Friday, May 4, 2007

An alternate take on the Middle East

Given the centrality of the Middle East in the recent debates, from the war in Iraq to what to do about Iran to protecting Israel, it's worth taking a glance at an alternate take on American foreign policy. This article by Edward Luttwak in the American Prospect has made a big splash. In it, Luttwak argues that the Middle East should essentially be irrelevant, that the threat of terrorism is overblown, that the fear of the armed forces of regimes like Iran is ridiculous ("Mussolini syndrome"), that the Arab-Israeli conflict is neither solvable or likely to explode in the near future, that our oil supply is safer than we think, and that we it is a pipe dream to believe that we can easily change these ancient societies. Therefore, the best course is to leave the region alone.

Thanks to finals I don't have the time to give this article the long review it deserves. But I will say that I agree with Luttwak's central thesis that the Middle East should be less central to American foreign policy. America would be better served in the long run by leaving the region to its own devices. However, I am unconvinced by his argument that Middle Eastern oil is of declining importance, and I don't believe that a disengagement from the Middle East is possible unless we make a serious effort to reduce our oil consumption. By serious I mean a steep carbon tax, not sideshow distractions like subsidizing ethanol or tax handouts for oil companies. If we don't make a serious effort to reduce the carbon intensity of our economy, we may as well resign ourselves to getting involved in all sorts of sticky situations in the Middle East, and the rest of the world, over the next few decades.

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