisdom that Western support for the Iranian opposition is counterproductive will probably restrain the administration from expressing the type of support it expressed vis-à-vis the Arab rebellions. It is, however, this stark contrast between the American response to the unrest in Iran as opposed to the Tunisian and Egyptian (and, mutatis mutandis, Libyan) cases that reinforces the perception in the region that the U.S. has adopted an active policy not only of abandoning its old allies, but also of courting the Iranian regime and its proxies. The transfer of American support to the Iranian supported Maleki in Iraq and the lukewarm response to Hezbollah’s takeover of Lebanon are seen as further proof of this policy. The retraction of the military option by senior American officials has led to a perception that the U.S. has already reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran (at best) or even is realigning its interest in the region to accommodate Iranian predominance.5 The outcome of the administration’s engagement policy to date has been to encourage Iran to make more strident and provocative moves toward a nuclear capability. The sanctions regime creates an illusion of action in consensus, but few truly believe that it will achieve the necessary effect.6 While the U.S. can claim success of its engagement policy as a holding tactic, delaying Iran’s crossing the threshold, however, does not delay the process of decline in the willingness to rely on the United States. The cumulative impression of American reluctance to confront Iran out of fear of Iranian reprisal exacerbates the concerns in the region that the pro-Western countries will not be able to rely, when the chips are down, on the United States.

The Obama administration has encouraged Iran to make more strident and provocative moves toward a nuclear capability.

The case for continuing this policy is primarily the absence of alternatives and particularly the potential consequences of an Iranian retaliation to a military strike. The argument against military action (or even threat of military action or perceived support for an Israeli strike) is based on the assessment that such action would lead to severe reactions in the Muslim world, would damage friendly regimes, and inspire terrorist activities against the U.S., and it will be met with a broad Iranian military response, ignite a war between Iran and the Gulf States, cause a steep rise in energy prices, endanger American troops in Iran and Afghanistan, and give the Iranian regime the opportunity to make short shrift of the “Green Revolution” opposition. However, behind this assessment lies the political truth that the United States does not have the willpower for another military adventure in the Middle East.7 The administration also seems to believe that Iran does not really intend to break out with a military nuclear capability but will suffice with being a “threshold nuclear power” along the lines of the Japanese model. This assessment leads it to redefine its objectives regarding the Iranian threat: from the complete prevention of a “nuclear” Iran to the acceptance of Iran as a nuclear threshold state, while convincing Tehran not to cross the threshold.

However, these assessments are not shared by most of the parties in the region. There is broad anticipation in the region that Iran will not stop at the threshold and that the consequences of military action are far less catastrophic than those of a nuclear Iran. Nevertheless, there is little or no challenge within the U.S. administration to these assumptions. This also contributes to the perception in the region that the administration has reconciled itself to a nuclear Iran, believing that it can be contained.

The Israeli-Arab peace process. The main area in which the administration sees a need to project active involvement in the region is the Israeli-Arab peace process.8 The efforts to promote Israeli-Palestinian negotiations — and possibly Israeli-Syrian talks in the future — and the willingness to risk confrontation and crisis with Israel is seen by the Obama administration as a means to garner Arab and Muslim sympathy. The result is an American policy vis-à-vis the peace process that is more Palestinian than that of the Palestinians. Washington demanded a total cessation of settlement activity, including in East Jerusalem, when the Palestinian leadership itself did not, and joined the demand that Israel subscribe to the npt. The voices heard from those close to the administration charging Israel, the Jewish lobby, and even Jewish figures within government with subversion of strategic American interests in the region in favor of Israeli interests both reflect the true opinion of those individuals and serve as a lever for restraining Israel. The presentation of a fundamental conflict of interests between the U.S. and Israel in regards to Iran exacerbates this narrative.

The main way in which the administration sees a need to be actively involved in the region is through the Israeli-Arab peace process.

