Victor Davis Hanson

Since antiquity, the Middle East has been the trading nexus of three continents -- Asia, Europe and Africa -- and a vibrant birthplace to three of the world's great religions.

Middle Eastern influence rose again in the 19th century when the Suez Canal turned the once dead-end Eastern Mediterranean Sea into a sea highway from Europe to Asia.

With the 20th century development of large gas and oil supplies in the Persian Gulf and North Africa, an Arab-led OPEC more or less dictated the foreign policy of thirsty oil importers like United States and Europe. No wonder Centcom has remained America's military command hot spot.

Yet insidiously, the Middle East is becoming irrelevant. The discovery of enormous new oil and gas reserves along with the use of new oil-recovery technology in North America and China is steadily curbing the demand for Middle Eastern oil. Soon, countries such as Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and Iran are going to have less income and geostrategic clout. In both Iran and the Gulf, domestic demand is rising, while there is neither the technical know-how nor the water to master the new art of fracking to sustain exports.

The recent Boston bombing reminded the West that nearly 12 years after 9/11, most terrorism still follows the same old, same old script -- committed by angry young men with Muslim pedigrees claiming to act on radical Islamist impulses, without much popular rebuke from the Muslim world.

There is not much left to the stale Middle East complaint from the 1960s that Western colonialism and imperialism sidetracked the region's own natural trajectory to democracy. After the derailed Arab Spring, the world accepted that the mess in the Middle East is not imported, but rather the result of homegrown tribalism, sexual apartheid, religious intolerance, anti-Semitism, illiteracy, statism and authoritarianism.

Revolutionary theocrats always seem to follow the ouster of fossilized thugs. "Reformers" who were "elected" after the fall of the Shah of Iran and Hosni Mubarak in Egypt on spec conjured up the same old bogeymen as their predecessors, subverted the rule of law in the same old fashion, and wrecked the economy in the same old manner.

Barack Obama senses that there is no support for American intervention in the Middle East. Even his idea of "leading from behind" in Libya led to the loss of American personnel in Benghazi. After Iraq, the U.S. will not nation-build in Syria. Apparently, Americans would rather be hated for doing nothing than be despised for spending trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to build Middle East societies.


Victor Davis Hanson

Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and a recipient of the 2007 National Humanities Medal.