How effective has US foreign policy in the Middle East been over the last 50 years?
My short answer – with the sole exception of the Camp David accords – is somewhere between “completely ineffective” and “making a bad situation worse”.
Unfortunately, it seems that all of the US’s current problems in the Middle East are of our own making… and the cynically minded would even say that this is by design.
Very possible indeed as it seems all we care about – judging by our actions – is selling the Gulf nations and their neighbors more arms while keeping our access to cheap oil wide open. Anyone challenging our positions there is either bombed into oblivion or put out of business….No smart way neither to grow influence nor to make friends.
It is a fact that since the 1950s we have been very successful at keeping the region unstable, and that has served our geopolitical and economic interests much more than stability would have.
Let’s take a close look at our history in the region since the 1950s – after the creation of the State of Israel – along with our track record as Americans there.
As a starter, we overthrew the democratic government of Iran and installed a dictator in 1953. This led directly to the Iranian revolution of 1979. We hated Iran so much that we got Iraq off the list of state sponsors of terrorism list and started arming Saddam Hussein with weapons so he could continue fighting the Iran/Iraq war. We armed Saddam with WMDs which he used against Iran and the Kurds in the 1980’s and when the UN tried to condemn Iraq for that, we threatened to veto the resolution. Thinking he had a green light from us, Saddam then invaded Kuwait, but we didn’t want all the oil in one country’s hands, so we kicked him out and passed a UN resolution that he disarms his WMD program. Inspections were ongoing through the 90’s to disarm much of his stockpiles, but CIA spies in the inspection teams kept trying to locate Saddam and get him killed, so the inspectors were kicked out in 1998. Sanctions were put in place and we left it at that for a few years.
Back to 1979, President Carter sent money and guns to local warlords in Afghanistan and essentially paid them to fight a proxy war against their Soviet occupiers. Carter wanted to give the Soviets their own Vietnam War. The Soviets got themselves into a bloody quagmire and eventually withdrew from Afghanistan. The money and blood they lost there may have had a huge contribution to the Soviet Union falling soon after.
With the Soviets out, Afghanistan had a power vacuum. We could have stepped in to help fill it, but instead we left the country, and Afghanistan became a stateless country ruled by warlords and one of the poorest countries on the planet. In this vacuum, Bin Laden brought al Queda from Saudi Arabia and set up training camps. They attacked the World Trade Center with a truck bomb in the 90s and again with hijacked planes on 9/11.
After 9/11, we invaded Afghanistan and quickly let Bin Laden escape to Pakistan. We soon pushed Al Quaeda out as well. With Al Quaeda gone, we quietly changed our enemy to the Taliban, local Afghan warlords who had little to do with 9/11 and were some of the same people we had helped fight the Soviet occupiers in the 80’s.
After 9/11 we also inexplicably invaded Iraq. There was no connection to Iraq and 9/11, Iraq had been mostly disarmed in the 90s from inspections, and there was zero credible intel that it had started its WMD program. Our generals said it could take 500,000 troops to invade and 10 to 15 years to occupy and keep the country from fracturing into a civil war. Those generals were fired. We invaded. The Shia and Sunni civil war erupted as predicted. Our troops under orders from the highest levels started torturing Iraqi prisoners in Abu Graib (the CIA had started torturing people in black sites almost immediately after 9/11, but we found out about Abu Graib first.) This torture, and atrocities committed by our troops and blackwater contractors, with zero effort by our American government to stop this behavior and punish those who committed the crimes, is why Iraq demanded the US agree to withdraw all troops by 2011.
So, we withdrew, and created another power vacuum, and in that vacuum, ISIS arose, taking over swaths of Syria and Western Iraq….which brings us to the mess we have today (2015).
Now, Iraq is a lawless breeding ground for ISIS. If Hussein was still in power, we could’ve worked with him to destroy them. Or more likely, ISIS wouldn’t exist at all.
So the U.S. Foreign policy in the Middle East has done nothing but totally destabilize the world. Thanks to our foreign policy luminaries from our supposedly “elite” ivory towers a la Harvard, Yale, Princeton, etc…. hundreds of thousands of refugees are invading Europe. Soon, Europeans will be second class citizens in our own continent thanks to America.
It was the same in Somalia… Yes it was horrific seeing them all starve, but now it’s happening on the streets of Europe thanks to our incompetent “Ivy Leaguers” trying to play Gods by advising naive Presidents of how to remove pathetic dictators … It should’ve been up to the people of Somalia to remove their leader themselves. We never learned anything.
Today, it is clear that Obama has, out of necessity, been shifting from a “Pax Americana” model to an “offshore-balancing” model. Since the 2nd Iraq war, the idea that the US is the 800 pound gorilla in the Middle East, with the ability to enable allies to prosper and enemies or third parties to whither, has become untenable. Obama is trying to replace it with a lighter-touch balancing act among regional powers. So far without success.
I personally still doubt the use of nuclear weapons to glass the entire region would be enough to “stabilize” the region, as defined by ending the countless penis-measuring wars that have been fought there for the last 6000 years or better.
The ancient Greeks warned about hubris — that fatal combination of arrogance or overconfidence that leads foolish mortals to challenge the gods — and we’ve seen ample reminders of its pernicious consequences ever since.
It was hubris that drove the United States to expand NATO with scant regard for its long-term consequences. It was hubris that has led U.S. diplomats to think their personal charm and powers of persuasion were sufficient to produce a two-state solution in the Middle East. It was hubris that took George W. Bush into Iraq.