Syria G8 Summit 2013: Did the U.S. Decide to Make an Exit From the Middle East?
The most important issue discussed at the Group of Eight Summit was most certainly the U.S. government's involvement in Syria, particularly concerning whether or not to arm Syrian rebels. Yet, the bigger underlying question is how much longer can the U.S. attempt to craft politics in the Middle East and exert its dominance as a Western power?
Many U.S. officials, particularly Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, have called for an increased military presence and deployment of more troops in the Middle East in preparation for an upsurge in the Syrian civil war, but what those pushing for further involvement fail to understand is that it is no longer desirable for the U.S. to continue dominating Eastern politics. Due to the recent recession, the Arab Spring, and the U.S.'s energy independence, it's become clear that our presence in the Middle East is not a reasonable venture anymore. With Barack Obama's skepticism towards the "arm the rebels" campaign in Syria, the West's quasi-colonialism in the Middle East seems to be waning away tremendously in the near future.
During the Iraqi and Afghan Wars combined, the direct and indirect costs are expected to mount to between $4 trillion and $6 trillion, of which $2 trillion has come from taxpayers, meaning that the U.S. cannot afford to continue this kind of spending in commitments to the Middle East. Many European nations have already begun slashing defense spending as a result of the 2008 financial crisis, and the U.S. has also announced budget cuts towards the Pentagon totaling in over $37 billion in sequestration cuts. Many of these financial decisions are in direct response to the recession and Obama's administration appears to understand the financial risks in sending further support towards Syria and other Middle Eastern nations.
Starting in 2011 with the U.S.'s decision to allow President Hosni Mubarak of Egypt, a former ally of the U.S., to fall because of riots of the Arab Spring, the United States government has given a bigger role to Middle Eastern countries in shaping their own politics. While the choice to drop Mubarak sparked anger in fellow American allies such as Saudi Arabia and Israel, the Obama administrations' actions were completely justified as the U.S. avoided becoming stuck in the center of a violent civil war and instead chose to allow Egypt to rebuild itself on its own. Obama's stance supporting the younger protesters of the region, who he believes can wrest their countries from the hands of totalitarian regimes, counteracts the obsolete sentiments that the U.S. once had in putting leaders like Mubarak into power in the first place.
The Middle East has always been a formidable source of the U.S.'s energy, supplying fossil fuels such as coal and oil, which have become staples in the American economy and power industries. Yet the shale revolution in the U.S., which utilizes process such as horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing (commonly known as fracking), have given the government a much larger palette of energy sources that transcend only the fossil fuels. Combined with renewable energy sources such as wind turbines and solar panels, studies have shown that the U.S. could be almost entirely self-sufficient in energy by 2035, heavily decreasing our dependence with Middle Eastern commodities.
Just because the U.S. is starting to recede from the Middle East doesn't ultimately mean that the government will not eliminate all presence whatsoever. The U.S. will still need to remain involved with the regional diplomacy in Syria at least until the conflict improves, and America will always feel the need to act as protectors against adversity, as shown in Obama's efforts against the Benghazi attacks in Libya in 2011. The U.S. presence in the Middle East may never disappear, but the government is coming to the realization that we cannot keep calling for increased involvement, particularly when it is no longer necessary.