|General Martin Dempsey|
Aren’t we all a little war-weary? We still have troops in Afghanistan (105 casualties this year). We have spent over $1Trillion on two wars and have yet to come to grips with either the social or financial impact of thousands of wounded warriors coming home.
So, why is the Obama administration wringing its hands over Syria? Is it conceivable that we would add it to the list of countries where we have intervened militarily?
Syria, a former Soviet ally, serves as the western anchor for a potentially powerful Iranian coalition. Saddam Hussein, a Sunni Arab running a Shia nation from a minority position, was an obstacle to the formation of that coalition. Now Iran, whose paranoia was fed by having thousands of U.S. troops amassed in nations bordering them to the east and the west, has an opportunity.
Stir Russia into the mix. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia’s sphere of influence contracted. Russia now seeks to extend its influence to the Middle East and Southern Asia without using its military. They have taken advantage of a financially weakened Europe by both making it dependent upon them for energy and by acquiring assets throughout the continent. It is not in their interest for energy sources outside its control to be available to Europe.
International diplomacy is a game of maintaining a balance of power among competing strategic players. The smarter of them will take advantage of world events to tip the balance in their favor. Russia sees opportunity in an alliance with Iran by supporting the Assad regime in Syria.
The U.S. is typically an unsophisticated player on this stage. Our geographic isolation and domestic concerns place international affairs way down the list on the matters that concern most voters. Following a major military engagement, we hear the same old aphorisms. “America can’t be the world’s policeman.” “Someone else should step up.” “We have problems here at home.”
The result is inconsistency and the risk is that potential allies do not see us as reliable partners.
Diplomacy – like nature – abhors a vacuum. We have seen what happens when we don’t become involved. Yugoslavia and Rwanda come to mind.
And, it may be that our adversaries in the region see us as creating a vacuum by virtue of our inability to form a cohesive, consistent, successful foreign policy since the collapse of the Soviet Union. The rush to fill the void may heighten the risk of war.
It’s in America’s interest to limit both Iranian and Russian power. And, it must do so without considering its military power as its first option. The U.S. can only afford to support those countries that take responsibility for their national security interests themselves. We cannot be the first source of that security. We need to develop a low-risk strategy that doesn’t rely upon knee-jerk military responses.
The entire world knows that the U.S. has neither the political will nor the resources to occupy and govern an Asian nation. However, we can provide support through arms, training, air and sea power. Coupled with trade, a sustainable alliance of this nature allows our allies to be secure in the idea that we will not abandon them.
So, what are our diplomatic options? How do we create an alliance that will serve our interests and tip the balance of power in our favor?
The Caucasus region is where both the Russian and Persian empires converge with Turkey (the empire that collapsed as the Soviet empire emerged). The nation at the nexus of that convergence is Azerbaijan. A hundred years ago, half the world’s oil was produced in Azerbaijan.
But, even when the royal baby isn’t in the headlines, we don’t hear about Azerbaijan, a tiny nation that has become a centerpiece of Israeli foreign policy. Its government has longstanding grievances with Iran – over control of bordering territory primarily. A secular Muslim nation (hard to come by), it accuses Iran of supporting Islamist, anti-government factions within its borders.
So, Azerbaijan has formed a substantial trading relationship with Israel, selling it oil and acquiring weapons and military materiel in exchange. The U.S. should leverage this relationship for its benefit. Israel has “stepped up” as we have stood down. It is imperative that we continue to support their efforts.
Now that the royal baby has been named, maybe we can start paying attention to something that matters.
WHO WILL LEAD?