Some of the military officers who have risen to prominence after the recent shuffle/purge/power grab in the senior ranks of the Egyptian military are pretty unknown. The military is an isolated institution, and only a few of its members became very public figures over the last year and a half. There have been many rumors that the new top honchos are American favorites, chiefly on the spurious ground that they have been in contact with the US in the past. The truth is we don't know much about them, or specifically how they feel about the United States.
Wouldn't it be nice if one of these guys had written, say, a 10,000 word essay on his views of the future of US strategy in the Middle East?
Well it turns out one of them — no less than Sedky Sobhy, the new Chief of Staff of the Armed Forces, the number two in the hierarchy — did just that while studying in a military school in the US, as many Egyptian officers do. And he's written a rather thoughtful essay advocating for one of my pet causes: a complete US military withdrawal from the Middle East. It's titled "THE U.S. MILITARY PRESENCE INTHE MIDDLE EAST: ISSUES AND PROSPECTS" and was carried out as part of a Masters in Strategic Studies at the US Army War College in 2005, when he was Brigadier General. It's available on a US army website.
Here's the basic gist from his conclusion:
The future challenges and prospects ofthe U.S. military presence inthe Middle East in general and Gulf in particular are inseparable from the overall U.S. national security strategy in this region. This national security strategy cannot define the issues within the narrow geographic context of the Gulf region and its oil resources, or the narrow confines of rather outdated "containment" concepts. It is this author's opinion that the security challenges for the U.S. interests inthe Middle East and the Gulf, including Iraq, are interlinked with the ideological foundations that underpin these challenges. The solutions of security challenges inthe Gulf will not necessarily be solely found in Baghdad or in the Gulf itself. These solutions will find their ideological underpinning ifthe U.S. were to truly work for a permanent settlement of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The U.S. can continue to pursue its current strategy in the Gulf that is largely based on its U.S. military presence and potential. This strategy will not lead to the solution of political problems that are deeply rooted in ideological, religious, and cultural causes. The U.S. and its willing partners will continue to be immersed in a long-term asymmetric military conflict without clear political and ideological goals. Truly international cooperation, and heeding the ideological, religious, and cultural concerns of the Arab and Muslim world, can successfully change the current course of events.
I don't agree with everything but I like the way he thinks. Some choice excerpts after the jump.
On US-Arab miscommunication:
There is a fundamental lack of understanding and communication between foreign policy makers in United States Administrations and the political regimes, societies and cultures in the Arab states of the Middle East. This gap in understanding and communication has been exacerbated since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the United States, and the subsequent U.S. military interventions inAfghanistan and Iraq. This gap can be explained by outlining certain parameters that affect commonly held United States perceptions about the Middlle East. First, United States policy makers operate in a strictly secular democratic system of government where the separation of religion(s) and the state is defined by the U.S. Constitution, and is strictly enforced. The Islamic religion is strongly interlinked to various degrees with the functioning of most Arab governments and their respective societies." Although many Arab governments operate on the basis of legal civil codes, the Islamic religion still exercises a paral- lel and strong influence on governmental institutions. Second, Arab regimes generally do not function along the lines of United States and Western conventionally accepted principles and processes of democratic governance.
On the US military footprint in the Gulf:
Since the United States strategic goals of containing Iran are not necessarily dependent on the presence of large numbers of U.S. ground troops in the region, assuming that Iraq becomes "normal," large numbers of U.S. ground forces can still depart from the Middle East and the Gulf. Essentially, the United States military posture inthe Middle East and the Gulf can return to a state similar to that following the 1990-1991 Gulf War. For example, a United States Army mechanized or armored brigade-size force can still be based inone of the Gulf Arab monarchies friendly to the U.S., e.g., Kuwait or Bahrain, that can act as a "tripwire" in the case of Iranian military adventurism in the Gulf. However, it was this level of United States military presence in the region that invited the destabilizing ideological effects that gave rise to radical Islam and Al Qaeda terrorist activities. Thus, the focus should be on the total withdrawal of United States ground forces from the region.
