An Unlikely AMEXIT: Pivoting Away from the Middle East  

14 Jul

[Prefatory Note: The post that follows is a modified version of an opinion piece that was published by Al Jazeera English on July 10, 2016; it examines the argument for disengagement from the Middle East by analogizing a plausible AMEXIT to BREXIT.]


The Case for Disengagement


A few years ago Barack Obama made much of an American pivot to East Asia, a recognition of China’s emergence and regional assertiveness, and the related claim that the American role in Asia-Pacific should be treated as a prime strategic interest that China needed to be made to respect. The shift also involved the recognition by Obama that the United States had become overly and unsuccessfully engaged in Middle Eastern politics creating incentives to adjust foreign policy priorities. The 2012 pivot was an overdue correction of the neocon approach to the region during the presidency of George W. Bush that reached its climax with the disastrous 2003 intervention in Iraq, which continues to cause negative reverberations throughout the region. It was then that the idiocy of ‘democracy promotion’ gave an idealistic edge to America’s military intervention and the delusion prospect of the occupiers receiving a warm welcome from the Iraqi people hit a stone wall of unanticipated resistance.


In retrospect, it seems evident that despite the much publicized ‘pivot’ the United States has not disengaged from the Middle East. Its policies are tied as ever to Israel, and its fully engaged in the military campaigns taking place in Syria and against DAESH. In a recent article in The National Interest, Mohammed Ayoob, proposes a gradual American disengagement from the region. He makes a highly intelligent and informed strategic interest argument based on Israel’s military superiority, the reduced Western dependence on Gulf oil, and the nuclear agreement with Iran. In effect, Ayoob convincingly contends that circumstances no longer justify a major American engagement in the region, and that to maintain the commitment at present levels adds to Middle East turmoil, and its extra-regional terrorist spillover, in ways that harms American interests.


Why Disengagement Won’t Happen


Ayoob’s reasoning is flawless, but disengagement won’t happen, and not because Americans are not smart enough to recognize changed circumstances. The pivot to East Asia was a recent instance of such an adjustment based on an assessment of changed geopolitical circumstances. Actually, the high degree of American involvement in the Middle East was itself the result of an adjustment to changed circumstances. After the Soviet collapse, the earlyier geopolitical preoccupation with Europe seemed superfluous and outmoded, and the Middle East with its oil, Israel, expanding Islamic influence, risky nuclear proliferation potential seemed then like a region where a strong American commitment would solidify its role as global leader. This perception was reinforced after the Al Qaeda 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, which gave neocon hawks a pretext for a regime-changing attack on Iraq, which the neocons hoped was but a prelude to a more elaborate political reconfiguring of the region by way of regime-changing interventions. [See ‘Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’ (1996) for a fuller understanding of the Israeli oriented neocon mindset] The Iraqi undertaking failed miserably during the state-rebuilding occupation that followed upon the attack and overthrow of the Saddam Hussein regime. The master plan involved reconstructing the government and economy of Iraq to serve Western interests while at the same time supposedly democratizing the country. It totally backfired. This American pivot to the Middle East after the Cold War was based on the geopolitical opportunism of Washington in a context of a persisting failure to understand the changing circumstances of the post-colonial world, and especially the altered balance between the military superiority associated with foreign intervention and the resourcefulness of territorial resistance.


So why the inflexibility with respect to the Middle East when disengagement brings immediate major practical advantages? Part of the explanation is surely governmental inertia, reinforced by the belief that the changes in conditions are not as clear and favorable as Ayoob contends, making disengagement seem geopolitically vulnerable to future charges that the Obama presidency was responsible for ‘losing the Middle East,’ as if it was ever America’s to lose!


More to the point is a range of other reasons militating against disengagement. Perhaps, most significant, is the militarist bias of American foreign policy that is even unable to acknowledge that the attacks on Iraq or Libya were failures. This refusal to think outside the military box prevails in American policy circles, making the debate on what to do about Syria or DAESH center on the single question of how much American military power should be deployed to resolve these conflicts. What Eisenhower called the military industrial complex has come to dominate the machinery of government in Washington, further abetted by the accretion of a huge homeland security bureaucracy since 9/11. Real threats to American interests exist in the Middle East, and given this unwillingness to rely on political or diplomatic solutions for the resolution of most disputes, virtually requires the United States to retain its military presence to ensure the availability of options to intervene militarily whenever the occasion arises.


