The Death of a Mideast Theory
Anyone paying even modest attention to the news knows that the Middle East is convulsed with violence. Iraq is battling a resurgent al-Qaeda, Syria is mired in a brutal civil war that is creeping steadily into Lebanon, Egypt is peerched on the brink of violent instability. All the while, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry busies himself trying to broker a "framework agreement" between the Israelis and Palestinians. (Actually, this is what Kerry says he's doing: "We are working on a framework for negotiations that will guide and create the clear, detailed, accepted road map for the guidelines for the permanent-status negotiations and can help those negotiations move faster and more effectively." Got it?)
There was a time, not so long ago, when many in Washington could argue with a straight face that solving the Israeli-Palestinian crisis was central to a more peaceful Middle East. The Israeli-Palestinian dispute was "linked" to regional unrest. If the U.S. would just untangle that stubborn knot, we've been told, it would set the Middle East on a more peaceful track.
If nothing else comes from the Mideast's current orgy of violence, it should at least discredit the notion of linkage. The disparate strands of violence convulsing the region won't end or even conceivably slow down should the Israelis and Palestinians bury the hatchet. None of the groups currently picking up arms in Syria, Iraq, Egypt, et al., are doing so on behalf of the Palestinians, though undoubtedly many would turn their guns on Israel if and when they get the chance. Secretary Kerry is, by all accounts, expending enormous amounts of time, effort and diplomatic capital on reaching his "framework for negotiations toward a roadmap for talks" -- and for what?
Meanwhile, Japan -- a country which the U.S. has an unambiquous stake in defending -- is inching periously close to a confrontation with China and driving a wedge between itself and South Korea. The Middle East, for all its oil and violence, is beyond the reach of U.S. power and mediation. The kinds of state-building required to pacify the region is too costly and difficult (something you would think Washington would comprehend by now).
But Asia remains an arena where U.S. power and statecraft may actually be effective, given that the challenges are between states and not within them. At a minimum, it would be certainly be time better spent than trying to determine who lives where in the West Bank.