I remember being on the side of a soccer field in Maryland in the early days of the Obama administration. Doing what parents do, I had a casual chat with a parent from another team who I knew was, shall we say, “well connected” with the Obama administration’s foreign policy apparatus…about guess what? U.S. foreign policy. It was clear to me, even then, that the Obama administration had essentially decided to find a way to ‘liberate’ as much of the middle east as possible from under the hand of tyrants like Ghaddafi and Assad. Call it a dream, or call it realistic assessment of the pent up frustration on Arab streets that meant a whole new approach was necessary in the region … call it whatever you want, but, I truly believe that this was a well-intentioned American policy to allow, and in fact actively encourage open rebellion against these regimes.
And so, we had an Arab spring. So one, after another, tyrant was toppled by open rebellion… Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen … and then Syria. Freedom it was thought would be the anti-dote to two American enemies: Russia and Islamic fanaticism.
An American professor from California, Muhamad Morsi, surely would represent ‘soft Islam’ in Egypt and steer Islamic fanatics to moderation. A popular rebellion in Syria, led by former Assad military men, surely would bring democracy to Syria and kick out Russia (Assad’s backer) from the region – finally. What an incredible dream? Obama sold the world on this idea.
But, with the exception of Tunisia (and that is not truly an exception yet), one by one the dream of an Arab Spring has turned to shit. Morsi in Egypt has been summarily pushed out by, guess who? Yes, Egypt’s military. And Assad remains, and the Russians have not only gone all in at the Syrian table, but have raised the pot. Yes, its Poker all right. Everyone seems to be gambling or have gambled.
And meanwhile we have 4 million refugees … 250,000 deaths. And the southern coast of the Mediterranean seems to have caught fire. Even in Israel, there is renewed tensions. The world seems further away from peace. Obama will leave office with his Arab legacy, much like Carter’s Iran legacy turned to shit. It’s really a humiliation.
(And you know, this critique is coming from a strong supporter of the Democrats, or to be more precise … I am definitely a hater of the Republican Party’s open xenophobia.)
So how did a well-intentioned, well-reasoned policy turn to shit? What happened?
As usual, I think blame should be placed fully and squarely on U.S. allies. Unfortunately, American allies do NOT – yes they do NOT – share the same interests as the U.S.
Case in point: Iraq. Britain allied with the U.S. not to liberate Iraq but to grab Iraq’s oil fields. Today, BP and Shell control essentially all the oil in Southern Iraq (which by the way is an oasis of stability). The U.S. was ‘given’ norther Iraq, and guess where all the fighting is? Yes, the Brits have run off with the prize. Like they did when the Soviet Union broke up. Who has all of Azerbaijan’s oil? Yes, BP.
Much like the situation in Iran, the Brits allied with the U.S. to topple the shah, only to put up their own team inside Khomeini’s administration. And their interests at the time, where to actually shut off Iranian oil supply so they could keep prices high for a few decades, to exploit North Sea and Alaskan oil (which was also dominated by British Petroleum and Shell). Now that Britain is a net importer, we have a nuclear deal and the market is over supplied … and prices have dropped. Iran’s President Rohani is a British (or European) stooge!The French and Germans are setting shop inside Iran… in a big way. And there are no American companies to be seen.
But it’s not just the Brits or Europeans. It’s the Saudis and Israelis too. And let’s not forget Qatar. None of these allies share America’s goal of liberating anyone and bringing freedom and democracy anywhere. They really could not care less. They are all about their self-interests.
And here is where there has been true divergence. “ISIS”
The fundamental failure of U.S. policy has been that with all its well-intentioned reasoning for starting the regime toppling process; in the end, it had to align itself with evil to simply execute its plans. The Taliban in Afghanistan were no saints. With all their fanatic religiousness, they had no commitment to any American values. In the end, U.S. compromised on its values to align with the devil.
In Washington, they appear to have different shades of Evil. Or in their heads, different grades of Evil.
