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After two lengthy wars in these countries, it’s time to step back and analyze what we’ve gained. It’s clear what we lost: war casualties—our combatants, their combatants, and innocent civilians; national wealth—billions and billions of dollars; good will in the Middle East; and good feelings among present and former allies. Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo showed an ugly side of the war on terror that seems to contradict our worship of democracy and democratic institutions—whether you think that non-U.S. enemy combatants can be tortured or not, the fact that we did doesn’t sit well everywhere in the world.
Many Marines who participated in the battles of Fallujah were distraught when al Qaeda in Iraq (or are they from Syria?) captured the city. They saw compatriots fall there. The survivors brought home physical and mental wounds from the battles. They have a reason to ask, “What did we do that for?” This is a common theme in the Middle East. No matter the national sacrifice in personnel and wealth, no matter the diplomatic overtures, and no matter the good will of many civilians living in the region, extreme elements come back to haunt us like antibiotic-resistant bacteria reinvading the body politic of the region.
Karzai in Afghanistan is showing his true stripes. He and his corrupt family and friends have no real interest in turning that country into something beyond an opium-producing state. Noises are being made about deals with the Taliban. You can expect that any advances made during our time there will disappear, leading to the horrendous treatment of women and the slavish following of sharia law once again. This is a tribal society—a collection of warlords and their fiefdoms, not a modern state. There’s little chance it will ever become one. Moreover, we might see this relic of the Dark Ages corrupting Pakistan in the future in a major way, leading to terrorists with nukes.
Whatever you have against Joe Biden (ex-SecDef Gates in his new book expresses no love for the man), you’ll have to admit he was right about Iraq (Gates is too stupid to do so). There are three Iraqi states at least—Sunni, Shiite, and Kurd—and possibly four now with the incursion of al Qaeda from Syria. The absurdity of this situation is that the Shiite Iranis possibly feel threatened by the al Qaeda Sunnis and other Sunnis in Iraq, which might explain somewhat their recent diplomatic overtures. But, like in Afghanistan, Iraq’s central government is corrupt and inept and completely incapable of holding all the different factions together. Syria, Iraq, and Kurdish Turkey are like the old Yugoslavia. To hold them together, you need a tyrant. With the tyrant gone, you need multiple nations, one for each ethnic group.
The whole Middle East is like quicksand—even when the situation seems favorable, you can start to sink. Israel isn’t helping either. Their resistance to a Palestinian state is always a sore point for the most tolerant of Muslims and offers a rallying point for the most bellicose. Pakistan, long at odds with India, has gone its own way, and the Indian government is showing its backward ways in their unreasonable support of an exploitative diplomat. Turkey, the only NATO member in the area, isn’t stable and also a fair-weather friend, for both EU and US. From Istanbul and the SSR Muslim republics to Sri Lanka, the Middle East and from Morocco to Bangladesh, you have unstable governments whipping up ethnic and anti-US sentiments. It’s hard to find a friend anywhere. No wonder “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” has been the corner-stone of American foreign policy in the region.
Europe doesn’t help. European governments love to see the US spending money fighting terrorism that they don’t have to spend. They love to see the US take the foreign policy hits. The US is the EU’s biggest competitor, of course. What Europe doesn’t see is that their myopic policies for treating the ethnic minorities providing their cheap labor will become their Achilles heel in the future. Many of these minorities are poor Muslims—they have no love for the rich Europeans in charge of the economies throughout the EU. They will place demands on the great socialist democracies of Europe and, if not met, there’ll be hell to pay.
Putin’s Russia is a loose cannon. While the US and EU are debating same-sex marriage and human rights, homophobic Russia is heading in the opposite direction. Led by Putin, that dark nation is returning to Stalinism, making a farce out of any democratic inclinations. There are worse tyrants (the spoiled brat in North Korea is one), but narcissistic Vladimir rules the old land of the czars with an iron hand too. He’s like the Godfather. He and his friends form a mafia that is much stronger than any found in the old USSR, and they hide under the cloak of democracy. Putin and therefore Russia deal with the Middle East erratically, as the contradictions between their support of Syria and their criticism of Iran show. Again, there’ll be hell to pay because those former SSR Muslim republics haven’t forgotten the heavy boot of Stalin and his successors.
Given that the Middle East is so problematic in general and Afghanistan and Iraq in particular, what are we doing there? The region won’t ever amount to anything. Taking the region as a whole, you have a huge, mostly uneducated population that has never learned to get along. I’m counting Israel here—if not the former (Bibi’s emotional responses don’t show much education, in my opinion), at least the latter. It’s a strong argument for isolationism, by which I mean isolating the region and letting them settle their differences without our interference. Becoming embroiled in the disputes in the region hasn’t proven to be a good idea historically. One can say that “hands off!” should be our foreign policy mantra.
On the other hand, that huge population is a huge market and certain countries in the region provide oil, more to the EU than the US. I’d suggest that we let the European countries assume the peace-making role. Let them try to broker the diplomatic deals that might win peace in the Middle East. They have more to lose. Unfortunately, Europe has shown that they’re inept in most things diplomatic. We’ve more or less taken the attitude that it’s a dirty job, but someone has to try to make the different parties sit down and make peace. I don’t see that ending well.
And so it goes….