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The Future of the Middle East

June 30, 2014

The future of the Middle-East is at stake. One day soon someone is going to have to answer this question.  “If Iraq disappeared from the face of the earth today, what loss would that be to the United States, and what does Iraq add politically, scientifically, and culturally to America or to the American way of life?” It does export oil, but the United States is not dependent upon that oil.

Perhaps from a world point of view, it would be useful if the US could find a way to stabilize the Mid-East’s troubled Muslim countries. But no matter how well intentioned the US may be, it cannot do for another country what that country could or should do for itself.

So, what role should the US play in the Middle-East? Should it play the same role it played in helping rebuild war-torn Germany, Japan and South Korea?

The miracle of South Korea’s rebirth was made possible not by winning the war with North Korea, but by the determination of South Korea’s leaders to emulate American success in turning their country into a land of freedom and democracy. During two of those hard and difficult rebuilding years I was assigned to Korea as an advisor to the Korean military and the local civil government; the Koreans taught me, their advisor, an awful lot.

One South Korean general summed up the situation for his followers this way, “What is the difference between South Korea and the United States? Americans have two eyes; Koreans have two eyes. Americans have two ears; Koreans have two ears. Americans have two hands: Koreans have two hands. Yet, America is the richest country in the world and Korea is a toilet.

The difference must be found in our thinking, the way we think through and solve problems. From now on when any of you face a problem or have to make a decision, first ask yourselves what would an American do in this same situation? If you don’t know, ask one of your American advisors for advice, then try to do it the American way.”

Today, South Korea is one of the most prosperous and successful countries in the world. Perhaps, in part, because of their having adopted a national campaign to emulate Americans; and in the process we American advisors learned lot from those we were advising.

The Muslim nations of the Middle-East would do well to follow South Korea’s example to emulate the United States. That is, if they want their people to enjoy the liberty, freedom and democracy that America’s citizens enjoy.

Let Iran keep calling the US the Great Satan, and let them say whatever else derogatory they want to say about us. In the final analysis, whatever Iran is doing does not work for its people, but what the US does works for its citizens. Even a member of ISIS, the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, should be able to figure that out.

Perhaps it is time for Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey to get into the fightand spill a little of their own blood. They should know better than us whether Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan are worth fighting for and saving.

The US and its allies shouldn’t have to do all the heavy lifting. Until then, let us muddle through as best we can and keep providing tactical advice and intelligence and hopefully air strikes.

These days the narrative being tossed about with abandon in the White House and Pentagon is that air strikes cannot be effective unless controlled by someone on the ground that has visual contact with the target. That is true if your target is in a city or a built up area, but that is nonsense if the target is a long line of pickup trucks, which intelligence has been tracking for several days, barreling south down an empty highway. I know, been there, done that.

The Administration says that it is searching for a comprehensive military strategy to put into place in Iraq and not just adopt some knee jerk response. That makes sense if time is on our side. But if city after city falls to the cruel and evil Sunni militants and their forces surround Bagdad and start tightening the noose, the speed and violence of a tactical Iraqi response may be more important than wasting time with an all-inclusive examination and review of the situation. The Iraqis need a quick military response, now; a comprehensive one can come later.

Still no matter how it works out in the end, Iraq’s disappearance from the face of the earth, should it come to that, will have little impact on the United States. We should support them all we can, within reason, and give it our best shot. But Iraq has to be willing to do its own heavy lifting. We can’t do for them, no matter how much we may want to, what they could or should do for themselves.

This is not the time for the US to carefully lay all its options on the table and cautiously ponder which one to take. Now is the time to “Choose and Do;” a time to make a decision and to follow it up with immediate action.

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General Curry is a decorated combat veteran who has served his country both in the military and as a Presidential appointee for nearly forty years. He served as Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense in the Carter Administration, as Press Secretary to the Secretary of Defense in the Reagan Administration, and as Administrator of NHTSA in the first Bush Administration. In 1982 he was named Washingtonian of the Year.