Aaron David Miller: Obama's doing pretty well in the Middle East

Aaron David Miller has an op-ed in the LA Times which is laugh-out-loud ludicrous. Miller, vice president for new initiatives at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, says, “Defining U.S. national interests is a critically important task, and not enough attention is paid to it.”


By gosh, I agree. And far too little of it has been paid to “U.S. national interests” by this administration.  Mr. Miller disagrees with me and is here to set us straight:

America’s interests in the Middle East have changed over the years. But in 2013, in addition to ensuring the security of Israel, the U.S. has five vital ones and a couple that are less so.

Note that  please – “in addition to ensuring the security of Israel, the U.S. has five vital ones and a couple that are less so.” He offers a grade on each one.

Number one:

Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan early: A-

The two longest and among the most profitless in U.S. history, these two wars have claimed more than 6,000 U.S. dead; tens of thousands wounded, many grievously; billions of dollars expended; and shattered credibility from one end of the Middle East to the other. The process of extrication isn’t pretty, nor is what America will leave behind. But leaving is crucial. Considering what the U.S. sacrificed and what we’ve gotten in return, we stayed far longer than necessary.

Wait, what?  Getting out of Iraq and Afghanistan early?   That’s how our expert opens?  This is what he would describe as something vital to US national interests.  Maybe I’m missing something here, but “regional stability in the Middle East” would seem far more important, in terms of national interests, than leaving those two countries early.  And by the way, we’re not leaving Iraq early.  We’re leaving on the Bush timeline established before Obama took the presidency.


Nope, I wouldn’t give it an A-.  I wouldn’t even mention this bit of nonsense and think I could maintain a shred of credibility.

Number two:

Preventing an attack at home: A-

The organizing principle of a nation’s foreign policy is to protect the homeland. Despite a few near misses and some deadly and tragic lone-wolf attacks since 9/11, the efforts of the Bush and Obama administrations have prevented another Al Qaeda spectacular against the U.S. at home. This is no small accomplishment given the vast size of the country, its vulnerabilities and the determination of a number of groups emanating from the Middle East and South Asia to inflict catastrophic damage on the United States.

Again, how is this a “defining issue that is vital to the national interests in the Middle East?”  This is a DHS domestic security/intelligence function.  Certainly I understand that a goal of ours is to prevent attacks in the U.S. and thus far, we’ve been successful, but what isn’t clear is how “preventing attacks” coincides with our “interests in the Middle East” and policies which are “vital to our US interests”.  Again, the best way to prevent an attack is to pursue relationships with Middle Eastern countries that will help achieve this goal.  If you’re like me, you’re realizing that Mr. Miller is really reaching for things to call vital to our interests so he can give them an “A-“.



Reducing U.S. dependence on Arab hydrocarbons: B

In 2011, the U.S. imported 45% of the liquid fuels it used, down from 60% just six years earlier. As energy guru Daniel Yergin points out, a new oil order is emerging. And for the U.S., that means the rise of Western Hemispheric energy at the expense of the Middle East. Between new oil in Brazil, oil-sands production in Canada and shale-gas technology here at home, by 2020 we could cut our dependence on non-Western Hemisphere oil by half. Combine that with the rise in national oil production and greater focus on fuel efficiency and conservation, and the trend lines are at least running in the right direction.

This one is laughable on it’s face.  Can anyone hazard a guess why it’s a “B” (should be a “C”)?  Because had the Obama administration not done everything in its power to block and slow walk development on federal land, it would be an “A”.  This administration has been the worst administration yet in terms of enabling the expansion of critical hydrocarbon assets.  Abysmal.  And this guy gives it a “B”?  Okay, now we’re into hackery.

Number four:

Preventing Iran from getting a nuke: I for incomplete

There’s only one thing worse than Iran with nukes, and that’s actually going to war with Tehran to prevent it and failing. Therein lies the Obama administration’s conundrum. Sanctions have hurt and to a degree imposed a serious cost on Iran. The question for 2013 and beyond is whether diplomacy and the threat of force will be able to bring Iran to the table and to a negotiated deal. The fact is, had the shah not been toppled by the mullahs, Iran would have already been a nuclear power, albeit a pro-Western one. And without changing the government, the best the West is likely to do is to keep the Iranians several years away from weaponizing.

But given the fact that only one country can stop Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons (Iran itself, if it concludes that the cost of acquisition is too high a price to pay), it’s hard to see how the Obama administration can do much more than outline clearly what Iran has to give up and what it will gain if it does.


We’ve now descended into shaking your head in disbelief territory.  Let’s see if I have this straight: It’s better not to try and risk failure and for that, this joker gives him an incomplete?  I’ve seen some word salad in my day, but my goodness, this ranks right up there with the best.   We can’t go to war with Iran and risk failure and we can’t change the government there, so “the best the West” can do “is to keep the Iranians several years away from weaponizing?”  For heaven sake, this whole concept and policy is incomplete and would forever be incomplete leading to an Iran with a nuke.  And in everyone but this guy’s book, Iran with a nuke is an “F”.

Number five:

Wait, he did say five “vital ones” in addition to the security of Israel didn’t he?

Five?  One, two, three, four … hmmm, no five.

Math is hard I guess.

Miller wraps it up his five, er, four “vital” national interest points with his two lesser ones:

In addition to these objectives, we have two more discretionary interests: brokering Arab-Israeli peace and supporting democratization in the Arab world. They are discretionary not because they lack importance but because America’s capacity to significantly shape their outcomes is limited without local ownership and resolve. Whether it’s the Syrian civil war or the recent violence and turmoil in Egypt, these are long movies that will take years to play out. And America is not the central actor.


Well yeah, but that doesn’t at all mean the eventual outcomes aren’t vital to US national interests for heaven sake.  I mean we’ve done so well with the effort in Egypt, haven’t we?  And we’re about to step into it up to our necks in Syria.  So I’d assert that these two “discretionary interests” are likely much more important to US national interests than most of the daft one’s he outline in his top five – er, four.

Miller concludes:

That America’s report card looks pretty good doesn’t mean we should be happy about the current state of affairs. U.S. credibility and its image in the Middle East have taken a real beating. And our policy on the so-called Arab Spring, or what’s left of it, is pretty much at sea, largely because we can’t shape the internal dynamics of these societies.

What the …

It’s hard to keep a straight face when considering that statement.  America’s report card looks “pretty good” prefaces an assertion that our credibility and image are in tatters and our policy in the region sucks?

I guess this passes for “keen analysis” in some quarters (*cough* LA Times *cough*).  Where I come from, this is a dog’s breakfast of epic proportion designed, apparently, to try to excuse a certain administration’s abysmal foreign policy performance in the region.



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