US Involvement in the Middle East – Moral obligation and Economic Interests
United States foreign policy in the Middle East has its roots as early as the Barbary Wars in the first years of the U.S.’s existence, but became much more expansive after World War II.
American policy during the Cold War tried to prevent the Soviet Union’s influence by supporting anti-communist regimes and backing Israel against Soviet-sponsored Arab countries. The U.S. also came to replace the United Kingdom as the main security patron of the Persian Gulf states in the 1960s and 1970s, working to ensure Western access to Gulf oil.
Since the 9/11 attacks of 2001, U.S. policy has included an emphasis on counter-terrorism. The U.S. has diplomatic relations with all countries in the Middle East except for Iran, whose 1979 revolution brought to power a staunchly anti-American regime.
Recent priorities of the U.S. government in the Middle East have included resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict and limiting the spread of weapons of mass destruction among regional states.
The $64,000 questions that still remain unsolved today are:
1. Does the US have a moral obligation to help resolve Middle East conflicts?
Well… It’s hard to see suffering in another country and choose not to act.
Human beings are all equal before God. They create governments to protect them in exchange for taxes and occasional compulsory service like the draft and jury duty. Governments are bound to fulfill their obligations to their own citizens, and they can’t do that without the ability to self govern and resolve issues. A government without autonomy is hardly a government at all.
That being said, When the US intervenes to mitigate an international conflict, it sends the local nation back and prevents it from achieving autonomy. In other words, it hurts when it should help.
Take Lebanon as a first example.
In 1958, hostile forces moved to take over an unsuspecting Lebanon. President Eisenhower dispatched hundreds of marines to mitigate the conflict and keep the western government in power. Soon later, the operation was declared a success- after all, the military objectives had been achieved and Lebanon was still officially pro- West. But nothing had been solved, and the American intervention had ensured that Lebanon would not be able to gain autonomy.
Soon after this first intervention, Lebanon descended into a civil war that was funded by foreign powers like Syria. Because it’s opportunity for autonomy had been taken, the war dragged on for more than a decade, 150,000 people died in the process and over a million people left the country altogether.
Take Somalia as a second example.
Somalia entered a foreign-backed civil war in 1986. Belligerents included major terrorist groups, the United Nations, and Ethiopia. With each intervention, the loss of autonomy was aggravated. A quarter-century passed, and half a million people have died. And the war continues to this day.
Bottom Line: To be successful, a country needs to be autonomous. Intervening to mitigate prevents autonomy and forces countries into decades-long gory conflicts. But what happens when we don’t intervene?
Take a close look at Israel.
Israel is by far the most hated and embattled country in the Middle East. It is also a strong ally of the US, so of course we always would protect it… Wrong. Instead the US has never militarily involved itself in the defense of Israel. The country has lived in constant war, facing threats in every direction. In the late 60’s, Israel defeated thirteen hostile forces including Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. They did it in just sixteen days, also without the aid of a single American marine. Israel is a strong autonomous country. It has a larger economy than all of its neighbors combined, the largest number of startup companies, university degrees and a free democratic government.
It is hard to see suffering in another country and choose not to act. We want to believe that real-life problems can be solved like they are in action movies. We run in, punch the bad guys, and leave. But unfortunately we have to be realistic, real life is complicated.
2. Did US messing in the Middle East ever help promote any party’s economic interests in a substantive manner?
Well it is a fact that the US promotion of a neo-liberal economic model in the Middle East has not benefited as of today most people of the region.
Like much of the Third World, the United States has been pushing a neo-liberal economic model of development in the Middle East through such international financial institutions as the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and the World Trade Organization. These have included cutbacks in social services, encouragement of foreign investment, lower tariffs, reduced taxes, the elimination of subsidies for farmers and basic foodstuffs as well as ending protection for domestic industry.
While in many cases, this has led to an increase in the overall Gross National Product, it has dramatically increased inequality, with only a minority of the population benefiting. Given the strong social justice ethic in Islam, this growing disparity between the rich and the poor has been particularly offensive to Muslims, whose exposure to Western economic influence has been primarily through witnessing some of the crassest materialism and consumerism from US imports enjoyed by the local elites.
The failure of state centric socialist experiments in the Arab world have left an ideological vacuum among the poor seeking economic justice which has been filled by certain radical Islamic movements. Neo-liberal economic policies have destroyed traditional economies and turned millions of rural peasants into a new urban underclass populating the teeming slums of such cities as Cairo, Tunis, Casablanca and Teheran. Though policies of free trade and privatization have resulted in increased prosperity for some, far more people have been left behind, providing easy recruits for Islamic activists rallying against corruption, materialism and economic injustice.
No one got it better than George Orwell; a very smart man who understood things about politics and governments that very few ever have before or since.
“The war is not meant to be won, it is meant to be continuous. Hierarchical society is only possible on the basis of poverty and ignorance. This new version is the past and no different past can ever have existed. In principle the war effort is always planned to keep society on the brink of starvation. The war is waged by the ruling group against its own subjects and its object is not the victory over other nations, but to keep the very structure of society intact.”
And here’s more…
“War is a way of shattering to pieces, or pouring into the stratosphere, or sinking in the depths of the sea, materials which might otherwise be used to make the masses too comfortable, and hence, in the long run, too intelligent.”
Bottom line folks: It is all about POWER – explicitly summarized in George Orwell’s most compelling paragraph of all and as per below:
“Power is not a means; it is an end. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to safeguard a revolution; one makes the revolution in order to establish the dictatorship. The object of persecution is persecution. The object of torture is torture. The object of power is power”
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