The efforts of the administration to distance itself from Israel and to present an “even-handed” or even pro-Palestinian stance, however, have not significantly improved the chances of a peace settlement. The decline in the perception of American power was evident in the Palestinian leadership’s long refusal of American requests to renew direct negotiations. As American presence in the region wanes, the Palestinians and the Arab regimes will have to take into account growing domestic radicalization as a severe constraint against moving forward in the peace process.

By distancing itself from Israel and by lowering its profile in the Middle East in general, the administration also distances itself from influence on the peace process. The image of American power in the region is an important component of Israel’s own deterrent image. This is expressed in the very image of American capacity to act in the region to support its allies and in the assumption of a strategic alliance and special relationship between the U.S. and Israel. The erosion of the image of American power is not due to the perception of American capabilities per se, but to the perception of willingness of the U.S. to act in the region to support its allies, buttressed by a perceived decline in U.S. economic preeminence. Erosion of the image of support for allies in general and for Israel in particular will have a detrimental effect on Israel’s deterrence. The erosion of Israel’s deterrence will have, in turn, a detrimental effect on that of the United States.

Iraq. The primary aim of American foreign policy in Iraq is to end the war, withdraw U.S. forces, and hand security responsibilities over to Iraqi military forces. The goal of leaving Iraq a stable democratic pro-Western country has been replaced by the more modest goal of withdrawal of American troops “with their heads held high,” as President Obama said in his 2011 State of the Union address.9 Meanwhile, the sense of growing Iranian influence and declining American presence feeds the willingness of the Shiite parties to take the Iranian position into account. The American backing of the pro-Iranian candidate for prime minister of Iraq (Maleki), instead of the candidate backed by the Sunni Arabs, strengthened the perception in the region that the U.S. is not averse to engaging Iran in order to guarantee an orderly withdrawal process. This raises concerns in the region of a “grand bargain” based on an Iranian commitment to cooperate in Iraq (and Afghanistan) in return for a softening of the American position on the nuclear issue.

After the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq will be the setting for regional struggles that will not further Iraqi or U.S. interests.

Whether or not such a bargain is being contemplated by the administration does not change the perception in the region that it is likely, and it does not change the influence of such an assessment on the positions of the countries of the region. The Sunni countries surrounding Iraq are already developing their own areas of influence and nurturing relationships with groups inside Iraq. The U.S. may encourage this trend as a preferable alternative to Iranian influence. Iraq, after the American withdrawal, will become a microcosm of regional struggles at the expense of both Iraqi and wider American interests.

Af-Pak. The American policy in the Afghani-Pakistani theaters is heavily focused on Afghanistan. However, there is no doubt today that the real threat to international stability will come from a nuclear, radical Islamist, and failed Pakistani state and not from its primitive and fragmented neighbor. The potential for a “vertical meltdown” of the Pakistani state is great. Such a meltdown would leave the semblance of a state intact but release the various organs of the state to act on their own according to a variety of ideological and commercial interests. A Pakistan in which radical Islamist organizations provide open and extensive support for terrorist groups abroad (including but not only in India) with no interference on the part of a central regime, and in which the nuclear establishment engages in free marketing of its knowledge and hardware, may not be far away. Such a development would have the potential to severely undermine the stability of the Indian subcontinent. However, American policy towards Pakistan is tied to the need to co-opt the Pakistani military and intelligence to the war against al Qaeda. Public airing of the fears for the future of Pakistan would be counterproductive to that goal.

The Afghani surge declared by President Obama in November 2009 has little chance of achieving the success of the surge in Iraq. This is due to fundamental differences between the two theaters. But by declaring that the American troops will start their drawdown from Afghanistan in mid-2011, the administration sent a message to all the actors in the theater that the present military effort is temporary and, if they can ride it out, the American agenda will eventually fizzle. The U.S. military has already recognized the futility of achieving the administration’s goals, and it has recommended a shift in focus from nation-building to simply destroying al Qaeda forces in Afghanistan and creating areas of stability under the central government in lieu of extending Kabul’s sway over the entire country.

