In fact, from the looks of it, the region is a veritable weather map of nasty storms whose troubling winds and waves are rattling and pounding our interests abroad — and may very well reach our shores.
First, there’s Iran. While the White House touts the punitive economic sanctions on the Iranian regime for its nuclear (weapons) program, the truth is that it’s having little effect on changing Tehran’s atomic aspirations.
Equally troubling, U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said that Iran could have the bomb within a year and a delivery vehicle to carry it on one to two years after that. He oddly even speculated publicly on the timing of an Israeli strike.
And speaking of Israel, it claims that Iran will soon enter a “zone of immunity,” where Tehran will have moved its uranium enrichment work inside a mountain near Qom, possibly rendering a military strike ineffective in quashing the nuclear program.
And what of Syria? After nearly a year, the country has steadily moved in the direction of a civil war, where more than 5,000 people have been killed and the regime has detained possibly tens of thousands.
Of course, the administration hasn’t given us a clue as to who — or what — might replace the regime when it tells us that Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s days are numbered. Beyond rhetoric, we seem to be in the unenviable state of policy paralysis.
Then there’s Iraq, which has been plagued by internal political troubles, Iranian intrigue and sectarian and terrorist violence since U.S. troops left in December. Whether Baghdad will be Washington’s ally in the future is in question.
Another worry is Egypt. The military that took over control of the country a year ago is still in power and may put on trial some 40 democracy-promoting workers for non-governmental organizations (including 19 Americans). Meanwhile, the nation’s already-weak economy is plummeting.
The former staunch U.S. ally now has a parliament where Islamists own some 70 percent of the seats. There’s plenty of chit-chat about ties with the United States and the future of the now perceived hostile Camp David accords with Israel, too.
Of course, there’s also the chaos in Yemen. There will be presidential elections soon, but the ever-dangerous al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula is holding territory in the country’s south, where we remain in their cross-hairs.
Libya remains in turmoil. The National Transitional Council is struggling to govern as well as gain control over maybe hundreds of militias that remain active, leaving concerns about violence and illegal arms flows in the region.
All of this while U.S. defense spending is in free fall and the Obama administration talks about a political, economic and security rebalancing or “pivot” away from the Middle East (meaning Iraq) and toward Asia in the years to come.
While there’s no question about the rising importance of Asia to U.S. national interests, the Near East should also remain a priority, considering American stakes (for example, Israel, terrorism and oil) in a region already rife with instability.
The fact is that our national security shouldn’t — indeed, can’t — be an “either-or” proposition. The president clearly owes us an explanation of his plan for leadership and action in dealing with the growing problems in the Middle East and North Africa.Peter Brookes is a Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation.
First appeared in Family Security Matters