Mideast Self-Reliance Isn’t a Problem—It’s Our Ticket Home
The desperate situation in Aleppo, Syria, has long been the subject of international negotiations, but in recent weeks the United States has been increasingly absent. Representatives of Iran, Russia, and Turkey met in Moscow Tuesday to discuss a political solution to Syria’s five-year civil war, and no American diplomat was present. Likewise, Syrian rebel and government forces have directly negotiated civilian evacuations from Aleppo, and earlier this month the rebels spoke independently with Moscow in a quiet series of meetings in Turkey—again, no input from Washington required.
This apparent shift toward talks among regional players has left the American foreign policy establishment worried. Such regional conversations “leav[e] the United States on the sidelines,” the New York Times breathlessly reported, and the exact same complaint was raised in a Financial Times story on direct Russia-rebel diplomacy.
These independent talks show “how the U.S. could become sidelined in some of the Middle East’s most pivotal conflicts,” the FT authors worried. Regional negotiations “underline the shifting political dynamics in the Middle East,” they added. “Regional actors now seem more willing to bypass Washington to seek out pacts with Russia, which is keen to develop the image of a rising power that can help broker such deals.”
However, if any of these negotiations are indeed indicative of a new Mideast dynamic, it is one Washington should cheer. After 15 years of costly and counterproductive war and nation-building projects that have contributed nothing to American security while fostering massive instability and dangerous power vacuums across the greater Middle East, the United States ought to welcome a growing regional ability to self-police.
This is not the U.S. becoming sidelined; it is—at long last—a chance to extract itself from an ill-advised intervention that has taken too many American lives and dollars and produced only chaos in return. The site of a meager naval base that serves as Russia’s only point of Mediterranean access, Syria may be crucial for Russian security, but is not crucial for the United States. It is a problem Moscow feels it must address, but it has proven to be little more than a money pit for Washington.
What the Syrians seem to have realized (and the Washington foreign policy establishment has not) is they can solve their own problems. They can directly bargain for the fate of their people in what is, recall, an internal civil war in which no vital U.S. interest is at stake. They can pursue their own interests with relevant regional actors, a process that need not be complicated by American interference or achieved at the cost of American lives.
This is good news, and a dynamic Washington must encourage. The sooner the Middle East realizes it can become self-reliant, capable of constructing its own stability, the more easily the U.S. can develop a realistic and strictly self-protective grand strategy of restraint, diplomacy, and free trade.
The danger in Syria is not that the United States could be “sidelined.” The danger is that it will continue to be stalled, stuck with an ineffective, expensive foreign policy of meddling in matters with no direct connection to our national security interests.
If the Syrian rebels want to talk peace with Moscow and not invite the U.S., so be it. Ditto negotiations among other regional powers. Russia needs Syria, but America—marked by far greater economic and military might—need not concern herself with such matters. Let Russia run ragged in vain pursuit of Mideast mastery, and let the U.S. regain a foreign policy of prudence that does not confuse intervention with defense.