By Ambassador Chas W. Freeman, Jr. (USFS, Ret.)
Not so long ago, Americans thought we understood the Middle East, that region where the African, Asian, and European worlds collide. When the Ottoman Empire disintegrated in World War I, the area became a European sphere of influence with imperial British, French, and Italian subdivisions. The Cold War split it into American and Soviet client states. Americans categorized countries as with us or against us, democratic or authoritarian, and endowed with oil and gas or not. We acted accordingly.
In 1991, the Soviet Union defaulted on the Cold War and left the United States the only superpower still standing. With the disappearance of Soviet power, the Middle East became an exclusively American sphere of influence. But a series of U.S. policy blunders and regional reactions to them have since helped thrust the region into chaos, while progressively erasing American dominance
In the new world disorder, there are many regional sub-orders. The Middle East is one of them. It is entering the final stages of a process of post-imperial, national self-determination that began with Kemal Atatürk’s formation of modern Turkey from the rubble of the Ottoman Empire in 1923. This process is entrenching the originally Western concept of the nation state in the region. It led to Gamal Abdel Nasser’s repudiation of British overlordship and overthrow of the monarchy in Egypt in 1952, Ayatollah Khomeini’s rejection of American tutelage and replacement of the Shah with the Islamic Republic of Iran in 1979, and the misnamed “Arab Spring” in 2011. Its latest iteration is unfolding in Saudi Arabia.
In the Middle East, as elsewhere, regional rather than global politics now drives events. The world is reentering a diplomatic environment that would have been familiar to Henry John Temple, 3rd Viscount Palmerston, who served nineteenth century Britain as secretary of war, foreign affairs, and prime minister. In his time, the core skill of statecraft was manipulation of regional balances of power to protect national interests and exercise influence through measures short of war.
Palmerston famously observed that in international relations, there are no permanent friends or permanent enemies, only permanent interests. In the new world disorder, with its narcissistic nationalism, shifting alignments, and wobbling partnerships, this sounds right, even if national interests are also visibly evolving to reflect fundamental shifts in their international context. Palmerston’s aphorism is a reminder that the flexibility and agility implicit in the hedged obligations of entente – limited commitments for limited contingencies – impart advantages that the inertia of alliance – broad obligations of mutual aid – does not. One way or another, it is in our interest to aggregate the power of others to our own while minimizing the risks to us of doing so.
To cope with the world after the Pax Americana and to put “America first,” we Americans are going to have relearn the classic vocabulary of diplomacy or some new, equally reality-based version of it. If we do, we will discover that, in the classic sense of the word, we now have no “allies” in the Middle East. The only country with which we had a de jure alliance based on mutual obligations, Turkey, has de facto departed it.
Today, Ankara and Washington are seriously estranged. Turkey is no longer aligned with the United States on any of our major diplomatic objectives in the region, which have been: securing Israel, excluding Russian influence; opposing Iran; and sustaining strategic partnerships with Saudi Arabia and the U.A.E. Americans can no longer count on Turkey to support or acquiesce in our policies toward the Israel-Palestine issue; Syria; Iraq; Iran; Russia; the Caucasus; the Balkans; Greece; Cyprus; Egypt, the Gulf Cooperation Council countries; the members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation; NATO; or the EU.
Having been rebuffed by Europe, Turkey has abandoned its two-century-long drive to redefine its identify as European. It is pursuing an independent, if erratic, course in the former Ottoman space and with Russia and China. The deterioration in EU and US-Turkish relations represents a very significant weakening of Western influence in the Middle East and adjacent regions. As the list of countries Turkey affects suggests, this has potentially far-reaching consequences.
Meanwhile, U.S. relations with Iran remain antagonistic. American policy blunders like the destabilization of Iraq and Syria have facilitated Iran’s establishment of a sphere of influence in the Fertile Crescent. Our lack of a working relationship with Tehran leaves the United States unable to bring our influence to bear in the region by measures short of war. U.S. policy is thus all military, all the time. The White House echoes decisions made in Jerusalem, Riyadh, and Abu Dhabi. It no longer sets its own objectives and marshals others behind them.
For our own reasons, which differ from country to country, Americans have unilaterally taken under our wing a variety of client states, some of which are each other’s historic antagonists. Our commitments have not changed despite the fact that the regional context of our relationships with our client states and their orientations and activities are all in rapid evolution. Other than Turkey, the United States has never had a Middle Eastern partner that has seen itself as obliged to come to our aid or, indeed, to do anything at all for us except what might serve its own immediate, selfish interests. The obligations all run the other way – from us to them.
