US Foreign Policy Towards the Middle East – Myth v/s Reality
I am flabbergasted by the degree of naiveté of US policy makers at large when dealing with the Middle East.
For decades now, they have come up with a few unshakable assertions that have formed the foundation of U.S. policy in the Middle East. On each of these matters, no senior U.S. official (or anyone aspiring to a position of influence) will dare say otherwise, at least not on the record.
Yet subjected to even casual scrutiny, none of their assertions will stand up. To take them at face value is the equivalent of believing in Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy—or that John Boehner and Mitch McConnell really, really hope that the Obama administration and the new Republican-controlled Congress can find grounds to cooperate.
Let’s examine all five, one at a time.
Myth # 1: The presence of U.S. forces in the Islamic world contributes to regional stability and enhances American influence.
How untrue…. Ever since the U.S. intervention in Lebanon that culminated in the Beirut bombing of October 1983 – killing over 240 US Marines and personnel- , introducing American troops into predominantly Muslim countries has seldom contributed to stability. On more than a few occasions, doing so has produced just the opposite effect.
Iraq and Afghanistan provide mournful examples. Even granting, for the sake of argument, that U.S. nation-building efforts were as pure and honorable as successive presidents portrayed them, the results have been more corrosive than constructive. The militants plaguing Iraq find their counterpart in the soaring production of opium that plagues Afghanistan. This qualifies as stability?
And these are hardly the only examples. Stationing U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia after Operation Desert Storm was supposed to have a reassuring effect. Instead, it produced the debacle of the devastating Khobar Towers bombing. Sending G.I.’s into Somalia back in 1992 was supposed to demonstrate American humanitarian concern for poor, starving Muslims. Instead, it culminated in the embarrassing Mogadishu firefight, which gained the sobriquet Black Hawk Down, and doomed that mission.
Even so, the pretense that positioning American soldiers in some Middle East hotspot will bring calm to troubled waters survives. It’s far more accurate to say that doing so provides our adversaries with what soldiers call a target-rich environment—with Americans as the targets.
Myth # 2: The Persian Gulf constitutes a vital U.S. national security interest.
How idiotic…. Although U.S. interests in the Gulf may once have qualified as vital, the changing global energy picture has rendered that view obsolete. What’s probably bad news for the environment is good news in terms of creating strategic options for the United States.
New technologies have once again made the United States the world’s largest producer of oil. The U.S. is also the world’s largest producer of natural gas. It turns out that the lunatics chanting “drill, baby, drill” were right after all. Or perhaps it’s “frack, baby, frack.” Regardless, the assumed energy dependence and “vital interests” that inspired Jimmy Carter to declare back in 1980 that the Gulf is worth fighting for no longer pertain.
More about this idiot Carter… If the Shah of Iran had ignored Carter’s advice back in 1977, there wouldn’t be this problem in Afghanistan, nor would there have been the Iran-Iraq war. Iraq would never have dared to even send a plane over Iran. In fact, the Gulf War wouldn’t have happened, nor would any of the problems of the past 30 years, including the exporting of religious fanaticism. The Islamic prisoners were all guilty and the Shah would have continued to implement reforms. He made a serious mistake by accepting demands of the Carter administration to give Islamic fundamentalists a national platform.
Access to Gulf oil remains certainly critically important to some countries, but surely not to the United States. When it comes to propping up the wasteful and profligate American way of life, Texas and North Dakota outrank Saudi Arabia and Kuwait in terms of importance.
Rather than worrying about Iraqi oil production, Washington would be better served ensuring the safety and well-being of Canada, with its bountiful supplies of shale oil. And if militarists ever find the itch to increase U.S. oil reserves becoming irresistible, they would be better advised to invade Venezuela than to pick a fight with Iran.
Does the Persian Gulf require policing from the outside? Maybe. But if so, let’s volunteer China for the job. It will keep them out of mischief.
Myth # 3: Egypt and Saudi Arabia are valued and valuable American allies.
You must be kidding me…. It’s time to reclassify the U.S. relationship with both Egypt and Saudi Arabia. Categorizing these two important Arab states as “allies” is surely misleading. Neither one shares the values to which Washington professes to attach such great importance.
For decades, Saudi Arabia, Planet Earth’s closest equivalent to an absolute monarchy, has promoted anti-Western radical jihadism—and not without effect. The relevant numbers here are two that most New Yorkers will remember: 15 out of 19.
If a conspiracy consisting almost entirely of Russians had succeeded in killing several thousand Americans, would U.S. authorities give the Kremlin a pass? Would U.S.-Russian relations remain unaffected? The questions answer themselves.
Meanwhile, after a brief dalliance with democracy, Egypt has once again become what it was before: a corrupt, oppressive military dictatorship unworthy of the billions of dollars of military assistance that Washington provides from one year to the next.
Myth # 4: The interests of the United States and Israel align.
Delusional…. The United States and Israel share more than a few interests in common. A commitment to a “two-state solution” to the Palestinian problem does not number among them. On that issue, Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s purposes diverge widely. In all likelihood, they are irreconcilable.
For the government of Israel, viewing security concerns as paramount, an acceptable Palestinian state will be the equivalent of an Arab Bantustan, basically defenseless, enjoying limited sovereignty, and possessing limited minimum economical potential. Continuing Israeli encroachments on the occupied territories, undertaken in the teeth of American objections, make this self-evident.
It is, of course, entirely the prerogative—and indeed the obligation—of the Israeli government to advance the well being of its citizens. U.S. officials have a similar obligation: they are called upon to act on behalf of Americans. And that means refusing to serve as Israel’s enablers when that country takes actions that are contrary to U.S. interests.
The “peace process” is a fiction. Why should the United States persist in pretending otherwise? It’s demeaning.
Myth # 5: Terrorism poses an existential threat that the United States must defeat.
Yeah right…. Like crime and communicable diseases, terrorism will always be with us. In the face of an outbreak of it, prompt, effective action to reduce the danger permits normal life to continue.
Wisdom lies in striking a balance between the actually existing threat and exertions undertaken to deal with that threat. Grown-ups understand this. They don’t expect a crime rate of zero in American cities. They don’t expect all people to enjoy perfect health all of the time. The standard they seek is “tolerable.”
That terrorism threatens Americans is no doubt the case, especially when they venture into the Greater Middle East. But aspirations to eliminate terrorism belong in the same category as campaigns to end illiteracy or homelessness: it’s okay to aim high, but don’t be surprised when the results achieved fall short.
Eliminating terrorism is a chimera. It’s not going to happen. U.S. civilian and military leaders should summon the honesty to acknowledge this.
Maybe I inhabit what one of George W. Bush’s closest associates (Karl Rove) once derisively referred to as the “reality based community.” People in Washington don’t have time for reality. They’re lost in a world of their own.
Share your thoughts….