Coming to terms with today's Middle East, continued

So yes this morning we return to one of the main themes we've been discussing over the past year - the need for America to come up with a comprehensive approach to the problems of the post-Iraq Middle East.

Imagine for a moment if we had no troops in Iraq.  Pakistan is weakening.  Lebanon and Palestine are descending into civil wars.  The Taliban have returned to Afghanistan.  Bin Laden is still on the loose.  Iraq of course is on the verge of becoming a failed state, Al Qaeda there is gaining strength (and regional legitimacy), and its chaos is starting to be exported to the rest of the region.  Iran is governed by an extemist, moving towards nuclearization, and is very aggressively establishing itself as perhaps the most important nation in the Middle East today.  Regional Sunni-Shiite tensions are driving a new and more complicated regional dynamic.  Our most important ally in the region, Israel, has a Prime Minister at 3%, and is in an extended political meltdown. 

Taken together it is becoming clear that the West's traditional regional allies are in retreat and new and less pro-Western forces are on the rise.  While there are many reasons to be concerned about the growing instability in the Middle East, the overarching one is oil.  Keeping the region's oil flowing at reasonable prices is of course one of the most important goals of our foreign policy, either Democrat or Republican.  And we have to start talking openly about how growing chaos in the region could spread, and eventually begin to threaten the petroleum lifeblood of the world's economy. 

So, if we had no troops in the region, would we be having a different conversation here in the US and around the world? Would be talking about regional conferences of reconciliation? Special envoys? UN Troops? An American-led peace conference? Would the American Secretary of State be engaged in ongoing shuttle diplomacy, essentially moving to the region for an extended period of time? Would our President be engaged daily in bringing world leaders together to find a better path? Or would we just sit back and let the region fall into greater chaos?  Or do what the Administration has done, which is take the one act most likely to accelerate the regional chaos?  Or have the Treasury Secretary give speeches whining about the lack of cooperation of our allies?  

We need a new conversation about what is happening in the Middle East today.  The stakes are high, and our current government is wedded to a strategy that is without doubt harming the long-term security interests of the United States.  But our answer must become more than a robust discussion about the role of our troops in the region.  We need a new strategy for the Middle East - diplomatic, economic, military - that takes into account the realities of the region today.