Time for the Middle East to Police Its Own Region

By Janet Albrechtsen

MEMO to US ambassador to Australia John Berry.

When next in direct physical contact with President Barack Obama, please slip this speech into his hand. (Please keep it away from the prying eyes of Vice-President Joe Biden, who, accordingly to former defence secretary Robert Gates, has been wrong on nearly every major foreign policy and national security issue over the past four decades.)

I humbly draft this speech for President Obama after spending the last few weeks in the US where newspapers have been busily reporting continuing crises in the Middle East, and failed peace talks, because Sunni and Shia, the two main branches of Islam, are once again pitted against one another.

Mr Ambassador, your President, a gifted orator, has said this is a "year of action". With depressingly low approval ratings, what has he got to lose by delivering this speech:

My fellow Americans, I wish to address you tonight, and through you the wider world, on an issue affecting the ongoing peace and security of our world as we walk through the 21st century. I am referring to the ongoing battles in the Middle East, wars seemingly as old as time itself.

This is a speech I give with a sense of profound disappointment. It is a speech that should have been given long ago by an Arab leader with genuine vision for his region. Alas, that has not happened.

It is a speech I must give because, to be frank, America is sick of its role as the international policeman of first resort.

In the name of human decency and liberty, we helped free the Iraqi people from a government that gassed and slaughtered tens of thousands of its own citizens. We helped liberate the Afghani people from the brutal yoke of the Taliban. We then provided support to put an end to the murderous regime in Libya.

Of course, the US has interests in the Middle East, as it does in Asia and throughout the world. We will never shirk from our role as a nation dedicated to liberty and democracy and defending our interests abroad.

However, tonight I must be brutally frank. America - and I am sure our great allies abroad - has grown tired of being called upon to solve these conflicts.

We have our own ongoing problems to solve, without having to commit our finest sons and daughters, not to mention billions of dollars, to solving crises in the Middle East. And I say to Arab leaders, notice too that that we are moving closer to energy self-sufficiency.

As President of the US I am now being asked to put an end to another internecine civil war, this time in Syria. Once again, Sunni and Shia seem intent on slaughtering each other until the last drop of human blood is spilt.

I am asked to support the opponents of President Bashar al-Assad, a man accused of unleashing chemical weapons against his own citizens. Yet these disparate opposition forces are warring among themselves, and they include jihadist rebels such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria a group labelled as too extremist even by groups associated with al-Qa'ida.

The Prime Minister of Australia, Tony Abbott, best described the conflict in Syria as one between bad guys and bad guys. He is right. We need more of this frankness. More than 100,000 people have died during the Syrian civil war. At least 2.5 million Syrians have fled their country and another 9.3 million who remain need humanitarian aid.

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