Friday, August 9, 2013

The World According to Me

Charles Krauthammer has one of his usual articles today hammering the Obama administration for its fumbling bumbling foreign policy in the Middle East.  Really, the president doesn't want this war, so he obfuscates and dodges and retreats.

President Obama is not the only president confused about the Middle East.  Angelo Codevilla in War: Ends and Means makes it depressingly clear that President Bush didn't have a clue either.  Nor did his advisors.  Back in the 2000s the State Department wanted one thing, the CIA another, and the Defense Department something else: all clueless barnacle bureaucrats.  So the president dodged and weaved between them, and nothing got resolved.

The problem is, though, that nobody had really thought through what the US wants in the Middle East.  Except that we want it to go away.

So what is the problem in the Middle East?

The problem, we know, is oil, and Winston Churchill is to blame.

It was in 1911 that Winston Churchill became First Lord of the Admiralty and championed the change in fuel for naval ships in the Royal Navy from coal to oil.  But he knew that he was creating a problem.
The oil supplies of the world were in the hands of vast oil trusts under foreign control. To commit the navy irrevocably to oil was indeed to take arms against a sea of troubles.
Switching to oil meant dominating the Middle East, the emerging oil region, and the Middle East was Islamic.  The reason that Britain had built its ocean route to India in the 18th century was precisely to avoid the Middle East and its sea of troubles.

Ever since, Britain, and then the US, has been hung upon the cross of Middle East diplomacy.  Two hundred years before 1911 the Brits had no problem in conquering India in order to dominate it.  But by 1911 imperialism had become a scandal and an embarrassment.  Civilized people didn't conquer other people, not unless they were Germans or Japanese.

So here are the horns of the dilemma.  We, the West, need to dominate the Middle East to ensure the continuing safe delivery of oil.  But we don't want to conquer it.  What would be the point?  The people of the Middle East mean nothing to us.  It is just the oil we want.

So we meddle enough to keep the Middle East in turmoil, and the rulers of the Middle East become better and better at manipulating and annoying us.  When they annoy us too much, we go in and spank them, and sometimes get tied up in knots trying to bring democracy to them.

What should we do?  Probably we need to just play hardball.  We don't want to bring the glories of democracy to the Middle East.  But we do want to make sure that no single power dominates the Middle East.  We don't want to steal the oil from the Middle East, but we do want to punish any regime that starts to play games with us over oil.

Meanwhile we need to advance the fracking revolution so that the peculiar position of the Middle East as the swing producer of oil is diminished.  So that, in other words, the power of the OPEC oil cartel is reduced from a roar to a whimper.

There may be a silver lining to the cloud of Obama unknowing.  The stumble-bum policy of the Obama administration may be just the right thing for us.  Maybe we need a tactical retreat so that, for the next ten years, we can just watch the warring factions in the Middle East destroy each other.  Let Sunnis fight Shias and Iraqis fight Syrians, and let Egypt collapse into irrelevance.

Let us just be sure that we are ready to administer a stern lesson whenever the Middle Eastern potentates try to play politics with the world's oil.

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