Russia's return to the region in force threatens more instability. Iran is emboldened, and Iran's Hezbolla is building up its strength against Israel in both Lebanon and Syria. Saudi Arabia feels more threatened. Assad is empowered to once more use chemical weapons. Turkey seeks to claim additional territory. And we are no closer to a peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians.
Some would focus on Iran, and suggest that we pull out of the treaty that constrains Iran's nuclear weapons development and attempt to negotiate something that better constrains Iran's efforts to meddle, terrorize and intimidate. But it seems unlikely that a go-it-alone American effort would achieve any better results, and might in fact accelerate Iran's acquisition of nuclear weapons.
Others ask, "Is there no way we can force Russia out of Syria and Iran?" Short of conflict, probably not, at least in the near term.
In fact, our best option is to strengthen relationships with traditional allies and friends, to enable them better to protect their own security. We should help Turkey with its refugee load, encourage more Kurdish economic development, continue to protect Jordan, encourage closer Saudi-Israeli-Egyptian cooperation, and work to settle the destructive conflict in Yemen. Our bases and relationships in the Gulf should remain, and where we can assist Iraq, we should.
Russian advanced weaponry has already somewhat impacted Israel's margin of regional military superiority. We must enable our allies to keep up with a renewed arms race, and simultaneously encourage renewed and deeper regional dialogue. Can we do more?
If we have learned one thing over the past fifteen years, it should be that military action often leads to undesirable outcomes. We should use force only as a last resort. But we should also have learned this: U.S. values and principles are important elements of U.S. national power.
We need to keep our word and fulfill our commitments. We should help the weak and struggling, and encourage others to defend themselves. And we should discourage the use of force by others to strike out preemptively. These principles provide the foundation for a new American strategy for the region, and provide the real answer to Gerasimov's threatening remarks.
Commentary by Retired General Wesley Clark, a former NATO Supreme Allied Commander and a Senior Fellow at the UCLA Burkle Center. Follow him on Twitter @
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