Then there is the anti-international mood that has taken over American domestic politics. It is hostile to every kind of international commitment other than military action against real and imagined Islamic enemies. Additionally, the US Congress has been completely captured by the Israeli Lobby, which puts a high premium on maintaining the American geopolitical engagement so as to share with Israel the burdens and risks associated with the management of regional turbulence. As neither the Arab uprisings of 2011 nor the robust counterrevolutionary aftermath were anticipated, it is argued that there is too uncertainty to risk any further disengagement. This is coupled with the claim that the rapid drawdown of American combat forces in Iraq was actually premature, and led to a resurgence of civil strife that has persuaded the Obama administration to redeploy American troops both to aid in the fight to regain territory occupied by ISIS and to help the government to establish some degree of stability.


Why Disengagement Should Happen


Neither realist arguments about interests nor ethical considerations of principle will lead to an overdue American disengagement. Washington refuses to understand why intervention by Western military forces in the post-colonial Middle East generates dangerous extremist forms of resistance (e.g. DAESH) magnifying the problems that prompted intervention in the first place. In essence, the intervention option is a lose/lose proposition, but without it American engagement makes no sense.


Unfortunately, for America and the peoples throughout the Middle East the US seems incapable of extricating itself from yet another geopolitical quagmire that is partly responsible for generating extra-regional terrorism of the sort that has afflicted Europe in the last two years. And so although disengagement is a sensible course of action, it won’t happen for a long, long time, if at all. Unlike BREXIT, for AMEXIT, and geopolitics generally, there are no referenda offered the citizenry.




26 Responses to “An Unlikely AMEXIT: Pivoting Away from the Middle East  ”

  1. Gene Schulman July 16, 2016 at 5:33 am #


    I am saddened that you continue to allow such gibberish to debase your important blog. Such ignorant comments only serve to keep intelligent thought away. I have noticed that fewer and fewer comments on your posts are appearing, and I believe a principal reason is that reasonable thinkers do not wished to be associated with such as the above. This is not only my opinion: Others, former regular commenters with whom I am in contact have complained similarly.

    This morning’s news of the putsch in Turkey is saddening. I only hope you are safe and out of danger. Bless,


    • Richard Falk July 16, 2016 at 5:50 am #


      I know you are right about this. The difficulty is that I am reluctant to
      pass judgment on the views of others via the device of blocking. Despite this
      I do block quite often, but clearly not often enough.

      On Turkey, we exhibited our talent for bad timing by arriving in Istanbul just
      hours before the coup started, and spent the night frightened by the sonic booms
      of military jets flying at low altitudes extremely close to our hotel.

      Warm greetings,


      • Richard Falk July 16, 2016 at 1:02 pm #


        Let me know if you think I should have blocked this comment from Fred Skolnik. On the merits
        it should be blocked, although I also feel that you should at least have the occasion to know
        the content of his response to you, and options of responding or ignoring. I would welcome your
        thoughts on this while I try to sort out the various developments here in Turkey.


  2. Laurie Knightly July 16, 2016 at 8:07 pm #

    Gene’s comments referred to Kata’s practice of submitting a schizoid sounding diabolical occultism to discuss important and relevant issues of global justice. Also, generously supplied are Ray’s yards of copied mythical biblical scripture and both of them self described/inflated as divinely appointed to speak anytime/anywhere in superstitious threats, warnings, and supercilious all-knowing narcissism. Gilad Atzmon used the term ‘anthropocentric moral argument’ to describe the motivation of secularists. Richard Falk’s essays are written in a form of ethical reasoning that is consistent with this description. Why should the comment section be any different? I have no interest in anything but a secular form of law, government, ethics, morality, culture or comment section and have lingered far too long where spiritualism prevails in its most demoralizing form. Enough!

    • Gene Schulman July 17, 2016 at 12:53 am #

      Laurie got her two cents in before I got to respond to Fred’s untruthful accusation against Richard. I fully agree with Laurie’s assessment.

