Clouds are forming that could become a perfect storm destructive to America’s power and influence. Historically, America made decisions that led to its economic and military ascendancy. Today, America’s decisions are shifting her economic and military strengths to other nations, including potential enemies. As expected, that power flows to those countries that act logically in their own self-interest, pursuing objectives to which they are totally committed. While America appears to be non-committal to its own interests, this storm has at least seven indicators converging on the nation:
- potential threats to the U.S. Navy’s ability to keep sea lanes open for commerce
- Turkey’s increasing military and economic power
- the Turkish government’s shift from secular to Islamist
- Muslim countries’ physical proximity to strategic sea lanes
- the naïve belief of the West that the institution of democracy will curb Islamic aggression
- Islamists’ belief that world domination is destined by Allah, and
- America’s huge budgetary deficits and crippling debt
Should this storm form, it imperils America’s influence in foreign relations as well as national security.
As America’s North American neighbors do not pose a major land threat and any invasion of the United States would need to come by sea, the importance of sea defense justifies the expense of a powerful navy. Also, foreign commerce is essential to the United States’ ability to procure large quantities of raw materials and finished goods needed to support its industries and consumption. Important sea lanes are near or contiguous to Middle Eastern countries.
The dominant military power in the Middle East is Turkey, not Israel. Turkey is unique among Islamic countries, with a population of 77,000,000, membership in NATO, 87 percent literacy, a military equipped with American weapons and a diverse economy that grew over 7 percent in 2010. Historically secular, modern Turkey did not foment rivalry between Muslim and non-Muslim nations; however, the Turkish government has moved from its secularist composition to more Islamist.
The Islamists are in a position to leverage their geographic locations and their multilateral relationships to influence the economies of all the major powers. Tunisia and Egypt are directly south of the European Union. They share the Mediterranean Sea with Europe and the Levant. The current government of Turkey has reoriented Turkey away from Israel, with whom Turkey previously had mutually beneficial relations. It has further consolidated power by pre-emptively arresting military officials who might have attempted an anti-Islamist coup to replace it with a secular party.
Suppose Turkey should decide to counter Western power with a seemingly benign association of Islamic states in strategic areas. It is possible that Egypt could come under the influence or direction of the Muslim Brotherhood and join a Turkish-led association. The Brotherhood would then have access to advanced Western weaponry and the support of a NATO member. Control of Egypt’s Suez Canal would mean control of the shortest route from Europe to the Indian Ocean and direct influence on the 1.8 million barrels per day of oil that flow through the canal.
After Egypt there are Yemen and Somalia. Islamists could seize control of the country and appeal for Turkish recognition and security guarantees. Then Islamists would control access to the Strait of Bab el-Mandab through which 4.8 million barrels per day of oil flow, and control access to the Red Sea. Furthermore, they would be in position to support the Somali pirates and potentially aid in the creation of a Somali state.
Through an Iranian association Turkey could gain influence in Lebanon due to the Iranian sponsorship of Hezbollah. Syria would feel pressure to join such an association. In addition, Turkey could easily deploy military advisers and technology to Iran and augment Iranian forces, thereby threatening the 15.5 million barrels per day of oil that flow through the Strait of Hormuz and gaining control of access to the Persian Gulf. Turkey would then have the strategic depth, manpower and access to terror networks it would need to leverage its control of the Bosporus and Dardanelles (the Turkish Straits). Furthermore, Russia’s most important warm water ports (Novorossiysk and Tuapse) are completely dependent on the Turkish Straits for access to world markets. The Turkish government would have the economic and military power to threaten Russian economic independence.
Islamist revolutions, followed by voluntary associations among those revolutionaries, Turkey and Iran, would give an Islamist confederation the ability to affect American sea power and Russian commerce in multiple ways. It could 1) threaten U.S. naval security in the Eastern Mediterranean, 2) deny the U.S. Navy access to the Red Sea, the Black Sea and the Persian Gulf, and 3) manipulate access to the Russian economy and 40 percent of the world’s oil supply, all without using external violence. Over time the confederacy could include Indonesia, bringing dominance over the Strait of Malacca and the 14 million barrels per day of oil that travel through it. Additionally, the cost of East Asians, Africans and Indians to trade with one another would increase.
For America’s enemies, this is a low-risk strategy. Egypt may become Islamist. If Morocco should fall to the Islamists, British control of the Strait of Gibraltar would be in jeopardy. Not only would this scenario jeopardize any American presence in the Mediterranean, it would allow the Islamists to control access to maritime trade for southern Europe.
So, what can America do to prepare for such an approaching storm? Unfortunately, we can do very little under the present course of fiscal irresponsibility. America is either insolvent or so close to insolvency that it cannot devote needed funds to naval research, development, or ship construction. Also, some Islamic countries hold large amounts of American debt certificates, which severely limits America’s ability to adopt courses of action that conflict with their purposes. America still appears to be devoted to overspending without any foreseeable end, unless one of the houses of Congress should vote to rein in this overspending and impose fiscal sanity. If not, may God be merciful to us.
Albert Thompson is the Virginia director for Young American for Freedom and a military history graduate student at Norwich University, the oldest Senior Military College in the United States.