Fareed Zakaria on America's over-involvement in the Middle East
An Iraqi soldier holds US and Iraqi flags as around 50 'Sahwa' fighters attended a ceremony on October 10, 2008 marking their transition to the Iraqi government at the Forward Operating Base Shield in Rusafa, Baghdad. (Getty Images)
April 26th, 2011
02:47 PM ET

Fareed Zakaria on America's over-involvement in the Middle East

Many of you have been asking me through Twitter, Facebook and iReport, why the U.S. is so invested in the Middle East. Some of you, citing the Global Public Square interview with Kishore Mahbubani, ask whether this focus is causing America to pay too little attention to Asia. Here’s my response:

I think that America is invested in the Middle East for three reasons. Oil is number one without any question.  Israel is number two. History and legacy is number three. There is a tendency among U.S. policymakers to believe that this is part of what we do. We police the Strait of Hormuz.  We try to make sure there’s stability in oil-producing states and across the region.

I agree profoundly with Kishore that this leads to a huge over-investment in the region and that we should absolutely be shifting our attention to East Asia. To be fair, this is what Obama wants to do and has been trying to do.  If you look at his reluctance and the constraints he’s placed around the Libyan operation, clearly that is one of the concerns of the Administration.

But the real acid test will be whether Obama makes sure that we get even more decidedly out of Iraq, draw down troops in Afghanistan and recognize more generally that in the Yemens of the world - or any of these places - the U.S. does not need a massive amount of military commitment. The U.S. should try to use the military in a strategic way that is really counterterrorism focused and that allows the U.S. to devote the bulk of its resources and energy to maintaining and strengthening America’s role in the Pacific.

I would only make one qualification on this.  When people say the United States doesn’t pay enough attention to Asia: Remember, the United States is still a huge military power in Asia. We have 100,000 troops in Asia. We are devoting a fair amount of time and energy to Asia. We’re giving major Asian countries like China and India enormous amounts of respect and have encouraged them to enter the councils of global power and influence, giving them platforms and seats.

The truth is that Asia is not in crisis like the Middle East is in crisis. There are not a lot of Libyas in Asia. So it's not that the United States is making a strategic decision to invest more time, energy and resources in the Middle East.  It’s that they keep having fires in the Middle East whereas Asia is slowly, brick-by-brick, building a huge edifice. That tends to attract or require less active American involvement.

Those are my thoughts. What do you think? Send along more questions for me directly through TwitterFacebook and iReport and I'll answer as many as I can.

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Topics: From Fareed • Middle East • Security • Strategy • United States

soundoff (40 Responses)
  1. j. von hettlingen

    I can imagine, why the U.S. invests more time and energy in the Middle East than in Asia. Politically it is rather quiet in most part of Asia and the countries there are friendly toward the West. A Western, who lives there can adapt himself easily without giving up, what's familiar to him. The Middle East is a different story and has another mentality. It is like an Arabian fullblood, that is fierce and tough, that needs to be groomed, if it were to win a competition.

    April 26, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
  2. PabloFF

    Very well said Fareed!! I'd just add one more thing US has the privilege to be one of the world's leader players ( economy, military, etc) , so it also comes with responsibilities.

    April 26, 2011 at 4:18 pm | Reply
    • Maverick

      Responsibilities to divide the middle east.... more like.... it is all about national interest, nothing but greed....

      "We’re giving major Asian countries like China and India enormous amounts of respect...."? non sense..... the truth is that China is giving us enormous amounts of respect by not dumping our treasury bonds....

      April 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Reply
      • Patricio Rivera

        Perfectly true Maverick ! Sadly and as you probably know, the macro-economic outlook of the US economy has been deteriorating since the early 70s and prospects for the next ten years are not encouraging at all. It may well be that the generous buyers of US debt (e. g. Japan, Germany, UAE, China) may stop doing so in the future and, if this materializes, the US will have a very serious problem.

        April 30, 2011 at 9:16 am |
    • Casual Observer

      But what are the real costs of these so called responsibilities? The opportunity cost aspect of devoting resources to the Middle East is something that needs to be addressed and addressed now.
      The federal gov has responsibilities to take care of the citizens first – international/political "responsibilities are certainly important – but they are not subordinate to their primary obligation of the gov to protect us.
      Right now our government is treating the citizens of America like second class citizens – while expecting us to fund the gov. Something is wrong – very wrong in DC – and to find out what all you have to do is follow the stench that leads to the halls of Congress.