      I am happy Richard gave me the opportunity to read Fred’s message before deleting it. It should remain, as an example of the type of excoriation Richard has to suffer from Zionist lovers who can’t/won’t accept any criticism of their ‘divinely’ derived nation. Fred seems to overlook the fact that Richard writes on a varied number of subjects critical to today’s society. The Israel/Palestine issue is just one of that number. Fred jumps in with negative comments only when the subject is Israel. Or he wants to make it about Israel, as in this one.

      My concern in my own comment was about the lack of comments resulting from the irrelevant remarks, of which Fred’s own are a contributing factor. Who wants to spend time reading long essays filled with obvious propaganda twisting the history of the Jews and their relation to the holy land? That’s all Fred does. If the subject of Richard’s post happens to have nothing to do with Israel, Fred will find some way to bring Israel into it, as he has this one. I, and those others who have been chased away, find it all too boring.

  3. Kata Fisher July 16, 2016 at 11:23 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk, do you think it is terrible timing for me to ask for things that are stuck in the memory?

  4. Fred Skolnik July 17, 2016 at 1:28 am #

    That is pretty lame, Gene. Giving dissent a dirty name when it challenges your assertions is a copout. But as you say, fewer and fewer people are commenting, because how many times can you say Nazi-fascist-racist-genocide-apartheid-ethnic cleansing-hasbara?

    But to be substantive again, if you’re up to it: please explain the hypocrisy of calling for a boycott of Israeli academic institutions while continuing to enjoy the benefits of Israeli technology and medical research, including every aspect of computer technology and Internet services and medications and medical procedures for almost every major disease; or why BDS academics are not boycotting their own universities and quitting their cushy jobs in protest against the transgressions of their own governments that Prof. Falk is always telling us about. You see what I mean? It makes you wonder about motives and sincerity. But I have the feeling you’re not up to it, you never are, so maybe someone else will think about this for a moment, unless Prof. Falk once again finds it convenient to block this comment and avoid what is unanswerable.

  5. Gene Schulman July 17, 2016 at 11:20 am #

    Anyone paying attention to Fred should read Jeff Halper’s book, “War Against the People”, if you want to know what kind of wonderful technology Israel is giving us, and what’s being done with it.

    I’m old enough to remember that in the 1930s the world was also benefiting from German technology. Need more be said for such arguments?

    • Laurie Knightly July 17, 2016 at 6:44 pm #

      Maybe you miss the point here, Gene. Wouldn’t you be willing to sell out the Palestinian people for advanced tech in medical supplies and internet services? Balfour, Truman, the UN, and countless others made deals. There’s historic precedent. What’s your problem?

      The destruction of the MidEast is incalculable and not over. Who will build it again? They can’t match foreign weaponry inside those countries but will target where they can elsewhere with increasing effectiveness. It might help if the US would withdraw entirely but considering the extent of religious/tribal/national infighting and hatred that exists, it’s unpredictable as to outcome.

      • Richard Falk July 17, 2016 at 10:48 pm #

        Agreed. Perceptive, as always, Richard

    • Fred Skolnik July 17, 2016 at 7:23 pm #

      To get you started, Gene, on your journey to personal integrity, here are a few tips:

      Step 1. Remove all Intel Pentium and Celeron computer processor chips from personal computers (desktops, laptops and notebooks) as these were either developed or manufactured in Israel.

      Note that the revolutionary new Ivy Bridge processor will be manufactured in Israel. Any computers running the Windows XT operating system must be turned off immediately as this was developed in Israel. All current Microsoft operating systems are not to be used as Microsoft is heavily reliant on its Israel R&D centre.

      Step 2. Any computers that still work need to have their anti-virus software and personal firewalls removed as this technology originated in Israel. The organisation’s firewall will also need to be switched off. Staff should no longer open external emails as most of these will be infected with viruses. No outgoing emails can be sent. The algorithm (code) that’s used today for sending e-mails, was made by an Israeli who worked at the Ben-Gurion University in Be’er-Sheva in 1980.

      Step 3. Discard all mobile phones, as this technology was developed in Israel, where the first mobile phones were manufactured. Mobile chip technology from a single Israeli company has now been installed in over 100 million devices. Only top-level staff may retain mobile phones for emergency situations. However the use of SMS (Texting) is expressly forbidden as this facility was developed in Israel. No 4G devices can be used, as the chipset is Israeli.

