THE MIDDLE EAST QUAGMIRE: WILL IT EVER END?- CAMPAIGN 2012
THE MIDDLE EAST QUAGMIRE: WILL IT EVER END?
3 wars in less than 20 years. Thousands of American lives lost, hundreds of thousands wounded or maimed, many for life. Non-combatants struck down, such as our ambassador to Libya, Christopher Stevens, and three of his aides. Billions of dollars spent. What do we have to show for it? Osama Bin Laden is dead, but it took 10 years to catch him, while al-Qaida remains as dangerous as ever. Saddam Hussein is also dead, yet the democratic government we set-up in Iraq is very unstable and not overly pro-American. The same could be said for Afghanistan, where combat operations continue, Egypt and Libya. Relations with our staunchest ally in the region, Israel, are floundering, as Iran continues its march toward a nuclear weapon. What are we doing? What do we hope to achieve? Two questions it seems we have no idea how to answer.
I guess we have no one to blame but ourselves. Since World War II, our actions in the Middle East have won us few friends. We have propped up and supported ruthless dictators who kept their people oppressed and in poverty: the Shah of Iran; Saddam Hussein (he was our buddy in the 1980’s); Murburak in Egypt; the sheiks of Saudi Arabia and their precious oil. The Obama Administration and American media rejoiced when the Arab Spring revolutions broke out in 2011, but could we realistically expect the people in those countries to turn toward the United States after throwing off their shackles. We sustained their despots, overlooking the brutality in the name of stability. We do not know the aspirations of the people in the Middle East, and what they want their governments to look like, which very well might not be a western-style democracy.
We can support democratic movements there, but ultimately the people will decide where they want to go. Support does not mean we have to give military aid to rebels or new regimes. Our man, Muburak, was ousted, replaced by a government where power still appears to reside primarily with the army, and has a member of the Muslim Brotherhood as president. Why would President Obama renew the $1.5 billion in military assistance to Egypt? The new regime has made hostile overtures toward Israel and the American embassy in Cairo was attacked. Should we be giving weapons to people who may turn them against us, like happened in Iraq and Afghanistan? Do we need to make the same mistakes repeatedly?
The debacles in Iraq and Afghanistan have been dissected thoroughly and require no re-hashing here, except to ask the question, what, if any, purpose does our continued presence in Afghanistan serve? U.S. soldiers are being shot by Afghans they have trained. The government is corrupt as ever. Our “ally” to the east of Afghanistan, however, is worth a look at. No relationship better exemplifies the dysfunction and twisted logic of our Middle East strategy. Since 2001, the United States has given $23 billion in aid and weapons to Pakistan, so they could help defeat al-Qaida and the Taliban. Osama Bin Laden hid out in Pakistan for 10 years, after crossing the border from Afghanistan in 2001. With all the pom-pom waving and self-congratulatory pats-on-the-back the Obama Administration has engaged in since killing Bin Laden last year, it has been conveniently forgotten that for at least half of his time in Pakistan, he was living in a safe house among the country’s military elite. To even suggest that the Pakistanis did not know he was there is to stretch incredulity way beyond the breaking point. So we have given billions of dollars to a nation that was hiding a terrorist who killed thousands of our fellow-citizens. That is to say nothing of all the U.S. weaponry which has ended up in the hands of the Taliban, courtesy of our “ally”. The only ones who should be taking bows are the Navy Seals who were on the Bin Laden mission.
Our ties with Israel have been fraying, primarily due to clumsiness on the part of the Obama Administration. Attempting to reach out to the Muslim world does not mean we have to insult our main partner in the region for the last 60 years. What was the point of saying in a public address that Israel’s borders should go back to their 1967 position, except to antagonize the Jewish people. You can bring that up privately with the Israelis, but doing so publicly seems more like a political ploy then serious diplomacy. Building trust with Muslim nations is an admirable goal, but it is a slow process, which requires reciprocation by the other side. So far, Middle Eastern countries which have experienced regime changes are not rushing to the United States. Israel has been the only constant in the region, which is something we need to remember. The Palestinians deserve their own homeland, but the details should be worked out between them and Israel. Lastly, while we all know it is an election year, was President Obama’s schedule so full he could not meet with Israeli P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu? I guess an appearance on The View took precedence. Not the signal an administration that is serious about what is going on in the Middle East wants to send.
The same can be said for the prickly situation with Iran. No doubt a peaceful solution to their nuclear weapon program is the desirable outcome. How do we get there? President Obama has been calling on Israel to be more patient, letting sanctions and perhaps diplomacy run their course. It might work, but it also allows Iran to move ever closer to getting capability. Israel’s line in the sand and bomb chart were perhaps over the top, but let’s keep in mind, we are dealing with a regime that has repeatedly stated it wishes to see the Jewish state wiped from the Earth and the Holocaust did not occur. Can serious diplomacy take place with such a nation? Or are they just playing for time? Hard to say. The United States and Israel, however, and most of the world believe a nuclear Iran cannot happen. Would it not be best than to present a united front to Teheran, not a disjointed one the Iranians might exploit? The Muslim world, so far, has not embraced the Obama Administration’s gestures of friendship, while we have damaged our friendship with Israel. That’s not a win-win, but a lose-lose.
There are obviously no easy answers to what is going on in the Middle East. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil would lessen the need for us to be so involved. The fact remains, however, that an organization there, al-Qaida, declared war on the United States in the 1990’s and has the support of a segment of the population. That war is still raging as demonstrated by the attack on our embassy in Libya. Perhaps our biggest mistake after 9/11 was not responding more forcefully. President Bush should have asked Congress to declare war on al-Qaida and the country been fully mobilized. We were attacked, innocent civilians murdered on our own soil. The Muslim world may have gotten the message if we had struck with full force in Afghanistan in 2001. We do not desire war, but some of your co-religionists started it. Perhaps at the moment, détente is the best we can hope for in the Middle East. Détente means, however, that we will not tolerate attacks on our embassies or give money to countries, like Pakistan, that are playing both sides of the fence. Arab nations must also accept that Israel is not going anywhere, then everybody can sit and talk. The United States must encourage the Muslim world to realize that the radical elements are not in their best interests. Once again, ultimately, the people there are the ones who need to have control of their own destiny.