      April 28, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
  3. Onesmallvoice

    If there's one thing that Iraq is not,that is a sovereign nation. Today,Iraq is no more no less than a satellite of the U.S. just like Romania was to Russia after WW2. The conquest of Iraq should never have happened as the U.S. was never so poor in the first place as not to afford to pay for Iraqi oil. The whole thing was greed motivated.

    April 26, 2011 at 5:16 pm | Reply
    • John

      Thank you,Onesmallvoice. That is quite true.

      April 27, 2011 at 12:16 pm | Reply
    • karek40

      Wars don't happen because you can pay for something, to believe so is naive. Besides greed (a desire to have what the other possesses) there is a population problem that can effectively be controlled by wars. The middle east has used war to control its population for thousands of years. They have a serious population problem now, a majority of their populations under 30 and no jobs or hope of jobs (hence the unrest). There will be a major war in the middle east to solve this problem.

      April 28, 2011 at 9:04 am | Reply
    • wierdpersonsaywhat

      We went to Iraq for one reason and one reason only, it wasn’t for Iraqi oil, we went because gw bush jr, had an axe to grind for the failed assassination attempt by Sadam on gw bush sr. Everything else was 2ndary

      April 28, 2011 at 2:28 pm | Reply
  4. james2

    Good analogy at the end of the contrast between the middle east and east asia. On the flipside of US interests in oil is the reason the demand is so high. There have been for some time now many well written articles and reports detailing why the US government's subsidization of mainly suburban housing is pushing gas prices so high. One part of the People's Budget that I do not agree with is the government subsidy of the interest paid on mortgages (home mortgage interest deduction). Not only does this lose a significant amount of revenue, it does not have very much to show in terms of increase in homeownership. Living in an area where the lowest distance that families travel per day is about 20 miles forces homeowners to buy cars and become dependent on gasoline. I think if the government were to invest more time into making cities safer places to live and instituting more efficient methods of public transportation, there would not even be a need to rely so much on Middle Eastern oil.

    April 26, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
    • Chakresh Singh

      Sir, the question is not whether we can live without middle east's oil or not (they are out brotheren and they are in pain for quiet a long time now). The point of concern is that time and again the world has seen that some forces start growing stronger and their strength goes on to make them blind towards the miseries of others not so powerful. The lessons from History will stand meaningless if the major powers of today, like the U.S., show irresponsible behavior and just because they fear that the world might one day learn to live without them (just because they want to insure their hegemony), they keep insinuating political unrest in already unstable societies (*if I agree with what Noam Chomsky says).
      About The U.S. giving respect to India and China, I would just like to ask what other options is The U.S. left with today?

      April 28, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply
  5. Gerry

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    Around 413 billion barrels.

    The report generated some controversy. After all, the entire country of Saudi Arabia only has 250 billion barrels of crude reserves. Could it be possible that North Dakota could dethrone the king of OPEC?

    The answer to that question is the subject of endless debate among geologists. A master's thesis done by a University of North Dakota grad student back in 1974 pegged the resource potential at 92 billion barrels. Work done a few years ago using extensive sampling data and powerful computer modeling put the total at 300 billion barrels.

    For its part, the USGS has calculated that 3.65 billion barrels of oil are recoverable. But most think that's a lowball figure. North Dakota's director of mineral resources says 11 billion. And the top executive of a leading oil producer believes the area could ultimately yield 24 billion barrels. North Dakota is now pressuring the US Dept. of Interior and the USGS for another review.

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    The productivity of oil reservoir rock is determined largely by two factors: porosity and permeability. The more porous the rock, the more empty space available to store oil and gas. And the more permeable, the easier fluid can flow through and be captured.

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    Many oil companies have come and gone in the Bakken Shale since production first began in 1951 - and a lot of dry holes to show for their efforts. Of course, it's easy to have hit-and-miss results when you're drilling two miles down into a thin layer of 5 to 100 feet. And even if that bulls-eye was hit, producers still had to hope for natural cracks and fissures in the rock to release trapped oil.