      Step 4. Turn off your voice-mail service and delete any recorded messages. Israeli companies invented the voice-mail system. If someone you do not know answers your phone-call, then hang up. Israeli call-centres and call-centre technology is in widespread operation in the UK.

      Step 5. Before accepting any printed material, check that the supplier has not used the Israeli device that might have saved up to 50% of the ink used.

      Step 6. At home, do not use Facebook as many in-built and add-on applications are Israeli-developed. Do not watch videos on the Internet as the platform used to upload them may be from AOL and hence from an Israeli company. Do not use the Internet to search for answers to your questions as this may involve use of an Israeli-developed search engine. Better to remain unenlightened.

      Step 7. On your TV or home entertainment centre, do not use Video On Demand (VOD) to watch movies as you may inadvertently see an advert displayed using Israeli software. Do not purchase any games devices as these are likely to use Israeli technology.

      Step 8. Do not read books using an e-book as this may contain Israeli technology. Do not use data storage as it may have been developed at Israel’s storage technology R&D center.

      Step 9. Do not buy an electric car as it is likely to be powered with an Israeli battery or use Israeli developed charging mats. Continue to sit in traffic knowing that you are polluting the environment and financing oil-rich despotic regimes.

      • Richard Falk July 17, 2016 at 10:57 pm #

        Are you really inviting Gene and the rest us to us to strike a Faustian Bargain based on Israeli technological innovations? Or are you
        reminding us of the amoral workings of capitalism that envelops us in a web of moral contradictions?
        Your lectures to others would be more convincing if accompanied by some modest show of self-scrutiny!!!

      • Fred Skolnik July 18, 2016 at 12:28 am #

        I’m saying something very direct and simple: it is beyond hypocrisy to call for a boycott of Israel’s academic institutions while enjoying the benefits of its research and develpment. Jews who refused to forgive Germany back in the Fifties and beyond didn’t drive around in Volkswagens, no matter how cheap and efficient they were.

      • Fred Skolnik July 18, 2016 at 12:36 am #

        I’m afraid too that the moral contradictions, or perhaps moral vacuum would be a better word, are in yourselves and not imposed on you or enveloping you through the sleight of hand of some nefarious foreign body. As for self-scrutiny, I have no idea what you mean. You persist in making assertions that I judge to be warped on the basis of my experience and understanding of the conflict and I point this out, perhaps a little too bitingly to suit you, but that is purely a function of the kind of language used here to vilify Israel.

      • Gene Schulman July 18, 2016 at 1:53 am #

        Fred’s reliance on progress through technology reveals his lack of sense of humanity. His enumeration of all the fine new high tech devices produced by Israel, but financed by the US, leave out the equally high tech weaponry and surveillance devices that imprison and murder populations around the world. I’m certainly no Luddite, but most of this high tech crap should never have been invented in the first place. But like the nuclear bomb, it is out of the bottle, and we’ll just have to learn to live with it. One possible solution is the disappearance of the state that produces this junk.

        Laurie’s point is well taken.

      • Gene Schulman July 18, 2016 at 11:34 am #

        Fred’s right. Jews didn’t ride around in inexpensive Volkswagens, they preferred Mercedes!

        What a stupid argument.

      • walker percy July 18, 2016 at 11:57 am #

        I am always bewildered by this particular line of hasbarist reasoning. Even if it were true that Israelis developed all of these things (and I consider Fred to be an unreliable source, to put it mildly), haven’t I already paid for my phone? Am i supposed to now throw away my property because I don’t like israel? You better focus group that one a bit more, Fred. I don’t think it’s working for you. Go back to God gave this land to you, it is eternally yours because of your genetic claims of ownership spanning thousands of years, based on the revealed word of G_d. At least you can convince the evangelicals for a little while. The idea that we owe Israel special allowances due to our common gratitude for Jewish products is dumb.

      • Fred Skolnik July 18, 2016 at 11:59 am #

        You are umderstandably avoiding the issue, Gene, which is the hypocrisy of your own use of all these “fine new high tech devices produced by Israel” and if you think they are financed by the odious United States, that is all the more reason not to use them, along with the “fine new” medications and medical procedures produced by Israel:

        Just don’t use “this junk,” Gene. No one’s forcing you.

