Published: Thursday, January 31, 2013
Updated: Thursday, January 31, 2013 16:01
Alex Gaynor // Heights Editor
Last night, the Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies Student Association (MEISSA), in coordination with the Al-Noor Journal, the Iranian Culture Club, and the Islamic Civilization and Societies Department, hosted the first in a series of speeches as part of Middle East 101 Lecture series. The program gives students an opportunity to understand the complicated issues involved within the Middle East. Boston College’s political science professors Peter Krause and Timothy Crawford spoke about the United States’ presence, strategy, and military interactions in one of the least understood but strategically important regions of the world today.
“I want to touch upon the prospect of a declining American military role in the Middle East,” Crawford said.
After introducing certain trade-offs that arise from this decision, Crawford briefly “tried fitting them in” with prevailing schools of thought in American politics. Krause dug deeper into the overlaying debate of budget and strategy issues.
Across administrations, there have always been concrete material interests in defending America’s military involvement in the Middle East. At its most practical level, U.S. presence ensures direct protection over geopolitical values and assets. Krause believes that oil supply is tightly interwoven with our economy without a “free flow of oil,” the whole market system would collapse.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, the U.S. has vehemently been trying to minimize terrorism at its source.
America is also interested in Middle Eastern affairs to prevent any regional hegemon that may emerge with unchallenged dominance. Whether single or in a group, such hegemonies develop “a leverage over U.S. inter-trade negotiations, offshore balance, and even market rights,” Krause said. With a very educated population and powerful institutions, Iran serves as a potential hegemon that America is trying to contain. The White House has been particularly concerned about Iran’s nuclear program, employing negotiations, sanctions, and sabotage, to end it. Nuclear proliferation leads to regional arms race and, as Krause put it, “in many ways, the most dangerous time for nuclear weapons is the beginning of a nuclear problem.”
Another interest at stake supporting Middle Eastern intervention is the spread of democracy. Republican and Democratic U.S. presidents have pushed for this expansion through words and actions, based in part on the idea of liberalism.
All these concerns will break off when a significant reduction of militia begins in the region. As Crawford mentions, conservatives-nationals can accept the trade-offs of these implications by supporting smaller governments across the border. Neo-conservatives want to sustain defense or even increase defense budget levels. The greatest dilemmas occur for the progressive liberals. “They want to shift away from guns toward butter,” Crawford said. A smaller U.S. military role abroad will bring about more investment in schools, science or education, which tend to fall into oblivion when “we pour resources into defense schemes,” he said.
The professors asked whether costs of the U.S. presence in the Middle East outweigh the benefits. On the one hand, being in this region provides reassurance and safety but on the other it is neither affordable nor internationally acceptable.
“Let’s conclude with the supposition that there is likely to be a reduction over time of U.S. military presence in the Middle East,” Crawford said. “As demands for austerity mount, pressure on the American domestic spending increases.” But where will this U.S. presence stretch? The Obama administration, under the “Rebalancing Asia” program, has been trying to redirect material and political resources in Asia. As the area will become a geopolitical center of gravity in the coming century, it is important to sink in investments.
“We do a good job when moving into a place, but then can we ever pivot out of anywhere?” Krause asked.