Posted: 3:13 am ET
We recently posted about the Trump budget for FY2018 that will reportedly proposed funding cuts of up to 30% for the State Department (see With @StateDept Facing a 30% Funding Cut, 121 Generals Urge Congress to Fully Fund Diplomacy and Foreign Aid; @StateDept Budget Could Be Cut By As Much as 30% in Trump’s First Budget Proposal?; @StateDeptbudge Special Envoy Positions Could Be in Trump’s Chopping Block — Which Ones?). We understand that this number could actually be closer to 40%, which is simply bananas, by the way. It would be ‘must-see’ teevee if Secretary Tillerson appears before the House and Senate committees to justify the deep cuts in programs, foreign aid, diplomatic/consular posts, embassy security, staffing, training, or why we’re keeping just half the kitchen sink. Just a backgrounder, below is the budget request composition for FY2016:
Previous posts on FS funding:
- FY2017 Budget Request: Consular Project Initiatives and New Positions (Feb 2016)
- Snapshot: State Department, Foreign Ops and Programs = 1% of Total Federal Budget (Oct 2014)
- USAID as Endangered Specie: GOP conservatives call for $1.39 billion in annual savings from agency where operating budget is $1.65 billion Jan 2011
- FY2012 Budget Request for Civilian Power: State 197 Positions | USAID 165 Positions (Feb 2011)
- Budget Spin? Is That Like White Lies for Dark Times? (Mar 2011)
- Stimson Center: Diplomacy and Foreign Aid Budget Deal Could Have Been a Lot Worse, FY2012 is Not Promising (Apr 2011)
- FY2011 Budget Bill: Senate Votes 81-19, House Votes 260 -167, Now Goes to WH for Signature (Apr 2011)
- HRC Pitches for Proposed State Dept Budget Feb 2010
- Jack Lew on the FY10 State Budget May 2010
- State Dept & International Affairs – FY 2010 Budget May 2009
On February 27, OMB Director Mick Mulvaney showed up at the WH Press Briefing to talk about President Trump’s budget. Before you are all up in arms, he said that what we’re talking about right now is “not a full-blown budget” which apparently will not come until May. So this “blueprint” does not include mandatory spending, entitlement reforms, tax policies, revenue projections, or the infrastructure plan and he called this a “topline number only.” Agencies are given 48 hours to respond to OMB (holy camarba!). Excerpt below from his talk at the James S. Brady Briefing Room:
As for what it is, these are the President’s policies, as reflected in topline discretionary spending. To that end, it is a true America-first budget. It will show the President is keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do when he ran for office. It prioritizes rebuilding the military, including restoring our nuclear capabilities; protecting the nation and securing the border; enforcing the laws currently on the books; taking care of vets; and increasing school choice. And it does all of that without adding to the currently projected FY 2018 deficit.
The top line defense discretionary number is $603 billion. That’s a $54-billion increase — it’s one of the largest increases in history. It’s also the number that allows the President to keep his promise to undo the military sequester. The topline nondefense number will be $462 billion. That’s a $54-billion savings. It’s the largest-proposed reduction since the early years of the Reagan administration.
The reductions in nondefense spending follow the same model — it’s the President keeping his promises and doing exactly what he said he was going to do. It reduces money that we give to other nations, it reduces duplicative programs, and it eliminates programs that simply don’t work.
The bottom line is this: The President is going to protect the country and do so in exactly the same way that every American family has had to do over the last couple years, and that’s prioritize spending.
The schedule from here — these numbers will go out to the agencies today in a process that we describe as passback. Review from agencies are due back to OMB over the course of the next couple days, and we’ll spend the next week or so working on a final budget blueprint. We expect to have that number to Congress by March 16th. That puts us on schedule for a full budget — including all the things I mentioned, this one does not include — with all the larger policy issues in the first part of May.
Q But we’re not talking about 2 or 3 percent — we’re talking about double-digit reductions, and that’s a lot.
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: There’s going to be a lot of programs that — again, you can expect to see exactly what the President said he was going to do. Foreign aid, for example — the President said we’re going to spend less money overseas and spend more of it here. That’s going to be reflected in the number we send to the State Department.
Q Thank you very much. One quick follow on foreign aid. That accounts for less than 1 percent of overall spending. And I just spoke with an analyst who said even if you zero that out, it wouldn’t pay for one year of the budget increases that are being proposed right now. So how do you square that amount? So why not tackle entitlements, which are the biggest driver, especially when a lot of Republicans over the years have said that they need to be taxed?
DIRECTOR MULVANEY: Sure. On your foreign aid, it’s the same answer I just gave, which is, yes, it’s a fairly part of the discretionary budget, but it’s still consistent with what the President said. When you see these reductions, you’ll be able to tie it back to a speech the President gave or something the President has said previously. He’s simply going to — we are taking his words and turning them into policies and dollars. So we will be spending less overseas and spending more back home.
See three separate threads on Twitter with some discussion of the proposed cuts.
Posted: 2:14 pm ET
Updated 3:12 pm ET
The worldwide trend spoofing President Trump’s America First policy continues. Below is a round-up of the top most viewed parodies. We’ve listed below the videos that top at least a million views on YouTube. We estimated that the 12 videos alone have approximately 63 million views as of this writing. And it does not look like this trend is ending anytime soon.
The Netherlands Second — 23,594,538 views
Switzerland Second — 11,217,297 views
Germany Second – 9,186,518 views
Denmark Second – 5,390,941 views
Portugal Second — 4,042,847 views
Morocco Second – 1,702,004 views
Iran Second – 1,681,774 views
Croatia Second — 1,519,849 view
Austria Second – 1,342,517 view
Luxembourg Second — 1,305,935 views
Finland Second – 1,286,739 views
Australia Second — 1,069,138 views