Outgoing Joint Chiefs Chairman Martin Dempsey showed last week how much his understanding of the Middle East will be missed when he steps down.
In a blunt assessment given the Senate Armed Services Committee last Tuesday, Dempsey — who since 1991 has spent a good part of his career in the region — outlined the dilemma facing the Obama administration.
“While our potential adversaries grow stronger,” meaning the Islamic State and Iran, “many of our allies are becoming increasingly dependent on the United States and on our assistance,” meaning Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Egypt, Lebanon, the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Syrian moderates.
Dempsey’s nominated successor, Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford, has more limited experience in the Middle East. Dunford, who served in Afghanistan until last year, said during testimony before the same Senate panel on Friday that it had been years since he was in Iraq or dealt directly with the issues that are likely to consume President Obama’s foreign policy team before a new president is sworn in.
Dempsey described a convergence of trends in the Middle East that are complicating the United States having an effective role in the area.
“First,” he noted, “several governments are struggling for political legitimacy because they’re not sufficiently pluralistic or they’re not sufficiently accountable to their citizens,” he said.
Iraq would be the prime example, but that certainly applies to Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain and even to Saudi Arabia and Egypt, although Dempsey did not cite them by name.
“Second,” he said, “the centuries-old Sunni-Shia struggle is very evident.” That is certainly the case where the Sunni-dominated Islamic State is capitalizing on those long-standing frictions in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Bahrain, Egypt, Libya and Saudi Arabia.
Finally, Dempsey said, “We’re seeing rising competition between moderate and radical elements of Islam, and ISIL [the Islamic State] and others are taking advantage of that competition,” particularly in Syria.
Overall, Dempsey expressed a skepticism about U.S. military intervention in the region. The emergence of the Islamic State and other problems in Middle East are “generational” issues that “military power alone . . . will not solve,” he said.
SOURCE: Walter Pincus
The Washington Post