President Obama will deliver a “major address” on US policy in the Middle East today at the State Department. He is expected to announce a series of mini-initiatives designed to promote democracy and stability in the region.
Given everything that is happening — simultaneously — in the region, the speech is unlikely to be comprehensive. And it comes at a time when US influence in the region is at a post-World War II low.
David Rithkopf, writing on Foreign Policy’s website, provides some context in a blog entry partially entitled: “the great shrinking superpower in the Middle East.” He writes:
…underlying all this are some stark truths. America is leaving Iraq and Afghanistan. We are doing so not because our high-minded goals have been achieved but because we have lost the will for such fights. We also simply can’t afford such battles — not just old ones, but new ones. Future interventions will either be small — a la the Osama raid — or collaborative and strictly limited — a la Libya. Where only a big intervention will do — as in the case of an Iran that pursued a nuclear program more publicly and aggressively, it just won’t happen.
We will do everything in our power to appear tough — embracing sanctions, leaving symbolic deployments of troops behind, offering rhetoric that will rattle with the finest saber steel. But we will have fewer dollars for foreign aid, fewer troops to deploy, and less money to support long supply chains and extended deployments. Thanks in parts to reforms, in part to the allies we misguidedly backed and in part to our treatment of other allies we will have fewer, closer allies in the region. Our natural allies from outside the region — from Europe to Japan — will be constrained by their own financial straits and the likelihood of years of recession or financial weakness to come. NATO may have learned a lot in Afghanistan and Libya, but one of the things it has surely learned is to severely restrict such involvements in the future.
The relative economic clout of the United States in the region has diminished as markets like China and other rapidly growing economies have become more important in terms of energy consumption. The relative political clout of the U.S. in the region has shrunk as, in addition to all the above reasons, emerging powers are playing an ever bigger role and are easier, less-demanding partners than we are. It is also diminished further by the fact that we are offering old policy approaches that aren’t working (goodbye, George Mitchell. You gave it your best shot) often in cahoots with partners who are showing little willingness to adapt to new circumstances.
You can read the whole thing here.