The U.S. may indeed attempt to stabilize only areas controlled by the central government in order to reduce terrorist attacks in these areas. Naturally, this will be perceived by the administration as an accomplishment. However, a rise in American casualties could cause a shift in American public opinion, which still sees the Afghanistan war as a “just war” against terrorism, as opposed to Iraq, which was the “wrong war.” Such a shift, bringing public opinion to perceive Afghanistan as a second Vietnam, may push the administration to look for a way to cut losses and initiate an even earlier withdrawal — or, alternatively, to invest further resources in order to achieve an image of success. The price of an American “cut and run” strategy in Afghanistan may be high. A resurgence of Taliban influence in Afghanistan will surely revive the Pakistani Taliban and further weaken the regime in Islamabad. A failed nuclear state of Pakistan will have dire consequences for the proliferation regime and the potential transformation of Pakistan and Afghanistan together into a staging ground for jihadist attacks against the West.

The strategic position of the U.S.

The future of American interests in the Middle East — and the interests of America’s allies in the region — hinge on the outcome of the civil rebellions in the Arab countries on one hand, and on the efforts to prevent Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon on the other. Per the first issue, the region seems to have passed the point of no return on a slippery slope toward destabilization. At this point, the U.S. can only try to project that the abandoning of the regimes in Tunisia and Egypt is not a precedent that will be applied in the cases of other countries. It can also try to modify the impression that it is willing to accept the rise — albeit through quasi-democratic processes — of radical Islamist forces in lieu of the regimes that have already fallen. This should be done not only through declarations and public diplomacy but also by deeds, such as active support of real, secular, pro-democracy forces in these countries. Such a message may strengthen the liberal and democratic forces in those countries. An American policy of supporting the fall of despotic, secular, pro-Western regimes in favor of equally despotic Islamic regimes would be historical irony and run counter to America’s real interests.

Iran is already exploiting this period of Arab turmoil to cement its hegemony in the region.

Iran is already exploiting this period of Arab turmoil to cement its hegemony in the region. Even if the Muslim Brotherhood does not achieve full control in the first stages of regime reorganization in Egypt (and other countries) its co-option into the fabric of the regime will enhance Iran’s influence and embolden Tehran. There is little hope that Iran will become more pliable in regard to its nuclear program under such circumstances.

Therefore, the Iranian challenge in the region will probably escalate in the wake of these events. If Iran is perceived as having crossed the nuclear threshold it will have “won” against the pressures of the international community. It will become a model for radical movements throughout the Muslim world and will be on its way to achieving its desired hegemony in the region. A prime example may be renewing its call for “leaving the security of the Gulf in the hands of the Gulf countries themselves” — a euphemism for Iranian hegemony without American or British presence. In this demand, Iran will be able to leverage the very failure of the U.S. to prevent Iran from going nuclear, and the regional image of the Obama administration as conciliatory towards Iran will diminish any faith that the countries of the region may have in American guarantees. The Iranian ability to employ subversion will also make it difficult for those regimes to continue to rely on the “infidel” to defend them against (Muslim) Iran. Other consequences will be felt in the heart of the Middle East; the chances of weaning Syria from the Iranian orbit and promoting stability in Lebanon, where Iran’s surrogate — Hezbollah — has already become the key power broker, will become even slimmer. Hamas, Iran’s Palestinian proxy, will feel that it has a longer leash. The chances that the Palestinian Authority will be willing to take bold steps towards a peace agreement with Israel will also wane.