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    Good Investing!

    April 26, 2011 at 7:41 pm | Reply
    • Bianca

      Shale oil and gas is not viable. US citizens better learn how to understand the issues, before allowing anything this dangerous to be described as an energy miracle. Even the small amount of shale gas drilling has already caused incredible problems. Hundreds of earthquakes in the area, poisoned cattle by the dozens, methane in drinking water, dead fish and dead birds eating poisoned fish. And, you can count on it, one day if a major methane and other gases are released, everyone within certain altitude will die. This naturally happened due to volcanic activity when in Africa poisonous gases were released into the lake. Upon reaching surface, everything within the one hundred meter altitude was dead. SHATTERING earth's core to release gas trapped inside shale layers has got to be one of the STUPIDEST and MOST DANGEROUS idea ever. Yet, with such ignorant population, why not make money? We may even crack the core and sink the whole continent, and thus end the most reckless experiment on earth.

      April 27, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Reply
      • Shofete

        you cannot shatter the earths core. the mantle is in the way? its is is made up of entirely molten rock(for the most part) and so is the outer core

        April 28, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
  6. muin

    I agree with your analysis on arab world and asia. There was this indian politocan named Humayan kabir who wanted india, pakistan and bangladesh to stay together. I personally believe it was a mistake that those three countries couldn't find a way to stay together.

    April 26, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Reply
  7. Ben

    Yes, but why should we be so concerned about Israel? Israel does nothing for us to warrant the unconditional support and billions in aid we give them. In fact, they spy on us more than any other country, let alone "ally." It makes no sense for us to cut medicare while throwing away more money to Israel and their universal healthcare

    April 26, 2011 at 9:39 pm | Reply
  8. everyonesurvival

    Fareed, thanks for you refreshingly honest analysis of the US involvement in the Middle east – three key motivations: oil, Israel and pure habit.

    I don't think it is well known where the world oil reserves lie – the analysis will explain a lot in terms of the politics that is going on at the moment. In order of volume of oil reserves, these countries have most of it : Venezuela,Saudi Arabia, Canada, Iraq, Iran, Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Russia, Kazakhstan, Libya, Nigeria, United States

    Foreign policy, or world policy is almost always decided along the lines of national interests and oil, but there may be a better way of doing things: beautifully and succinctly expressed in the words of theologian Johan Baptist Metz:

    "politics can no longer be conducted simply within the framework of national action and exclusively with the interests of national security, which are often ideologically motivated, in mind. On the contrary, politics have now to take place in the universal arena of responsibility for everyone’s life and survival "

    April 27, 2011 at 3:01 am | Reply
  9. loririvera39

    The adjustable rate mortgage that I had before had me nearly to the brink of bankruptcy because of the never-ending payment increases. Now I have 3.18% fixed rate. I would absolutely recommend "Mortgage Refinance 123" I worked with to anyone I know planning to refinance mortgage.

    April 27, 2011 at 7:14 am | Reply
  10. CharlieSeattle

    OBAMA'S DRAFT OF HIS FORTH OF JULY ADDRESS TO THE NATION ABOUT THE ARAB SPRING TO DEMOCRACY AND EAST ASIA POLICY!

    Read it here first!

    My fellow Americans. The conditions that exist in Egypt were resolved by the Egyptians themselves peacefully. Thus, UN and Nato action was not required. However the violent reaction by the Gadhafi regime against its own people that required UN and Nato actions is being repeated in Syria and thoughout the Middle East. Therefore, on the July 4, 2011 UN and Nato forces will bomb Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Syria and Yemen. China, North Korea and Iran to follow after we reload. Let me me clear on one point. No American forces will be used on the ground. We look to the citizens of the these countries to take care of it themselves. Thank you and Allah be Praised. Good night.

    April 27, 2011 at 6:44 pm | Reply
    • Adnan

      At least US cannot bomb China. We only have bombed small countries so far by our selves like Panama, Afghanistan, Somalia Haiti . We bombed Veitman and know the results and may be same for afghanistan. To bomb China we will need balls of tons . Also you can not bomb those who lend you for day to day living.

