contrary to the warning proponents of U.S. military intervention typically express, the withdrawal of American troops from Iraq and Afghanistan would not necessarily lead to more chaos and bloodshed in those countries. Russia, India and Iran—which supported the Northern Alliance that helped Washington topple the Taliban—and Pakistan (which once backed the Taliban) all have close ties to various ethnic and tribal groups in that country and now have a common interest in stabilizing Afghanistan and containing the rivalries.
A similar arrangement could be applied to Iraq where Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Iran share an interest in assisting their local allies and in restraining potential rivals—Shiites, Sunnis, Kurds and Turkmen—by preventing the sectarian tensions in Iraq from spilling into the rest of the region.
Hence, Turkey has already been quite successful in stabilizing and developing economic ties with the autonomous Kurdish area of Iraq while containing irredentist Kurdish pressures in northern Iraq and southern Turkey and protecting the Turkmen minority. And Turkey, together with Saudi Arabia and Iran, has played a critical role toward forming a government in Baghdad that recognizes the interests of Shiites, Sunnis, and Kurds.
The United States should take part in any negotiations leading to regional agreements on Afghanistan and Iraq, a process that could also become an opportunity to improve the relationship with Iran. Such an approach has the potential to demonstrate that regionalism, as opposed to American hegemonism, could be more beneficial to U.S. interests as well as to the governments and people of the Middle East and Central Asia.
None of this, of course, is music to the ears of the McCain-Lieberman-Graham troika, who are seemingly unable to envision a cosmic order in which a supersized (to borrow an All-American concept that MacDonalds has gifted to our culture) US military is not "projecting power" to the globe's farthest reaches, and taking the lead in carrying the fight to the evildoers of the planet. To acknowledge that American might and reach just might have limitations in our quickly morphing geo-strategic reality is, in their mind, to cultivate defeatism. And to further acknowledge that countries such as Russia, China, and (the horror, the horror) Iran might have legitimate interests in the Greater Middle East, and reason to assert some political and economic influence there, verges on treason.
Whatever the lunacy of its prospective candidates and their domestic policy prescriptions, the Tea Party has at least thrust forward candidates who are willing to acknowledge the new realities of American power: that it's not what it once was, and may never attain again that pinnacle of hyper-puissance that the neocon element believed it had achieved. But it would be folly to assume that the hegemonists of Old Guard American exceptionalist triumphalism have played their last hand. As Iraq and Afghanistan unravel in the next couple of years, they will blast Mr. Obama with every rhetorical weapon and media venue at their disposal, from the studios of Fox News to the lecture halls and blog-sites of the Council for Foreign Relations. Max Boot will tar him as a declinist; Elliot Abrams will jump on that wagon with him, as well as bemoan Obama's supposed failure to give Bibi Netanyahu whatever he wants as parts of the Middle East implode; and the worthies at Fox will hammer away at the "socialist closet-Muslim Barack Hussein Obama" trope without actually saying the "Hussein" word.
It will be bloody.
I'm not the hugely pro-Obama guy I was in early 2009. He's made some awful, rookie calls - and I've strained to refrain from sometimes referring to him as B.O. (which, for my generation at least, was a short-hand for something for which our physiologies now have many remedies, courtesy of our drug stores). But if he can survive campaign 2012 with his vision of nation-building in America intact, the US just may see before at least a glimmer of a brighter future.