Dave Schuler of the Glittering Eye is involved in a formal debate at Outside the Beltway with Dr. Bernard Finel over the role of the United States in the Mideast. Dr. Finel is arguing for a grand bug-out, or at least a serious reduction in “footprint” and “fingerprint”, and Dave is going to argue the negative.
Here is the introduction by Dave:
One of my common patterns of thought is to frame any given proposition as a debate proposal, I did so in this specific context, and said as much in the comments to the post. Dr Finel was kind of enough to respond to my comment with enthusiasm, welcoming a debate with me on the subject.
Over the next week or so we’ll be debating the following proposition:
Resolved: that the United States should disengage from the Middle East
Dr. Finel will make the affirmative case; I will provide the negative.
Dr. Finel’s affirmative case will be posted in the next day or so; it will be followed by my cross-examination; I’ll state my negative case; Dr. Finel will cross-examine me; and so on.
Debating is a form seen only occasionally in the blogosphere and I think this is an exciting project. The longer format, extending over multiple posts, will enable us to explore the subject in more detail than is usually found in the hit-and-run blog post. It’s an important topic and, regardless of the immediate situations in Iraq and Afghanistan, is worthy of substantial reflection, rarely seen as a consequence of the poverty of our public discourse which is mainly limited to headlines, op-eds, and sound bites and is often enmeshed in partisan squabbling.
Dr. Finel, who is a senior fellow at the American Security Project, has opened with the following post:
….The second issue is oil. The U.S. presence in the Middle East does serve to reduce some of the risks associated with the Western world’s reliances on Middle Eastern oil. It does not lower the cost necessarily, but it may reduce some potential for volatility in supply. But the cost of this risk mitigation is tremendous. We pay for lowering the supply risk with increased risk of terrorist attacks, greater hostility from the Arab population, and the costs of men and materiel associated with military commitments. Are there other ways to reduce those risks? Of course there are. They include investments in alternative energy, oil exporation at home, better fuel efficiency from cars. Certainly those are costly measures in the short-run, but so is deep involvement in a volatile region. In the long-run, the calculus is easy. Energy independence is a strategic imperative.
This excerpt shortchanges the breadth of Finel’s argument, which you should read in full here.
First, I’d like to commend both gentlemen for making use of the formal debate method. Construction of a reasoned argument in a civil debate is the blogosphere at it’s best. I intend to follow this debate as it evolves.
I know Dave to be a deeply thoughtful, well informed and even tempered commentator. I do not know Dr. Finel, though his c.v. seems impressive to me and he probably has a number of interesting things to say on terrorism policy. As a strategist however, he is not winning me over, though in terms of tactics, he accurately identifies many points of irritation that traditional U.S. policy has for the Arab World. The answer for that irritant is not amputation.
The thesis that regions of the world will move to a better state of polity with an absence of American presence or influence is not “counterintuitive” as Finel suggests – it’s a position lacking in real world evidence. The world’s absolute worst regimes have the least interaction with the United States or with globalization and movements like Islamism have intrinsic drivers, not simple Act-React mechanisms.
Alternate energy sources are a long term – a very long term – solution. In terms of technological application with immediate policy effect, it is the equivalent of Edward Teller’s vision of SDI in 1987. By all means, invest in alternative energy but even throwing $ 100 billion at the problem in fiscal year 2009 is not going to disconnect the United States, much less the West, from oil in 2010 or even 2020. Any reduction in our own oil consumption by the use of alternate energy sources in coming decades will more than be made up by rising Asian demand and the Gulf will increase, rather than decrease, in importance as a geopolitical “choke point”.