With few exceptions, Western interventions in the Middle East have created regional division, hatred and conflict, writes Linda S. Heard.
President Barack Obama pledged to pivot US foreign policy interests away from the MENA region towards the Asia-Pacific. Like almost everything he’s touched, that strategy was so halfhearted his efforts turned to dust.
Beijing flexes its muscles in the South China Sea; North Korea flaunts its advancing nuclear weapons capability, while Russia and Iran partnered with a smorgasbord of terrorist groups are ascendant in the Middle East.
The outgoing US leader is often accused of leading from behind. In reality, he’s dragged his nation down paths which turn out to be dead end, ‘dead’ being the operative word, sadly.
On his watch hundreds of Afghan and Pakistani civilians have had their lives robbed by US drones and, worse, almost half a million innocent Syrian men, women and children have been killed with many millions more displaced from their homes or reduced to refugee status.
Perhaps he believed a mere air campaign would suffice despite being advised that bombs alone couldn’t cut it or more likely he wasn’t willing to commit large numbers of U.S. troops to yet another Mideast war without Congressional approval. Nobody could accuse him of not doing anything but if this was his best effort then America’s role as an international policeman in the defense of human rights has been seriously undermined.
There is evidence to suggest that behind the scenes the Obama administration, particularly the Clinton State Department, actively encouraged ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions that struck the matches in Syria and toppled secular governments in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and Yemen, whose people are even today paying the price to one degree or another in terms of political instability, terror attacks, economic woes or all-out conflict.
President Obama admitted that the worst mistake of his presidency was Libya which prior to 2011 was a stable and wealthy oil-rich country where no citizen wanted for anything. The US/ French/British intervention brought down the Qaddafi regime even though it had earlier signaled its readiness to re-join the international community by dismantling its nuclear weapons program. This sent a message to present and future leaders of rogue nations, such as Kim Jong-un that relinquishing their deterrent capability could spell their own doom.
With no plan for the day after, Libya was bequeathed to armed militias of various stripes, terrorist groups and feuding politicians. Today it has an Islamist-dominated government imposed by the UN with no authority outside the capital and which is not recognized by the legitimate parliament.
As much as he regrets his Libyan adventure, many would argue that the worst stain on his record was standing back permitting Islamic State terrorists to get a solid foothold in major Iraqi cities and oil facilities before they expanded into Syria, announcing a Caliphate with the Syrian city of Raqaa as its capital.
The Islamic State rose from the ashes of George W. Bush’s invasion, occupation and mishandling of Iraq that thrust these ancient Arab lands into the pocket of Iran’s Supreme Leader and Iraqi Shiite militias acting on the orders of a government in Baghdad under his ideological sway.
Obama compounded Bush’s blunder by cementing a nuclear deal with Iran that swelled the mullahs’ pockets to the tune of an estimated US$ 150 billion even as senior Iranian officials boasted of Iran’s domination of Arab capitals.
The deal was negotiated behind the backs of America’s closest regional allies, Israel and GCC member states, and was firmed-up against their strong objections. Obama attempted to mollify the leaders of Gulf States with a weapons fire-sale. Israel was placated by US $38 bn in additional military aid spread over a ten-year period; the biggest pay-out to a foreign government in U.S. history.
It’s impossible to know for certain what shape the Arab World would be in if it had been left to evolve at its own pace in its own way instead of being used as a monopoly board for foreign powers coveting its natural resources or flexing their geopolitical muscle to expand their spheres of influence.
What we do know is that during Islam’s Golden Age - the period stretching from the 8th to the 13th century Arab universities led the world. Arab law scholars, philosophers, mathematicians, doctors, teachers, architects, cartographers forged the bedrock of modern-day knowledge in numerous fields at a time when most European cities were ignorance-ridden backwaters.
This enlightened era began to unravel due to the Mongolian conquests resulting in the fall of the home of the House of Wisdom, Baghdad, wars against European Crusading armies and the advent of Ottoman conquerors.
The Ottoman Empire consumed 18 Arab countries and extended into great swathes of Europe in its heyday until it was dismantled by Western imperialist nations at the end of the World War I when Arab lands were arbitrarily divvied-up between Britain, France and Italy to serve their own interests, splitting apart tribes, religious sects and communities.
The map had been redrawn. Kurds, Druzes, Sunnis, Shiites and Christians were isolated from their brethren within new borders. It was a recipe for sectarian conflicts and an invitation to authoritarian leaderships to rule with an iron fist. With survival uppermost, the pursuit of an enlightened, educated society was no longer a priority.
A spark which lit a smoldering tinderbox was the creation of a Jewish State in Palestine by the British that was approved by the United Nations.
Palestinians welcomed the newcomers and were prepared to work alongside them until they were stripped of their livelihoods, forced off their lands and out of their homes by bands of armed Jewish militias. Entire villages were destroyed disappearing off the map as though they never existed. British forces withdrew leaving behind a blood bath. This suppurating sore that fuelled several major Middle East wars and uprisings is further away from being healed than ever.
As difficult as it is to fathom, the CIA has admitted its part in a coup to overthrow Iran’s first democratically elected prime minister in 1953. Why? Because he railed against foreign interference; he made it known he would be no-one’s puppet. It is well known that Washington, London and Paris colluded against the Shah when he got too big for his boots and worked towards replacing him with the Ayatollah Khomeini who was given sanctuary in a house just outside the French capital.
Arabs have been lied-to, manipulated and betrayed, their lands invaded, occupied and ravaged by foreign armies for centuries. The treasures of Egypt are displayed in the British Museum; Iraq’s precious artifacts were stolen by US soldiers and sold to private collectors. No country stepped-in to prevent the Islamic State from willfully destroying Syria’s heritage in Palmyra.
Conflict and division in the Middle East has funneled trillions of dollars to the military-industrial complex and banks that fund wars. Somewhat ironically, rather than unify against common enemies, many Arab states look for protection from the very powers responsible for their distress.
Obama’s in the last weeks of his presidency. His legacy in the MENA region is nothing to be proud of and there’ll be few damp eyes in the Middle East when he waves goodbye for Pennsylvania Avenue. The 64-million-dollar question is will his successor Donald Trump be any better? That remains an unknown.
Mr. Trump has made the right noises. He was against the invasion of Iraq, although there are contrary claims to his assertions on that score. He did, however, voice his reservations. On Libya, Trump flip flopped. “We should stop this guy,” he said in 2011 referring to Muammar Qaddafi. He has since criticized the Obama administration for getting involved.
As someone inexperienced in foreign policy, he is likely to heed his advisers and senior cabinet members. Given that his pick for Defense Secretary is James ‘Mad Dog’ Mattis, former commander of US Central Command, who led the US military into Baghdad, and has tapped retired Lt. General Michael Michael Flynn, an Islamophobe, described as ‘unhinged by former colleagues, we can only wait and see what the future holds.