Reaping what we sow: A Middle East afire


Be not deceived; God is not mocked: For whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.

I’m usually not big for quoting the Bible, let alone using it as a political guide. But these words of wisdom are wise indeed, and it should come as no surprise to those who make it their business to watch the Middle East that all hell is breaking loose. Why? And could it have been prevented?

Let’s review the bidding:

•Spiraling war between Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and the Israeli state. Thirty thousand reservists were just called up in Israel, and a ground incursion into Gaza is likely within days, if not hours.

•Syria at war and tens of thousands of innocents dead. The conflict is escalating, involving al Qaeda, and spilling over to Lebanon, Turkey, and Israel.

•Demonstrations in Jordan that suddenly make clear a fact that should already have been crystal clear: The Hashemite throne is at risk.

•Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi pandering to his base and leaping on the bandwagon of anti-Israel agitprop, which bodes ill for Camp David and the peace of the last 33 years.

•Al Qaeda in Iraq escalating its attacks throughout the country, leaving hundreds dead and the country at risk of a new internal war.

I’m leaving out Yemen, Bahrain, Kuwait, the Iranian nuclear program, Turkey’s growing Islamist trend, and a dozen other straws in the whirlwind. But the Middle East is on fire, and the $64,000 question is could we have done something about it. Something, yes. Prevent, maybe not. But what is that something?

First, let’s understand what’s afoot in the case of Gaza: Partly, a power play between Hamas and its ilk against Fatah, which “rules” the West Bank. The back story is well covered here. Partly, the sense of an opening to renew full scale Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. Why? And cui bono? Simply, all those Arab and Iranian leaders who have lost their footing are being challenged by their unhappy subjects, all those for whom the banner of Palestinian liberation has been an excuse and a distraction lo these many years, all those (Morsi?) who cannot begin to deliver on the hopes and expectations of their populations after riding a populist Islamist wave to power, all those who wish the world to look somewhere, anywhere, except at their own nuclear weapons program.

Who loses? As always, the innocent Palestinians who suffer the retribution of the Israeli military because of the murderous inclinations of their leaders; moderate Palestinians and those who seek peace in the Middle East; Israel; and the United States of America.

Why do we lose? Simple. Barack Obama has fashioned his own doctrine of American retreat on the premise that threats can be addressed through targeted assassinations (drone strikes) and subcontracting. Got a problem in Syria? Let Qatar do it. Got a problem in Gaza? Let Israel and Egypt fix it.

But Arab priorities and American priorities are not synonymous, as we discovered in Benghazi when terrorists killed the ambassador and three others. And Egypt may not wish to pacify Hamas. Israel may not be able to do so peacefully. The Qataris may not favor moderate Islamists in Syria. (Why would they when they don’t anywhere else?). We have “pivoted” from the Middle East to Asia, but in truth, we have merely turned our backs on our allies and our enemies. No trust, no fear, no foreign policy. If the United States had stayed in the game in Egypt, troubled itself about the rise of terrorists in Libya, spent less time badmouthing Bibi Netanyahu, sided with the better among the Syrian opposition early, and so much more, we might have had a chance to steer a better course. But we didn’t. And so full circle, whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.


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About the Author



  • As a long-time Senate Committee on Foreign Relation senior professional staff member for the Near East and South Asia, Danielle Pletka was the point person on Middle East, Pakistan, India and Afghanistan issues. As the vice president for foreign and defense policy studies at AEI, Pletka writes on national security matters with a focus on Iran and weapons proliferation, the Middle East, Syria, Israel and the Arab Spring. She also studies and writes about South Asia: Pakistan, India and Afghanistan.

    Pletka is the co-editor of “Dissent and Reform in the Arab World: Empowering Democrats” (AEI Press, 2008) and the co-author of “Containing and Deterring a Nuclear Iran” (AEI Press, 2011) and “Iranian influence in the Levant, Egypt, Iraq, and Afghanistan” (AEI Press, 2012). Her most recent study, “America vs. Iran: The competition for the future of the Middle East,” was published in January 2014.


    Follow Danielle Pletka on Twitter.

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