Last weekend at the J Street conference, Ilan Goldenberg, a former high official in President Obama’s foreign policy brain trust, took issue with an Israeli diplomat‘s assertion that the United States was withdrawing from the Middle East and engaging more in East Asia, in part because of energy independence. Goldenberg said:
I’m not sure the U.S. is moving out of the Middle East quite the way Alon [Pinkas] described it. President Obama pulled us back pretty significantly to sort of more of a normal place, to where we were before we went into Iraq. The reality is that even he got drawn in again after ISIS popped up on the scene, and after we over-withdrew from the Middle East. We’re still dropping bombs as we were at the end of the Obama administration in six countries in the Middle East. As much as we don’t rely on oil, the world economy still relies on oil, it’s one international market, and the United States forces still underwrite the basic security of the the sea lanes that send that oil and trade out of the Middle East and also connect Europe and Asia overall.
So I do see a move away to a more balanced position, but I don’t see us pulling out completely of the region in the way that people have described it. I just see us as correcting from what had been an over-investment after Iraq.
I asked Goldenberg what the six countries are. He answered, Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia and Yemen.
Goldenberg also quipped that the Iran Deal is the “Obamacare of foreign policy.” Donald Trump might want to rip it up, but he can’t, too much is now dependent on it. “If it dies it will die more of neglect and lack of trust than anyone walking away from it.”
Goldenberg works at the Center for a New American Security, the 10-year-old thinktank that is the heart of liberal interventionist Democratic foreign policy, and might be said to represent the deep state, having worked at Senate Foreign Relations, the Pentagon, and the State Department. Goldenberg worked hard for the Iran deal, though he has also endorsed a harder line on Iran than Obama took. He was for supporting the Syrian rebels. He has promoted security arrangements that he says could underpin a two-state solution in Israel and Palestine.