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Kevin Bayona: As U.S. exits Middle East Asia beckons

Posted: July 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: July 25, 2013 2:00 a.m.

Every time I look at the world, I see a never-ending struggle over our country’s engagement with the world. I have recently opined about events across Southwest Asia and Northern Africa — a part of the world that has beleaguered the United States for some time now.

Today we have a president who has attempted to withdraw from these troubled regions, yet every time I turn my head, we seem to be dragged back in.

When Michael Corleone remarked "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in" in "The Godfather, Part III," he could have been commenting on America’s Near East foreign policy of the early 21st century.

The tragic events of Sept. 11, 2001, ushered in a new era of interventionist foreign policy in the Middle East that resulted in two protracted military campaigns in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Finally, after more than a decade of war, President Obama, mindful of his legacy, prepared to end both wars and smoothly "pivot" toward Asia. Surely Asia would serve as America’s next geo-political battlefield, as well as offer an existential threat to which America’s foreign policy machinery may direct its ravenous attention?

Well, yes, Asia probably will come to challenge the United States in ways that will far exceed anything the Middle East has ever presented us, but for some reason America continues to be pulled back into the desert.

Take the events in Libya in which the United States aided Libyan rebels and conducted air strikes in furtherance of its revolution.

The 2012 attack on the American Consulate in Benghazi only highlighted our deep involvement in that troubled country.

The civil war in Syria reached out and touched us in such a way that the joint chiefs of staff have recently proposed various military options for the president for a possible intervention in Syria.

Upward of 90,000 have perished in said conflict, and the president is obviously considering intervening in another Middle Eastern revolution.

Egypt, once the bedrock of stability in its region, has come undone over the last two years, and its future remains uncertain. The Muslin Brotherhood and Egypt’s relationship with Israel ensure America won’t be leaving the area to its own recourse anytime soon.

Even Turkey, another historical center of stability and Middle Eastern modernity, has experienced some unforeseen violence.

So why does it seem as if the United States is incapable of leaving such a troubled area when the president himself has often stated he wishes to withdraw from the region and "pivot" to Asia?

Well, I could go over all the political, economic, social and security reasons for hours, but more important questions are: Should we leave? And if we stay, how should we conduct ourselves?

Over the last decade, we have become intimately familiar with large protracted military occupations. Now the president needs options beyond full-scale military deployments or splendid isolation.

The United States should adopt and employ a political warfare program that combines political alliances, economic measures, propaganda, clandestine and psychological operations and other "tricks" that promote the political objectives of the American government.

The United States did a phenomenal job at conducting this type of warfare during the Cold War as it battled the Soviet Union across the political spectrum, virtually untainted by any actual combat between their respective armed forces.

Unfortunately, America’s tradition of this kind of political warfare died with the end of the Cold War, although it made a partial comeback after 9/11 in the form of kinetic strikes, renditions and raids.

President Obama needs more in order to continue shaping events in the Middle East, short of military occupation, but more than blind abandonment.

I understand this kind of political maneuvering could blow up in our faces (as it has many times as a result of such political warfare during the Cold War), but we will never really be able to leave the region until true stability reigns.

As I have written many times before, I fear the president is preoccupied (and more impassioned) with more important matters such as the George Zimmerman trial.

The president should lead on re-ordering our relationship with the Middle East in the name of the national interest — but I won’t hold my breath.

Kevin Bayona is a Valencia resident. He earned a B.A. in international relations and political science from Fairfield University, studied global affairs at New York University, and is a member of the Los Angeles World Affairs Council.


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