Does flexing America’s muscles in the Middle East make things worse?

An Intelligence Squared debate about America’s role in the Middle East. How do we strike a balance between our national interests, moral obligations, and the maintenance of world order?

Full transcript
This debate will be broadcast on MPR News Presents today at noon and 9:00 p.m.

The rise of ISIS, the disintegration of Iraq, Syria’s ongoing civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the promise and peril of the Arab Spring… What role should America play in the Middle East? For some, America’s restraint has been a sign of disciplined leadership. But for others, it has been a sign of diminished strength and influence. How do we strike a balance between our national interests, moral obligations, and the maintenance of world order? Are we simply recognizing the limitations of our power, or does this embattled region require a bolder, more muscular, American presence? (IQ2)

Today’s Question: Does flexing America’s muscles in the Middle East make things worse?

  • Robert Moffitt

    I don’t know. Worse for whom?

  • PaulJ

    The US is the world’s police. Calling police work “flexing” seems odd to me.

  • reggie

    We aren’t “flexing our muscles” as much as using our tech to slow the rate at which we get drawn deeper into the quagmire. If you think of ISIS as reverse Crusaders, it’s not hard to see that we’re back in the Middle Ages. Haven’t really learned much since then. Might still thinks it is right and religious zealots are still interested in conquering territory.

  • JQP

    It depends on your perspective of time.

    If it’s Wall-Street 90-day “gotta move UP” time frame – then yes.. this is making it worse.

    If its Presidential Term time frame … then sort if – because it get congress involved and the making it worse applies as much to US deficit as it does to politicking.

    If its millenial long … middle-east historical perspective… Nah.. its just another weekend
    in the Hamptons…with boom boom fireworks. Every goes home afterwards and the locals clean up for the next round.

  • Pearly

    Is our government still bombing Syria?

  • Sue de Nim

    The question is too simplistic. Military force is just a tool. The key to national security is to make more friends than enemies. The NATO alliance did that; our support for anti-communist tyrants during the cold war did not. The Koran War did that; the Vietnam War did not. Our involvement in the Balkans in the ’90s did that; our support for the Shah in the ’70s did not. The pre-2003 no-fly zone in Iraq did that; the botched occupation after 2003 did not. The 2001 Afghanistan invasion could have done that if our then president hadn’t been distracted by the shiny object of Iraq (and its oil). So the real question is this: What can we do in the region that the people there will be most grateful to us for? Helping them resist ISIS and overthrow Assad (but not presuming to do it for them) seems like a good policy to me.

  • Jim G

    After the attack on 911 by al-Qaeda we legitimately used our military muscle to root out their safe havens in Afghanistan. However, when Bush II’s Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld (2001–2006), complained of a lack of infrastructure to target, the focus of the military muscle shifted to Iraq. Then came the invasion of Iraq. With Mission Accomplished! and the demise of Saddam Hussein. tribal and religious rivalries that were held together through brute force were unleashed. That we didn’t foresee this fracturing along ethnic and religious fault-lines just shows the collective ignorance of the Middle East of our leaders at the time. If you study the use of air of bombing campaigns of the Second World War there are lessons we can apply to the current bombing in Iraq and Syria. We know that bombing can degrade an enemy’s capacity to fight, but not their will to continue to fight. The resolve of England’s population to persevere increased during the Battle of Britain. In the current Middle East fighting, let’s be smarter than the former administration was and use military muscle judiciously, for its misuse has already broken many ties that bind the region together.

    • kevins

      Jim..Thanks for the nice reflection on the last decade plus of US engagement in the mid-east. I agree that past leaders showed little respect for the historical complexities of the region, and that ignorance cost us dearly. Now, we are trying to deal with an amorphous and terrible enemy, requiring a coalition of many nations and sensitivity to the ironies and contradictions of the region. I think it will be better to be patient and smart, rather than simply rely on military might. Hopefully the hawks can put the brakes on long enough to think a few things thruogh.

  • Rich in Duluth

    Worse. Unless it is defensive, military action creates more problems than it solves.

    We should use patience, diplomacy, shaping world opinion, economic isolation, and setting good examples to solve problems with other nations. Further, we should reduce our dependence on foreign energy and materials so that our “interests” do not require the huge military that we have, or the need to defend those interests.

  • whitedoggie44

    Doing something is always better than doing nothing-Perhaps our do nothing president has finally figered this out after 6 years.

    • Just shut up

      Please explain? Doing the wrong thing IS ALWAYS worse than doing nothing makes more sense then your statement. Shrub “the special needs president” did something. He started a war under false pretenses, committed countless war crimes, and created a terrorist threat in a sovereign nation that before him DIDN’T POSE ONE! So once again, how is doing anything better than doing nothing?

      • whitedoggie44

        Obama is a joke. Putin, ISiS all understand

        • Just shut up

          You are so ignorant, yet think you are enlightened, so there is no point talking to you. You realize that for more than a decade now, children in the mideast have looked at blue skys with TERROR? That’s when the drones come. They see america, bush, and obama exactly as how you see isis. Lindsey graham pissing himself on fox news every other day, and all the other bs your favorite bloggers have shat out into the public consciousness has totally annihilated yours and millions like you, ability to think the slightest bit critically, and take anyone else’s perspective into consideration. The fact is america created isis. America created al qaeda. Those scared muslim children in the mideast grew up to be the fighters of isis. Fear and disenfranchisement are powerfull tools to make a person lash out against a perceived enemy. Add in a lot of ignorance and we get the typical america response.

  • Peatbogjeff

    What is making things worse is the fact that we have turned away from heaven, and hell is bursting forth with an evil no leader, no country can stop unless we begin to pray again. A year from now, the terrorists will be stronger, because darkly secular leaders like President Obama are useless. locutions.org

    • Jeff

      Which part of the Bible backs up your viewpoint?

    • No magic thinking please

      You realize that praying is literally doing nothing?

  • Due Dilligance

    It often does make things worse. We underestimate the motivation our drones give to our enemies. We underestimate the many cultural things we do that turn nations into admirers and sometimes friends. And, the cultural is always more economical.