      April 27, 2011 at 8:38 pm | Reply
  11. Bianca

    I do not agree that US needs to refocus on East Asia, or Pacific for that matter. What for? Just to act big and bad for no reason whatsoever? In the Middle East at least there is a veneer of a reason - the protection of energy resources and their shipment. Of course, what we do is overkill. People there want to sell, and we want to buy. But those who make profit from the security business will always think of many reasons why we need to spend more money.

    There is nothing going on in East Asia to merit already over the top presence. South Korea, Japan and other pearls of bases accross Pacific is an overkill, with no enemy in sight. North Korea is a joke, and can remain that way for centuries to come. What we do not need is spend more money. Just the opposite, we need to scale back the global footprint of over 1,000 bases, and who knows how many undeclared. This is draining our economy, as the expenses on such unnecessary fantasies are already over half of our entire budget. Some will have us add Social Security TRUST FUND into the math, to make the expense appear smaller. Some Americans can actually DO math, and see through it. Now, if you bring all these outfits home, and station them in US, think of the boost to the economy! If we are to throw the money away on unnecessary global imperial outposts, we may as well get the benefit if the money is spent at home. Sorry, Farid Zakaria, we are done with building an empire. It is not about SHIFTING these resources from one country to another, or from the Mediterranean to Pacific. It is about "we do not have the money", and just "bring them home".

    April 27, 2011 at 11:34 pm | Reply
  12. Dan Marine

    The only way Islamic countries can fight this unprecedented agression of the west is they should all boycott the UN, form their own United Muslims Nation and work jointly towards getiing nuclear weapons as soon as possible. This is the only thing that the we fear and we don't mess with countries that have these.

    April 28, 2011 at 10:05 am | Reply
    • Sheela

      I agree. The UN was cunningly designed to only guarantee the security of its five veto-wielding permanent members: The United States, United Kingdom, France, Russia and China, thats it!

      April 28, 2011 at 10:29 am | Reply
      • Dhulfiqar

        Muslim Nations can only prosper if they educate themselves, be self-sufficient, and tolerate each other's differing opinions in both politics and religion. Unfortunately, Muslims are only Muslims my names, they do not follow any of the tenants of Islam–which is wear the problem is.

        April 28, 2011 at 10:54 am |
    • wierdpersonsaywhat

      yep give people that hate us to try and nuke us. lay off the coolaid

      April 28, 2011 at 3:32 pm | Reply
  13. Christopher P. Vaughan

    two points...
    1) no other Arab county is willing to make concessions to the
    Palestinians
    Syria/Egypt/Lybia or Jordan is not willing to donate their land
    or assist in any infrastructure (water or electric) to the creation
    of a Palestinian state
    but all of those countries believe that Israel should do so...
    the burden is on Israel, at least in their view, it is also a view
    i do NOT agree with
    2) the oil reserves in Saudia Arabia/Iran/Iraq will come to an end
    between 2035-2038... experts agree on this
    the exact date is in doubt

    so, is there an over involvement by the US in the Middle East... not
    as of now
    CVaughan

    April 28, 2011 at 10:23 am | Reply
    • YooooDude

      What a bunch of misleading points. There is no need for any Arab country to make any concession to the Palestinians. Israel has to as the only occupier of Palestinian, Syrian and Jordanian land. It is a fact so your view whether or not Israel should make concessions is rather irrelevent. Amyways, as an American I believe that our support for Israel is irrational and it is about time when our support says good-bye to Israel. It simply doesn't make any sense to bankrupt America for a country like Israel that has nothing in commom with the USA.

      April 28, 2011 at 12:02 pm | Reply
  14. YooooDude

    The only reason US is so militarily involve in the Middle East is Israel. Open the history books and see how relations between the countries in the Middle east and the US were before the creation of Israel. The USA is the biigest market for ME oil, they need our trade and money as much as we need their oil. I don't understand why we are bankrupting America to protect Israel? It is a fact that as a superpower, we don't have friends, we have interests and Israel is obviously not one of them.

