Mideast self-reliance isn’t a problem—it’s our ticket home

By Bonnie Kristian

Recent weeks have seen the situation in the besieged eastern half of Aleppo, Syria, grow increasingly desperate. The rebel-held area has no functioning hospital, little running water, no food aid, and a horrendous daily death toll, as civilians fall victim to brutal barrel bombs and heinous attacks.

Against this backdrop of horrors, it is no surprise Syrians are streaming out of the decimated city by the thousands, and, as the Bashar al Assad regime and its Russian allies seize ever more territory, that the rebels controlling east Aleppo have quietly begun to sue for peace.

“There are consultations with the Russians through Turkish mediation to calm things down and bring in essential goods into the city,” Yaser Alyoussef, representing a Syrian rebel group called the Nour al-Din al-Zinki brigades, said in a story at the Financial Times. “Even if just a single bag of rice could come in,” that would help, he continued. “At this point everything is needed, from food and fuel to medicine.”

What is curious in the FT report is that this development is cast as a loss for the United States. It “shows how the U.S. could become sidelined in some of the Middle East’s most pivotal conflicts,” worry the authors. The talks “underline the shifting political dynamics in the Middle East,” they add. “Regional actors now seem more willing to bypass Washington to seek out pacts with Russia, which is keen to develop the image of a rising power that can help broker such deals.”

But if these negotiations are indeed indicative of a new Mideast dynamic, it is one Washington should cheer. After 15 years of costly and counterproductive war and nation-building projects that have contributed nothing to American security while fostering massive instability and dangerous power vacuums across the greater Middle East, the United States ought to welcome a growing regional ability to self-police.

This is not the U.S. becoming sidelined; it is—at long last—a chance to extract ourselves from an ill-advised intervention that has taken too many American lives and dollars and produced only chaos in return. The site of a meager naval base that serves as Russia’s only point of Mediterranean access, Syria may be crucial for Russian security, but is not crucial for the United States. It is a problem Moscow feels it must address, but it has proven to be little more than a money pit for Washington.

What the Syrian rebels seem to have realized (and the Washington foreign policy establishment has not) is they can solve their own problems. They can directly bargain for the fate of their people in what is, recall, an internal civil war in which no vital U.S. interest is at stake. They can pursue their own interests with relevant regional actors, a process that need not be complicated by American interference or achieved at the cost of American lives.

This is good news and a dynamic Washington must encourage. The sooner the Middle East realizes it can become self-reliant, capable of constructing its own stability, the more easily the U.S. can develop a realistic and strictly self-protective grand strategy of restraint, diplomacy, and free trade.

The danger in Aleppo is not that the United States could be “sidelined.” The danger is that we will continue to be stalled, stuck with an ineffective, expensive foreign policy of meddling in matters with no direct connection to our national security interests.

If the Syrian rebels want to talk peace with Moscow and we’re not invited, so be it. Russia needs Syria, but America—marked by far greater economic and military might—need not concern herself with such matters. Let Russia run itself ragged in vain pursuit of Mideast mastery, and let us regain a foreign policy of prudence with a modernized military ready for the present challenges of defense.

Bonnie Kristian is a fellow at Defense Priorities. She is a weekend editor at The Week and a columnist at Rare, and her writing has also appeared at Time Magazine, Politico, Relevant Magazine, The Hill, and The American Conservative, among other outlets.

This piece was originally published by Real Clear Defense on December 28, 2016. Read more HERE.