Saudi Arabia has done it again! On January 23, it dismayed foreign pundits by failing to sink into the anarchy they speculated might follow the death of its king, 'Abdullah. Instead, the Kingdom carried off yet another flawless passing of the leadership baton.
I want to speak with you today about the Middle East. This is the region where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together. It is also the part of the world where we have been most compellingly reminded that some struggles cannot be won, but there are no struggles that cannot be lost.
The Middle East is where Africa, Asia, and Europe come together and where the trade routes between China, India, and Europe converge. It has two-thirds of the world’s energy reserves. It is also the epicenter of this planet’s increasing religious strife.
I became interested in China a bit over five decades ago. Back then, with the notable exception of Zhou Enlai and a few people he’d mentored, China’s diplomacy was all revolutionary bluster and bellyaching with no bottom line.
In 2012, China’s now-paramount leader, Xi Jinping, invited President Barack Obama to collaborate with him in developing a “new type of great power relationship.” It wasn’t clear to anyone what he meant by that.
Will Rogers once observed that “when you get into trouble 5,000 miles from home, you’ve got to have been looking for it.” It’s a good deal more than 5.000 miles to Baghdad or Damascus from here. And, boy, have we gotten into trouble!
We live in a time of great strategic fluidity. Borders are shifting. Lines of control are blurring. Long-established spheres of influence are fading away. Some states are decaying and dissolving as others germinate and take root. The global economic order is precarious.
We are here to discuss what we can learn from the failure of diplomacy to prevent, halt, and wrap up World War I. We just heard a masterful review of what happened from Geoffrey Wawro. He has already said most of the things I wanted to say.
A while back, the United States set out to reconfigure the Middle East. The result is that the region and our position in it are both in shambles. Much of what has happened seems irreversible. In the short time allotted to me, I want to talk about the region’s dynamics.