The Muddle East
Whatever governments emerge, they will not be pro-Israel or pro-U.S.

Hassan Nasrallah, Bashar Assad, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in Damascus, Syria, in February 2010.


Victor Davis Hanson

4. Nuclear proliferation may become immune to international scrutiny. There is simply too much turmoil in the Middle East for the international community to monitor and control the spread of nuclear weapons. As Western forces leave Afghanistan, expect tensions to rise between Afghanistan and nuclear Pakistan, and between nuclear Pakistan and nuclear India. No one can figure out the politics of either an Israeli preemptive strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities, or an announcement that Iran has let off a nuclear device — other than that either development, or both, would destabilize the region even more. If Syria, the entire West Bank, Jordan, and Egypt embrace Muslim Brotherhood–inspired governments — soon a probability — we will see a return to the pre-1973 Middle East calculus, with Islamism substituting for the old pro-Soviet stance as the common creed of uniform hostility among frontline enemies of Israel. In such a scenario, the Arab states would naturally seek some sort of replacement for the lost Soviet deterrence that always ensured that, as in 1967 or 1973, an Arab setback was not quite a total defeat. 

5. We will have not a single ally in any effort to influence Middle East change. Reset with Vladimir Putin’s Russia was an abject disaster. The only impulse that trumps Putin’s fear of Islamic radicalism is his desire to ensure that any crisis in the region affects America negatively. China wants oil, period. To the extent that it is involved, it seeks to be on the side of any government that provides it energy and, as a bonus, is anti-American — which gives it a wide field in which to play. A financially troubled Europe will not repeat its Libyan escapade. Europe’s southern nations, which are most proximate to Middle Eastern unrest, are also all insolvent, increasingly disarmed, and paranoid about the sources of their energy. A non-interventionist Germany has not just the say over whether the euro zone survives, but, by virtue of its much-needed money, de facto veto power over future collective European action. Turkey is the Obama administration’s most fickle and unreliable new “ally,” distancing itself from the United States when it seeks new Islamic partners, only to beg for our cooperation when those efforts blow up in its face, as they have in Syria. NATO is dying on the vine, because of our much-heralded Asian “pivot” and the lack of money in Europe. The United Nations remains a joke; there will never be a U.N. resolution regarding Syria like the one regarding Libya — largely because the West stoked Chinese and Russian resentment when it transmogrified U.N.-approved humanitarian help and no-fly zones into a blank check for bombing.

Given those depressing factors, where does the ongoing Middle East mess leave America? We should restore close relations with an Israel that is becoming wealthier and stronger all the time, and is the only consistently pro-American, democratic nation in the entire region. The Obama administration has demonstrated that any hint of daylight between the U.S. and Israel does not win over the Arab world, but only persuades it that Israel is more vulnerable.

The wisest course will be to depersonalize our Middle East policy and simply state that the U.S., to the extent that it weighs in on the turmoil, supports constitutional government (rather than plebiscites): To the degree that a society is transparent, respects human rights, and remains consensual, we support it; to the degree that it does not, we are more likely to oppose it. In fact, that would soon place us at odds with most of the theocratic movements that are slowly strangling their secularist counterparts. The U.S. must fast-track energy exploration, especially via the leasing of resource-rich federal land, the completion of the Keystone pipeline, and drilling in well-established oil-rich areas offshore and in Alaska. If North America does become energy independent, the entire continent — and perhaps the world at large — will be both richer and safer.

Now is not the time to cut our strategic arsenal or to prune back missile defense. The danger is not the loss of our own nuclear deterrence, but any sign that the U.S. feels somehow that its arsenal is redundant. We should worry not just that Egypt or a Gulf state might go nuclear in response to Iran, but that a half-dozen nations might. America’s message to the Middle East must be that an attack on the U.S. or its interests would not only be futile but would ensure an overwhelmingly destructive response.

In short, names and faces come and go in the Middle East. So do its mass movements — whether pro-Hitler fascism, Nasserism, Baathism, Soviet clientship, or Islamism and theocracy. Yesterday’s crude Grand Mufti is today’s slicker Hassan Nasrallah and may be tomorrow’s slickest of all, Mohammed Morsi. Hosni Mubarak went from Nasserite stooge, to Sadat’s welcomed successor, to a reliably corrupt but strategically aligned U.S. ally, to enemy of the Arab Street and now little more than a breathing corpse.

All that should remain constant is American support for a pro-Western, free-market, and constitutional Arab world, an inseparable alliance with Israel, an end to importation of Middle Eastern energy, and an America with overwhelming military dominance.

NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author most recently of The End of Sparta, a novel about ancient freedom.