    April 28, 2011 at 11:51 am | Reply
    • Christopher P. Vaughan

      those views, your words are not tied to how this world works
      not how politics work between countries

      i am sure you have heard of Foreign Policy, it is in place
      for a reason
      CVaughan

      April 28, 2011 at 1:15 pm | Reply
  15. SILLYMAN MICHAELS

    GREEDY AMERICA SHOULD STAY OUT OF OTHER COUNTRIES PROBLEMS THE OBAMANITES CAN'T TAKE
    CARE OF THIS COUNTRY ..MAYBE THE HIGH OFFICIALS IN OUR GOVT ARE JUST MOLES FOR THE ARAB WORLD

    April 28, 2011 at 2:21 pm | Reply
  16. wierdpersonsaywhat

    Here is a concept. Stop letting invester's trade on speculation\oil futures, this is what drives the prices up at the pump. the people that are doing the speculating can say in 6 weeks oil will be 250\barrel they work for the oil companies not the common worker. The only people that get screwed by this method is the middle class and below. gas goes up food and clothing go up, pay check stays the same, the greed of opec is a big reason our economy is in the hole.

    April 28, 2011 at 3:02 pm | Reply
    • wierdpersonsaywhat

      I read an article on here that exxon fires back at high gas prices. The VP saying they dont make but 7 cents a on a gallon of gas, but the first quarter profits are 11billion dollars, The VP is correct Yep they are going broke, Line them all up and take them out.

      April 28, 2011 at 3:07 pm | Reply
  17. Hase

    You don't spill time on the other shop owner in your street if a badly raised, disrespectful gang throws stones through the window of your store. This is true for a European shop owner who is being bullied by muslim youth as well as for countries as a whole, since 9/11, the London & Madrid upto Marrakesh bombings. Furthermore we have blatant proof in Iraq, Syria and a lot of other states of islamic origin which clearly shows that some cultures on this earth are not ready for adult democracy. In Asia, such problems are only present in Burma (Myanmar) and North Korea, and those states didn't do any global terrorism yet. If you are amazed by US involvement, you have a distorted view of reality. What if Christian westerners started to raise money in their churches 'for a good cause', which turns out to be fund raising for the widows of christian suicide terrorists attacking people in the Grand Bazaar of Istanbul? Such fund raising happens in mosques all over the world, and the center for such systems and ideas is in the Middle East with its martyrdom & bloody slaughtering culture. In a sense even Christianity is a product of this martyrdom ideology, with a suffering Christ giving an alibi for a lot of warfare. Something is really rotten in that region, and it must be stopped before it is too late.

    April 30, 2011 at 12:43 am | Reply
  18. ams

    in the world the killer no 1 country is USA KILLING INNOCIENT,,,BABY,CHAILD..ETC...we pepole should give deth sentance to BUSH thro hang...it my oponion....

    April 30, 2011 at 6:15 am | Reply
  19. Jay

    I have a lot of respect for Fareed. However, I'd like to comment that Fareed is from India so like the rest of the Indian media, if you notice, the balance eventually tilts towards India in every issue when it comes to China and Pakistan.

    For example, he's been the ONLY person from the get-go who's been championing that US abandon Pakistan and give India a bigger piece of the Afghan pie (which is what India wants). As a journalist, I think one has to be fair to the situation and control his bias about it.

    But then majority of the media is there to show their bias. Whatever happened to the truth being journalists bible...we "the people" are just puppets in this situation and our minds are shaped by the biased put into our head through those repeated stories or comments, such as Busch messed up or Obama is great or in every issue, India needs to work and US should abandon all others.

    May 6, 2011 at 6:53 pm | Reply
  20. José M. Pulido

    "Many of you have been asking me through Twitter, Facebook and iReport, why the U.S. is so invested in the Middle East." Yeah right. Mr. Zakaria makes look like he is just answering people's questions in order to justify state his own opinions wihtout any research.
    He writes as if is information was the absolute truth but it is only his opinion.
    What about the over-involvement of Islamic/Muslim terrorist sleeper cell mosques in the USA. If Mr. Zakaria has any concerns about America's over invovement what does not he write about the infestation of terrorist sleeper cell mosques in the USA. Those are places of conspiracy to destroy the USA. nationa law enforcement agencies already put in prison a blind Egyptian Islamic preacher who was conspiring to comitt acts of terrorism on American soil. Why doesn't he write about such Islamic over-involvement?

    May 12, 2011 at 2:32 am | Reply
  21. nnatea

    yup middle east again .....:(
    http://www.seemeagain.com

    May 22, 2011 at 12:38 pm | Reply

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