Failure to prevent Iran from nearing the nuclear threshold will certainly intensify the drive of other states in the region for nuclear weapons. This would be true for the current pro-Western regimes in the region, and moreover for radical regimes, which would be less willing to rely on American extended assurances and more likely to seek the prestige of becoming nuclear powers. The increased demand for nuclear materials and know-how will probably induce increased supply. The prime suppliers of these materials will be Pakistan and North Korea — two nuclear nations, which may become failed states on short notice. The possibility of a political meltdown in these countries may cause the elements responsible for the nuclear program to enter the market, followed by Chinese and Russian companies. Increased supply will most likely create additional demand, with countries in the Middle East and other regions speeding up their nuclear programs to take advantage of the market. The prospect that American promises of extended deterrence will stem the tide of proliferation to other countries, as it did in East Asia, have already declined and will decline further once Iran achieves even a nascent nuclear status. It is doubtful that the U.S. will be able to provide the high profile military deployment necessary to back up its assurances. Difficulties will come from domestic pressures in the region. Even if Islamic forces do not take full control, their influence on policy and their resistance to reliance on the U.S. will make it difficult for these regimes to develop a strategy against Iran with the U.S.

In any case, these regimes would probably demand — at least for domestic reasons — that American promises of extended assurances include guarantees against Israel and efforts to disarm Israel as well as Iran. Thus, certain steps that the administration may take to counterbalance the decline in America’s projection of power may have an adverse effect on Israel’s deterrent posture.

For the Wahhabi regime of Saudi Arabia, which came to the world as an anti-Shiite movement, Iranian (i.e., Shiite) predominance in the region is a nightmare come true. The growing anxiety in the Gulf States about a “Shiite threat,” due to the prospects of a nuclear Iran and increasing Shiite (Iranian) influence in Iraq, Syria, and Lebanon, could lead to enhanced strategic collaboration between these regimes and radical Islamic elements on the basis of an anti-Shiite platform. However, these regimes will not be able to compel the radical organizations they sponsor to restrict their militant activities solely to Shiite and Iranian targets and to avoid action against the Western “infidel” and Israel.

1 See the U.S. “National Security Strategy” of May 2010, which refers to the challenge of terrorism as deriving from “a specific network — al-Qaida and its affiliates who support efforts to attack the United States, our allies and our partners.” The Department of Defense report on the Nidal Hasan attack at Fort Hood refrains from mentioning any link between the attacker and Islam or Islamic ideology.

2 President Obama’s Cairo speech is a case in point, and many of his utterances since have reiterated this view.

3 Between February 1, 2010, and May 29, 2010, the administration issued the following policy documents: the “Quadrennial Defense Review Report”; the “Ballistic Missile Defense Review Report”; the “Nuclear Posture Review Report”; the New start Treaty, signed by the presidents of the United States of America and the Russian Federation; the Washington Nuclear Summit Conference declaration; and the “National Security Strategy” for 2010.

4 See the above-mentioned “Nuclear Posture Review Report.”.

5 Secretary of Defense Robert Gates said in November 2010 that a military strike on Iran would unite that country’s divided population.

6 A poll of experts taken during the annual Herzliya Conference (taken, specifically, on February 9, 2011) showed that over 85 percent of the respondents did not believe that the current or even “biting” sanctions would deter Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon. See http://www.herzliyaconference.org/ eng/?CategoryID=461&ArticleID=2240

7 As Secretary of Defense Gates expressed it in a speech to the United States Military Academy on February 25, 2011, “In my opinion, any future defense secretary who advises the president to again send a big American land army into Asia or into the Middle East or Africa should ‘have his head examined,’ as General MacArthur so delicately put it.”

8 The view of the Obama administration that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the source of all evils in the region was best expressed by the former national security advisor, General Jim Jones, at the Herzliya Conference (on February 8, 2011): “I’m of the belief that had God appeared in front of President Obama in 2009 and said if he could do one thing on the face of the planet, and one thing only, to make the world a better place and give people more hope and opportunity for the future, I would venture that it would have something to do with finding the two-state solution to the Middle East.”

9 In his address, Obama said, “Look to Iraq, where nearly 100,000 of our brave men and women have left with their heads held high. American combat patrols have ended, violence is down, and a new government has been formed. This year, our civilians will forge a lasting partnership with the Iraqi people, while we finish the job of bringing our troops out of Iraq. America’s commitment has been kept. The Iraq war is coming to an end.”