We might have been better off if we had never entered into the internal affairs of the Middle East. But the Middle East has oil that we have needed and it is an important trade route and it is the center of the world’s three major religions. And at one time, back in Cold War days, we competed with the Soviet Union for hegemony over the region.
The Western powers unabashedly worked to control the region with its inhabitants being treated as mere subjects to the outside powers. These days we are into fostering self-government modeled after our own Western systems.
But we are dealing with a foreign culture and competing tribal and religious sects. It’s difficult to create stable nation states in such an environment.
There was something called the Arab Spring awhile back in which it was hoped that peoples all over the region were rising up and through the use of social media they would demand more democratic government in the Western style. That would be good it was thought because then they would be more friendly to us and less inclined to follow the radical Islamist terrorists.
But for the most part all that has seemed to fizzle out. Old habits die hard.
If we were operating under the old rules we would just send our armies in there in full force and straighten things out. But if we tried that now — well we do have forces there, but they are limited — we would only serve as probably one of the best devices for terrorist recruitment ever.
Gen. Colin Powell had said if you go into Iraq and break things you are obligated to fix them. Well we went in but we did not fix anything. We just broke everything. We spent a lot of money, some of it under the auspices of fixing things, but really most of it was lost via corruption. Our military efforts in the region have been a bonanza for the defense industry and military contractors and private mercenaries.
The above is just my off-the-top-of-the-head overview, but I think it is accurate as far as it goes.
It had been said that if we developed our own energy supplies we would not be dependent on Middle East oil. Well we did. But I think we are still dependent upon that oil because it goes into the mix of the world market and affects the overall supply and the prices that are dependent upon supply and demand (notwithstanding the price fixing games of the oil monopolies).
It is tempting just to turn our backs on the troublesome region. But the power vacuum we would leave behind would be and in fact is being filled in some places by terrorists, most notably at this time, ISIS (or ISIL). And ISIS will not be content to just gobble up the Middle East. Its designs are on world domination.
One approach is to work through some coalition of Arab states friendly to the West in order to beat down ISIS. This is problematic because I think in some instances ISIS is aided and abetted by some of our so-called friends.
Our history in Iraq certainly complicates things. It was our big test case. Could we transform the nation into a modern Western style democracy and improve the life of its inhabitants and in the process make friends and develop a solid base in the region? We failed. It may have been an impossible task. But too, there was a lack of real commitment, even among the Republicans who pushed it so much. They wanted to wage a war but pretend it would not cost much and would not drain our economy. No sacrifice whatsoever was called for from the American people as a whole. The sacrifice was several thousand soldiers and a drain of a trillion dollars or more on our national budget, adding to the national debt and hampering various domestic programs — with no direct budgeting for the war. The attempt was to hide the costs to fend off a questioning and objections to the war effort. And certainly the fact that there is no military draft made it all possible.
So, where do we go from here?
President Obama gave it a go. His first order of business concerning the region when he took office was to make what some called an “apology tour”. He said we were sorry for being such bullies and that from now on we would be a lot nicer.
And you see how far that has got us. And sending in drones to pick off bad guys and kill innocent people in the process seems to have belied what he promised. He did not end our military involvement as he promised to do, but he has kept it in sort of a holding pattern, with an escalation here and there. We still lack a plan for victory (and probably don’t know what exactly victory would look like).
Some among the multitude of Republican presidential candidates are calling for stronger military action in the Middle East but without much specifics. Only Sen. Lindsay Graham of South Carolina is specifically calling for, what is it? Ten thousand more U.S. ground troops in the region? Most everyone else prefers air power and support of indigenous troops friendly to us.
I have a feeling they would all wind up in the same predicament that others before them have.
I’m thinking we would do better to keep up our own defenses at home and let those in the region fight it out. We might support some who are friendly to us in order to fend off the terrorists. But in the end it should be up to the inhabitants of the region to settle their own affairs.
Or, we could go in all out — like in one of those card games “we’re all in”. We could take the gamble and go for broke and send our forces into Iraq and Syria, clean out the real bad guys, take over, and give them back their countries once they learn how to govern.
And now the concern seems to be that the Iraqi soldiers as a whole do not seem motivated enough to fight for their country.
That was the storyline in Vietnam.
We know how that came out.
If we have to save Iraq, then don’t we get some ownership in it?
Do we want it?
And I will put what should be the lead at the bottom as an afterthought: the news today is that the chairman of the military Joint Chiefs of Staff admits that there were no contingency plans for the advance of ISIS. We just don’t plan things out. No wonder we fail.
I don’t seem to have mentioned Afghanistan. We are still stymied there as well.