It is argued that Hitler was much worse than Stalin, and also an imminent threat. So America aligned with Stalin to topple Hitler. Only to find that after the war with Germany, a new multi-decade cold war was started with Russia (or the Soviets).
And in Afghanistan, even today, the U.S. is in a proxy war with the very people that it armed to kick the Soviets out. No one should forget that Osama-Bin-Laden was a Saudi recruit of the CIA’s.
And in Syria none of the factions fighting Assad – not even the FSA, are really committed to democracy and freedom. As for Al-Nusra or ISIS, need I say more? And who is arming ISIS? Who is funding ISIS? Are the Saudi’s or Qatari’s committed to democracy?
I am told, Israel has treated thousands of injured Syrian rebels. And, this past week, an Israeli officer was captured in Iraq among a team of ISIS fighters. America’s closest ally, Israel, has been and is supporting ISIS too! How can the U.S. claim it is fighting ISIS when it’s very clear that its allies are supporting ISIS? Allies like Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Israel??
Is the U.S. credibly providing a better alternative to the People of Syria?
In the end, what has happened is the U.S. has lost all credibility. Not because of its own intentions, but because of the people it is supporting, and its own allies that clearly do not have any commitment to U.S. values. Even if the U.S. keeps funding and arming these Syrian rebels, I would argue that the U.S. has already lost the battle inside Syrian minds. The battle is lost.
The only thing better than Assad would be to bring freedom and democracy in Syria, and clearly U.S. is NOT truly committed to this path. Its actions by proxy, through its allies proves that.
I would submit that instead of trying to fight its enemies: Russia and Islamic fanaticism, America needs to first of all rid itself of false allies, false friends …who do not fundamentally share American values. America has no business toppling regimes if America cannot guarantee a better alternative to the people of the region. As they say repetitively in the U.S. – it has to be Win-Win.
A well intentioned policy, executed poorly leads to long-term problems….bigger problems. Think about it, America aligned with the Soviets to defeat Hitler, only to find the Soviets themselves became enemies. Then America aligned with Islamic fanatics to undermine the Soviets, only to find itself in a long-standing war with Islamic fanatics. You will not beat Islamic fanaticism by aligning with the Saudis and Qataris who are fanatic Wahabists themselves. It just doesn’t happen. Its idiotic. Can someone in Washington – take notes?
It has to be Win-Win.
Will Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies bring real peace and prosperity to Yemen too? Really? Are you telling me that it won’t be another anti-American powder keg for another 30 years or so? Apparently, Saudi Arabia is now funding Al Qaeda to fight on its behalf in Yemen too!
How can you defeat evil with more evil? That is why America’s well-intentioned policies have gone wrong. The Saudis, Qataris, Israelis, … you name the ally… are not interested in Win-Win outcomes. They are only committed to self-preservation. That is the core problem here… at any cost. Even if it means, Syria, Yemen, Iraq, …. All turn to shit. No one is really looking for a real ‘win’ for the ordinary man on the street. How are the Syrians any better off today than say 10 years ago? What has the U.S. really accomplished?
This is a major stain on Obama’s legacy. This is a major foreign policy debacle. Perhaps worse than the outcome in Iraq. Why? Because not only has the U.S. essentially lost the battle inside Arab minds, over and over again, BUT…. For me as an Iranian-American, it’s clear that Iran has been pushed by the U.S. into an alliance with Russia and China because of all this (and by the way years of sanctions under the Obama administration).And in the end, the strategic shift forced on Iran, will have even larger political and economic consequences for the U.S. than the Iraqi debacle. It will undermine the U.S. Dollar. It will undermine American leadership.
America could have had it all … if only it had truly committed itself to its founding principles: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men (YES ALL MEN … Syrians, Yemenites, Egyptians, Iranians…Azeris…) are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” America is the greatest nation on earth today, because of its enduring commitment to these principles. But its true actions abroad, with its phony allies do not reflect this, and this will haunt America for generations to come.
You cannot defeat evil with more evil.