In just one sentence of his testimony on the situation in Syria before the House Armed Services Committee on Tuesday morning, Secretary of State John Kerry unwittingly but perfectly summed up what is wrong with U.S. policy toward the Middle East:
"The stability of this region is in our direct security interests."
The phrase "security interests" is purposely vague, but the word "interests" here actually serves to modify "security" as an implicit admission that Middle East stability doesn't directly affect U.S. security, but rather its broader interests in the region. If this interpretation is correct, then Kerry is sadly right.
For all intents and purposes, the U.S. has chained itself to the pumpjacks of Saudi Arabia since the since the 1940s, when the State Department described the abundance of oil there as "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history."
Naturally, U.S. interests in the region expanded beyond Saudi Arabia to include — to varying degrees — all of its neighbors. Because of the vast underground pools of crude oil, the U.S. finds itself caring not only about the foreign policies of states such as Syria, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Iran, Egypt, etc., but about their internal politics as well. This is why Bashar al-Assad's use of chemical weapons against civilians, or previously, Momar Gaddafi's brutal crackdown on protesters warrant careful U.S. attention, while a civil war in Democratic Congo that literally killed millions goes largely unnoticed among policymakers.
The fact that half-baked, regressive, oppressive, radical Muslim crackpots like King Abdullah or King Khalifa in Bahrain have not only gained high esteem among U.S. officials, but also international prominence, is a sick joke. Were it not for the oil atop which these and other leaders in the region sit, they would have all the international standing of an New Jersey Elks lodge president.
Alas, that is not the case. While Syria itself doesn't have much oil compared to its neighbors, it's smack dab in the middle of the region, and what happens within its borders could have broader implications for neighbors, particularly Israel, which is another issue entirely.