President Obama has been hammered for saying that in response to a question about ISIS and Syria. Thank goodness he did say it, otherwise that might have indicated we were about to go off, half-cocked, on another one of our Middle East misadventures.
Here’s the root of the problem, and the reason the situation in Afghanistan is still shaky and Iraq is still a mess. We are in no position to bring reform to the Muslim Arab world. No one is or ever will be but Muslims themselves. If you are interested in the history of the place, and how it got where it is today, I recommend this article: “You Can’t Understand ISIS If You Don’t Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia.” After you read it, you tell me what the strategy should be.
Here’s what I think. We should have two strategic goals. First, when confronted with a deadly, incurable disease, you isolate the sick and do all that’s humanly possible to protect yourself from them. I think we do have a responsibility to use air power to help beat the ISIS infection back out of Iraq and what may become the independent country of Kurdistan, not just because we broke the place, but also because the Iraqis have responded to our demands that they put in place a more inclusive government. Most important, they and the Kurds asked for our help. We are not acting unilaterally.
If we and whatever allies that gather together succeed and ISIS is pushed back into Syria, we’re done. Syria is already in the isolation ward and we can focus all our attention on keeping it that way. (I do sympathize with the suffering of so many of the Syrian people, but tyrants like Syrian President Bashar al-Assad almost always reap the whirlwind, and those winds always produce deadly collateral damage. There’s nothing we can do to save Syria. Syria has to save itself.)
If air power and support for local troops don’t work, we’re in for some tough times. We have only two strategic interests in the Middle East — oil and Israel. If the ISIS contagion continues to spread, I know we will do whatever is necessary to help the Israelis protect themselves, but I doubt we have the resources or the will to put and keep boots on the ground to protect all the oil fields, pipelines and ports in Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf states. We’ll have to figure out how to get along without the 20 percent of our oil we import from the Persian Gulf.
So our second goal should be true energy independence. We should triple down on developing alternative energy sources and continue to grow our domestic oil and gas resources as long as they are needed. Even if ISIS can be contained, instability is a hallmark of the Middle East, and that fact isn’t going to change anytime soon. Getting off Middle East oil is the only way we can finally extricate ourselves from that quagmire and do what should be done. Leave the Middle East find its own path to the 21st century.