As America’s movies, sports, gun culture, murder rate, incarceration rate, death penalty and history all testify, we are a violent nation. So it’s not surprising we are hawkish abroad. In particular, America’s involvement in the Middle East has been too militarized and, for this reason, counterproductive.
President Obama has wisely been more dovish lately, but U.S. policy remains unrealistically tough. We are entangled in at least four Mideast conflicts: against the Taliban and Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan, against the Islamic State (ISIL) in Syria and Iraq, against Assad in the Syrian civil war, and between Israelis and Palestinians.
Our most recent mistake, a disaster on a par with our 2003 invasion of Iraq, was siding with Syrian rebels against Assad. This rebellion was the last gasp of the Arab Spring, a series of national rebellions that failed everywhere. The major lesson is that democracy cannot work in strongly Islamic nations. These nations take their religion far too seriously, making impossible the kind of compromise essential for democracy. A similar problem exists in our country with fundamentalist Christians, and the strain it places on civilized society is obvious.
We mistakenly sided with Sunni Islam, led by Saudi Arabia and Turkey, in trying to depose the Shiite strong man Assad. We thought we were promoting democracy but we only promoted religious war. This was U.S.-sponsored “regime change” in yet another forlorn Mideastern nation. What we got was five years of civil war, 250,000 dead, 9 million Syrians forced from their homes, a million refugees flooding and destabilizing Europe, and an opening for ISIL and Nusra Front. Surely peace was preferable. Even if the rebels had miraculously defeated Assad, the ensuing chaos would have been worse than Assad’s rule. Assad remains in power amid indications that he would win a fair election, just as he won 88 percent of the vote in a 2014 election that rebels tried to shut down.
We need to take off our blinders and see the world as it really is. ISIL is the actual problem. They can be defeated by an alliance that includes Europe, Assad, Iran, Russia, and hopefully also Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and other Sunnis.
Blinder removal is also advisable in the Israel-Palestine conundrum. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been a friend neither to us nor to his people. The wise policy has always been a two-state solution that approximately respects the pre-1967 borders. But we failed to exert the pressure required to push Israel into pursuing its own best interest. As New York Times writer Tom Friedman has persuasively argued, it’s now too late for this solution. There are nearly half a million Israeli settlers living in the West Bank on land that Palestinians rightfully claim. It took 50,000 Israeli soldiers to remove 8,000 such settlers from Gaza. Neither Israel nor anybody else will be able to remove these settlers from the West Bank. So the peace process is doomed, and there’s going to be a one-state solution. But as Jeffrey Goldberg pointed out in The Atlantic recently, the idea of a single functional state “containing two warring Mideast tribes is farcical.”
Israel will not remain both democratic and Jewish, because a single state including Israel and the West Bank will be majority Arab. This means endless war between the tribes, and growing isolation of Israel from Europe. America had best keep hands off this looming mess.
The U.S. does more harm than good by throwing military weight around the Mideast. President Obama took a big step away from additional involvement in that cauldron when he decided, in August 2013, not to go to war over Assad’s gassing of civilians during the Syrian civil war. Although hawks castigated him for not honoring his previously set “red line” against chemical weapons, such an attack would have drawn us into yet another war of the kind that proved so disastrous in Iraq. As recounted in a big article by Goldberg in The Atlantic, the president’s military ventures in the Mideast since August 2013 have been more cooperative and less hawkish.
Unfortunately, however, Obama has still not wised up to the need to cooperate with some of our obvious allies in Syria, namely Russia and Iran, and still talks about regime change even though there is no plausible alternative to Assad anywhere in sight. With a few obvious exceptions such as nuclear weapons issues and, to a lesser extent, ISIL, the Mideast needs to be left alone to make its own mistakes.
Art Hobson is a professor emeritus of physics at the University of Arkansas. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Print Headline: America’s exodus from Mideast