- - Monday, January 6, 2014

One has only to look at the currently unfolding, explosive political situation in the greater Middle East to conclude that any involvement by the United States is risky business.

There are three relevant questions that come to mind. First, what should the U.S. role be as the chaos evolves, especially in such hot spots as Syria, Egypt, Iraq and Afghanistan? All four nations are in violent upheaval with their regimes under siege from Islamic radicals. Second, does America have any role in these transformations, and if so, what is that role? Last, what has the United States learned from its past involvements, going back as far as the Afghanistan-Soviet conflict?

One must ask what the Obama administration is trying to accomplish and what its vision is, if it has any. There are strong indications that the United States was already running a large weapons operation at the time of the Sept 11, 2012, Benghazi attacks in Libya. There are indications we were transferring weapons to al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood rebels in Syria who were opposing the Assad regime.

Based on an insightful report in The Jerusalem Post this month, the claim was made that President Obama and his team had initially adopted the premise that the only real Islamist threat to the United States was the core of al Qaeda, initially under Osama bin Laden, now under Ayman al-Zawahri. As pointed out in this article, events have proven Mr. Obama to be wrong, as offshoots and unaffiliated al Qaeda groups have attacked Americans, too (as they did in Benghazi). Still, the U.S. strategy appears incoherent. Thus far, the United States cannot point to any serious successes in the greater Middle East — not in Iraq, not in Afghanistan, not in Egypt and certainly not in Syria.

Hopefully, we have learned that the conflicts in the region are usually misadventures with dire results, billions expended and too many terrible casualties. With the exception of the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan, the results have not been success. The lesson for the future seems to be one of nonmilitary involvement, although diplomatic relations will be extremely vital. If military engagement is attempted, it should be of short duration, preferably only by air with any “boots on the ground” a quick-turnaround, special operations event.

One thing is certain: America is faced with huge threats from a region that is violent and gaining lethality, even nuclear weapons capacity. The greater threat seems to be that the region is a superpower magnet, with China, Russia and Iran all in or drawn to this region for their own economic or military interests. For this reason, the region will no doubt become even more explosive in the years ahead.

BOB JACK
North Las Vegas, Nev.