On alternative strategies to a heavy military presence for the US:
Rather, the emphasis is likely to be on small special forces units that will have the dual role of intelligence collection and counter-insurgency and counter- terrorism operations, can be supported by air and naval assets, and by larger military units with high mobility as the need arises, e.g., the operations of U.S. Special Forces and U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) assets in Afghanistan immediately following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack against the U.S. The presence and operations of such United States military units in the Middle East will not be without ideological and political risks. It is almost certain that Arab societies will view the presence and the operations of such United States military units in the Middle East with suspi- cion if not outright hostility. The lack of transparency that accompanies the presence and the operations of United States special forces formations will be viewed by the "Arab street" and the popular mass media outlets in the Middle East as potentially undermining or manipulating national democratization processes. Interestingly, such suspicions may also be based on fact. The U.S. Department of Defense is assuming a larger role in the conduct of paramilitary intel- ligence operations in foreign countries, where such operations will not be under the oversight of the U.S. Congress, and will not be coordinated with U.S. ambassadors or CIA chiefs of stations in these countries
On fundamentals of US strategy in the region:
The United States regional strategy inthe Middle East needs to be redefined since itcannot continue to simply revolve around the issues of national security for Israel and military security of the Middle Eastern oil supplies and reserves. This redefinition must include the direct constructive engagement of all actors inthe Middle East, and must be expanded to include non-state actors and groups. For example, the United States unwillingness to hold direct contacts and negotiations with the Palestinians in the 1960s and the 1970s - the Pale- stinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Yassir Arafat were viewed as "terrorists" by Washington - severely delayed the start of the Palestinian - Israeli peace process. Similarly, only recently we have seen a more significant turn in the policies of the Bush Administration policies vis-a-vis the indirect albeit important constructive engagement with the Islamic Republic of Iran while previous opportunities for direct negotiations have been lost.
On lost US socio-economic influence:
The former socioeconomic influence of the United States in the Middle East has largely been replaced by the EU. The Euro-Med Association Agreements into with Arab countries and Israel contain concrete provisions that gradually but materially influence the implementation of concrete human rights protection and economic liberalization measures more than the U.S. rhetoric for democratization in the Arab Middle East societies. Thus, it is not surprising that certain Palestinian and Israeli prominent politicians and scholars have even broached the thought of a departure from a stand-alone Palestinian state in favor of a Palestinian-Israeli federation that would seek and gain membership in the EU.
On democratization and the need for parallel economic and political liberalization, something that did not happen in the Gamal years:
A United States restated priority for implementing peaceful democratization in the Middle East must be accompanied by solid and well funded socioeconomic initiatives that encourage parallel political and economic liberalization. More often than not, United States policy makers fail to address the issue that political liberalization threatens the economic and business interests of ruling elites in various Arab countries in the Middle East, and that these interests are often embedded in the heavy institutional involvement of the government in the domestic economies. In addition, institutional corruption in these countries is considered and readily accepted as a "cost of doing business." These institutional parameters not only fail to raise the living standards and the employment levels in these societies but also provide a solid recruiting ground for the supporters of radical Islamic movements.
On the Israel question:
Nothing defines better the ideological struggle that the United States has to overcome in the Middle East than the hostility and negative perceptions that exist in the region because of the U.S. unique and one-sided strategic relationship with Israel.
. . .
Israel's ability to receive U.S. military assistance without any attached political conditions or constraints, poses unique challenges for the credibility of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Although the U.S. is the donor of such massive military assistance to Israel, the U.S. has not chosen to use this military assistance as a lever in order to influence Israeli policy making for the resolution of crises that threaten international peace and stability in the Middle East.
. . .
A new United States strategy in the Middle East that will impartiallyfocus on the application of principles of justice and international law in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and other Middle East issues will go a long way in dramatically changing Arab popular perceptions about the U.S. in the region of the Middle East. For example, in the current debate centering on the potential use of the Iranian civil nuclear program for the clandestine development of nuclear weapons the United States has carefully abstained from discussing Israel's possession of a nuclear arsenal. This strategy and its concrete implementation will be a potent weapon in the war of ideas that the United States so far is waging rather unsuccessfully among the broader masses of the Muslim populations in the Middle East (the "Arab street"). The popular percep- tion that the United States truly adheres to principles of justice and international law not only will undermine the ideological base of extremist Islamic groups such as Al Qaeda, but it will also strengthen the cooperative anti-terrorist struggle that is waged by the U.S. and Arab Middle East governments. Under such circumstances, the presence of U.S. military forces inthe Middle East will become increasingly unnecessary.