March 31st, 2015

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Random Reflections On The Current State Of Mid-East Policy

I am on a number of progressive listservs where folks are getting as excited as progressives allow themselves over the prospect that the Obama administration may submit a UN resolution to impose a two-state solution and that we may be on the verge of a nuclear deal with Iran.

Setting aside my personal feelings about these policies per se, what I find more interesting is that these steps do not appear to be reducing tensions, as many had long predicted -- although perhaps it is too early to tell in the case of an Iran agreement. Rather, we have seen an unprecedented growth in the exercise of military intervention by Arab states without US leadership or -- in some cases -- US involvement at all. Other developments likewise signal a rise in a more indigenous and more aggressive foreign policy by Arab states directed against Iran and used to quell internal dissent.


1. Egypt and Saudi Arabia have acted to intervene in Yemen using air strikes and naval shelling. A ground invasion has not been ruled out.

2. Egypt has settled its longstanding water conflict with Ethiopia and Northern Sudan with a new treaty, and is developing itself as the major power broker in Northeast Africa.

3. Consistent with this, Egypt is now intervening in Libya with air strikes to disrupt ISIS affiliates there and is in talks with Sudan and Ethiopia for regional intervention in the conflict.

4. The Arab League, after 40 years of trying, has now agreed to establish a permanent joint military force for the purpose of maintaining regional stability. It is likely that Egypt and Saudi Arabia will be -- at least initially -- major donors of military forces, equipment and officers.

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Again, none of this is to suggest that U.S. policy must therefore remain unchangeable, lest it lead to regional instability. But it does suggest that progressives (and the Obama Administration) need a broader transition plan that goes beyond the idea that a more aggressive policy against Israel and a rapprochement with Iran will automatically reduce tension in the region and create peace. The US cannot, of course, control everything. But we are responsible for our own actions and we are therefore obligated to consider their impact. At a minimum, we should have some contingency planning that reflects the possibility that outcomes might be messier than anticipated.

The previous Administration, and the conservative hawks who supported its policies, failed to consider any possible negative outcomes. For this they have been roundly criticized. Progressives would do well not to make the same mistake, given the benefit of this example.