PARIS -- Later this month, U.S. President Barack Obama will visit Riyadh, Saudi Arabia. Here's hoping he decides to stay home and help his daughters with their homework instead.
America's decreasing influence in the Middle East and Eurasia might be the result of deliberate strategic policy. Or it's simply ineptitude -- in which case it's infinitely better for indecisive paralysis to prevail over uninformed proactivity. Either way, it's not a bad thing.
The Middle East is a mess, but what else is new? The best news for America is that it doesn't need to care as much. Middle Eastern oil is increasingly less important to America. The best economic opportunities for America in the Middle East now are for private-sector security contractors and mercenaries, plus whatever industries might spring up in the wake of any major conflict that sweeps out an unfavorable status quo.
But as we've already seen with Syria, there are some places where the effort to change the status quo is just too costly and the outcome too uncertain. This is particularly true with regimes that enjoy the military and economic support of superpowers such as Russia or China. If you're going to get a foot in the door by kicking up some dust to ultimately create a new market for your country's multinationals (under the guise of humanitarianism), then the French have the right idea: Stick with Africa, where there's lots of low-hanging fruit and fewer big branches to get in your way.
In the Middle East, there are already regional powers (like Saudi Arabia) and superpowers (like Russia) that will each play their cards one at a time, exclusively for their own benefit. The odds are slim that they're going to let the West have a hand in what is perceived to be a zero-sum game in their own backyard.
After being at each other's throats, new moves suggest that Saudi Arabia and Russia might be exploring a nascent strategy of cooperation in order to increase their regional influence.
America has succeeded in aggravating both countries recently. The Saudis were so annoyed over Obama prematurely declaring Iranian nuclear talks a success, and naively suggesting that it would put Iran on the path to being bomb-free, that there was speculation the Saudis might order up a nuke of their own from the program they have been funding in Pakistan. Russian President Vladimir Putin remains miffed about America's support of civil unrest in neighboring Ukraine, which could potentially eradicate any buffer between the NATO alliance and Russia.