Boo-hoo, Middle East

About every day or so, a throat-clearing Middle East pundit weighs in to warn us of the Obama’s administration’s dereliction of traditional American engagement. They rightly lament “lead from behind” in Libya. After Benghazi, Libya has turned into something like Somalia. Far more are dying there from sectarian chaos than during the latter years of the hated Moammar Gaddafi’s dictatorship.

The Sunni reactionary establishment of the Gulf is right to deplore Obama’s incoherent flip-flop-flips in Egypt and Syria. The oil lords logically conclude that a directionless president will do nothing to stop Iran’s race to get a bomb — and all the subsequent Middle East WMD catch-ups to match it.

Even Obama’s pet Turkey seems confused that its favorite administration is now nowhere to be seen. The Iraqis were given a fresh start after the surge and hundreds of billions of dollars in U.S. aid — and still claimed that they wanted the U.S. out. Obama gladly called their hand. Now, left to themselves, they are reverting to the pre-surge violence, whining about security and sectarianism — and back asking us for even more money. Rule One: never bluff an isolationist to yank all his forces from your country.

After twelve years, it is clear that triple-dealing President Hamid Karzai never made the reforms in Afghanistan that he promised. Now he will soon be on his own too, as Kabul comes to resemble the disaster of Saigon, 1975. He is correct in lamenting U.S. withdrawal, and yet about the most unsympathetic of the many unattractive dependents American has acquired in the Middle East.

Visitors from an alien planet might conclude of the region that Saddams come and go. Arab Springs and Cedar and Green Revolutions rise and fall. Socialists and fascists, Islamists and Baathists all wax and wane. All the while, the Middle East — statist, authoritarian, anti-democratic, religiously intolerant, tribal, misogynist, anti-Semitic, homophobic, and exploitive — stays mostly the same and so in a way earns the wide varieties of awful government that it suffers from.

In response to complaints of American retreat, National Security Advisor Susan Rice doubled down on the Obama neo-isolationism. She shrugged that, other than worries over an Iranian bomb, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and free commerce in and out of the Persian Gulf, the U.S. can no longer be all that bothered about regional violence, much less think it can push down reluctant throats Western-style consensual government. She at least hit upon one point, in the sense that U.S. abdication was a sort of payback for past ingratitude.

Such retrenchment may be disastrous. Indeed, the region, in response, is certainly heating up as the U.S. backs off.  Vladimir Putin seems eager to fill the void. The Shiite-Sunni wars escalate. Al-Qaeda has spread and multiplied. China will come in to protect its own huge oil appetites. Christians will vanish from the region.

The Obama administration most likely is pulling in its horns for a variety of practical reasons. In general, in the era of sequestration and still massive deficits, it is cutting back on lots of defense and forward deployment. Obama believes that every dollar spent on defense abroad comes at the expense of a lost food stamp or one less disability check at home.