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Opinion

Syria – another sign that US needs to recalibrate Middle East policy

As the US backs into Syria and other Mideast crises, China is proactively and strategically engaging in the region. Its actions point out what America has to lose if it continues to hesitate in the Middle East.

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Despite the homegrown attempts of Arab societies in recent years to shed corrupt and repressive regimes for democracy, the region has neither the structures nor conditions to build stable democracies and vibrant free economies on its own. It has no regional trade and development communities to prop up transitioning national economies or security institutions to counter Islamist extremism or sectarian flare-ups.

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Nor do the national security forces cobbled together by departing US forces in Iraq and Afghanistan engender confidence. April was Iraq’s most violent month since 2008. Relations between Afghanistan and Pakistan are deteriorating quickly.

In Syria, meanwhile, President Obama’s red line seems only to have delayed inevitable and necessary decisions by the United States, France, and Britain about whether to arm the rebels, impose a no-fly zone, or take out the regime’s air force capability. Israel’s recent airstrikes in Syria, reportedly to destroy Iranian missiles potentially bound for Hezbollah in Lebanon, reflect growing concern over arms shipments from Tehran to Damascus and growing evidence of participation in the conflict by Hezbollah and other Islamist extremists.

As the US backs into Syria and other Mideast crises, meanwhile, China is proactively and strategically engaging in the region. Its actions point out what America has to lose if it continues along its present course.   

In his new book, “The Dispensable Nation,” Vali Nasr, a senior adviser to the late Richard Holbrooke, special representative to Afghanistan and Pakistan during most of Mr. Obama’s first term, eloquently argues that departing from the Middle East would put Washington at a significant disadvantage with Beijing.

“The Middle East remains the single most important region of the world – not because it is rich in energy, or fraught with instability and pregnant with security threats, but because it is where the great power rivalry with China will play out and where its outcome will be decided,” Mr. Nasr writes. “The various strands of our Middle East Policy – in Afghanistan and Pakistan, with regard to Iran and the Arab Spring – already intersect with our broader interests with regard to China.”

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