6 The Middle East and West Asia
Perhaps nowhere are the temptations and limits of using distributive power better illustrated than in the complex web of problems bequeathed to the Obama administration in the Middle East and West Asia. It was here, in the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, that the Bush administration sought to utilise US military unipolarity to remake international order in America’s interests. It was an attempt that largely failed in its own terms and, for some commentators, imperilled even the long-standing collective gains among liberal states.
The Bush policy towards what Fred Halliday (2002) labelled the ‘great West Asia crisis’ – a series of interlinked crises from the Arab states of the Middle East, through Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan – left a daunting legacy for Obama. Perhaps what is most striking is not that the Bush policy failed to solve these crises (as they are after all political crises with deep socioeconomic causes) but more that, to the extent that the USA is able to effect change in the region, its attempts to utilise military and economic distributive power were so ill-conceived. As surveyed in Section 1, Obama’s initial policy towards the region reinforced a direction of travel already entered into in the last years of the Bush administration while also seeking to refocus US policy towards what were now seen as the greater problems – Afghanistan and Pakistan. Although it was a feature of the Bush administration that it brought together three policy areas that had until then been more distinct, we will take each of Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan in turn to assess Obama’s inheritance and options.