Monday, August 26, 2013

making sense of the Mideast mess

There's a sad irony in the New York Times headline over Ed Luttwak's article, "In Syria, America Loses if Either Side Wins." The United States has no good options, and it's hard to sort out bad from worse.

President Obama backed himself into a corner when he said Syrian use of chemical weapons would cross a "red line." Even though there are no low cost or low risk ways to deal with Assad's arsenal, it looks as if there will be some cruise missile strikes -- that will then be derided as ineffective. Meanwhile, the Saudis are pressing their own campaign to defeat Assad. But the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff  notes that there are many sides in the conflict and none are currently ready to promote our interests as well as their own in a future Syria.

As if Syria weren't enough of a problem, we still have Egypt to deal with. The military leadership in Cairo rejected our advice to show restraint to demonstrators and former officials. Now the President faces a legal problem of continuing aid when the law requires a cutoff. Here, the most salient fact is that U.S. aid would total $1.3 billion, but the conservative Gulf monarchies have already pledged $12 billion to the new Egyptian government. No wonder our leverage is limited. In addition, even the Israelis are pressing the U.S. government not to cut off aid.

Since there are no good options, I hope the administration continues a cautious, temporizing, hedging approach -- not because that might work out, but because significant military action in Syria or a break in relations with Egypt would be even worse.

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