        As for the weaponry, thank God. If Israel didn’t have it, it would look like Syria. As I’ve said more than once, you can be a hero with your own children, not mine. As for your sense of humanity. where were you when Assad, Saddam and Gaddafi were “imprisoning and murdering” their populations and the Soviet Union and now Russia were supplying repressive regimes all around the world with the means to stay in power as he second biggest arms exporter in the world after the U.S.

      • Kata Fisher July 18, 2016 at 11:44 pm #

        Walker, You may not know or You may have forgotten that from Biblical argument it is possible that future nation of Israel may well be ecclesiastical-democracy. There is no direct reference to this in the Books but systematic apologetics of the Scripture certainly implies that future establishment will look something like ecclesiastical democracy. Even sovereign constitution of the Israeli nation confirms that it is to be ecclesiastical democracy. Keeping that in mind – do you think that Fred’s efforts are futile? After all he has some military service under his belt, and I am sure he is looking after sovren Israeli constitution. Keeping that in mind – do you think Fred’s efforts are futile? I myself find bewildering why is he doing that what he is. I am totally fascinated with his ordained stuburness!

      • Fred Skolnik July 19, 2016 at 2:44 am #

        Poor Walker, no one is asking for your gratitude. At least Prof. Falk understands that there is a “moral contradiction” in boycotting a manufacturer and continuing to enjoy the use of his products. You are so blinded by hatred that even this is beyond your comprehension. As for the rest, your obsession with this God thing is making you irrational. The Jews come from Judea. The Arabs come from Arabia. History did not begin 1500 years ago. Both sides made their claims, a compromise was offered, the Jews accepted it, the Arabs rejected it and chose perpetual war. The Arabs do not own the Land of Israel. They conquered it, just as they conquered Spain and Iran. Win some, lose some. That’s how Azzam Pasha put it. Remember?

    • Gene Schulman July 18, 2016 at 11:41 pm #

      Fred’s latest gibberish doesn’t even merit a reply, even in the third person. I think Walker did a pretty good job of it. Welcome back,

  6. Beau Oolayforos July 17, 2016 at 12:38 pm #

    Dear Professor Falk,

    If memory serves, one of Obama’s mantras in 2008 was that, in the Middle East, John McCain wished to “…double down on the failed policies of the Bush administration…” Now, it seems the best we could say of our Peace Laureate is that Brennan and others convinced him to go along with the program.

    Not only has Barack fallen into line, but our elegantly-coiffed, ‘socialist’ French president, after the Nice attack, has promised some doubling-down of his own. The likelihood that the truck driver had no direct link to ISIS seems an irrelevant detail.

    Why does all of this make me think of Dien Bien Phu, of Dulles’s urging, and Ike’s refusal? Ah, French and American boys, fighting a common enemy, together, at last…

  7. Gene Schulman July 19, 2016 at 2:29 pm #


    I received my copy of Jeremy Hammond’s “Obstacle to Peace”. Your forward and Gene Epstein’s preface are both excellent, and will certainly encourage its readers.
    I can’t think of a better book to negate the hasbara of Fred and his kind. Hope to have my own review out soon.

    Greetings from dog days in Geneva. Whew! But I bet it’s hotter in other ways where you are.


  8. Maggie Roberts July 20, 2016 at 1:17 am #

    I agree with Gene. Tired of reading one-eyed hasbara from Fred Skolnick. He deliberately tries to distort the wonderful clear rhetoric of Richard.
    Simple solution. Don’t read. Use your power of veto.
    Hoping we can enjoy the intelligence of Richard’s posts for a long time.
    Who was it in Star Wars said ‘beam me up Scotty, no intelligent life down here’??

    • walker percy July 20, 2016 at 6:51 pm #

      I believe that was James Traficant, Maggie. You should look him up. Looks like he got whacked.

  9. Maggie Roberts July 20, 2016 at 2:43 am #

    Thank you Richard for your always wise words. As far as Skolnick is concerned don’t read him or the wordy Katia. So far as your essay on Amerixet goes, personally I think America has done a huge amount of damage and should withdraw. From observations it seems America in sending so much support to Israel and letting their own infrastructure collapse.
    The world is in need of honest, decent leaders where to now?

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