Friday, March 09, 2012

"Sick and tired of the Middle East"

That's the headline from an opinion article that makes a ton of sense to me.

With the exception of the Warsaw Pact bloc during the Cold War, since WWII, no region has taken more US attention, lives, and capital (both financial and political) as the Middle East. Leaders of both parties have banged their head against the wall working for Middle East peace, with just enough progress to give the illusion that the US is making a difference in the region.

I'd like to see a new US policy to the Middle East based on the following:

1) the Middle East isn't THAT important to the USA. The Middle East borders 3 continents (Europe, Africa, and Asia.) If the region is so important, how come the stakeholders on any one of these 3 continents aren't more active than the USA, located ~4,000 miles away from the region.

Putting this in GDP terms, the GDP of Afghanistan + Pakistan + Iraq is still less than the country of Venezuela, and I'd argue that Hugo Chavez is more of an imminent threat to the USA than anything in any of those countries. Looking more broadly, the 14 countries of the Middle East (stopping at Libya) roughy equals Italy, in GDP terms. So, if the entire Middle East disappeared, it would be about as economically significant as if Italy were to go on permanent vacation, or if China closed down for 4 months. Either way, I think we'd survive.

2) we fundamentally don't understand the Middle East region. Be it religious, tribal, political or ethnic differences, something causes America's best efforts to be unappreciated, scorned, or unaccepted.
3) if the region wishes to maintain cultures that are fundamentally either A) dictatorships or B) still stuck in the first millennium AD, we should let them. How can we believe that we can install democracy in a region - or even understand - a place where don't even have the right to drive a car?

3) there is an opportunity cost of American efforts in the Middle East. What if our diplomatic, military, and trade efforts were more balanced to include South America and Africa? Both continents are closer, larger, and higher leverage than the Middle East. Imagine if the trillion dollars spent across Iraq and Afghanistan instead were spent building connections (and the economy) of Africa and/or South America?

Unfortunately, I expect the opposite to happen. Iran's pursuit of the atomic bomb means that USA attention to the Middle East is more likely to increase than decrease in the near term.

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With my new friends on the Great Wall of China

With my new friends on the Great Wall of China
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