By Jon Kofas
11 September, 2015
The current crisis convergence in the Ukraine and the Middle East poses challenges for US foreign policy. However, it also demonstrates glaring contradictions and credibility gap not just today, but as a historical phenomenon that has been evident since the early Cold War. This is not to suggest there is no logic to the Truman Doctrine for the time it was promulgated, or to the strategy of “Keynesian Militarism” as part of a containment strategy of the Communist bloc. However, there is a price to be paid for remaining the world’s number one military power and pursuing interventionist foreign policy. The result is the relative economic decline of the US in relationship to East Asia and Europe, even when considering the fall of the Communist bloc that is integrated into global capitalism.
Today, US foreign policy is all over the map, sailing in turbulent ocean without any sense of direction or realism of where it wishes to go and for what purpose. The situation in the Ukraine clearly poses challenges for Russia’s regional strategic interests that the US and its EU partners have been working to undemine. Although there is no military solution for the situation in the Ukraine, just as there was none for Syria that Russia supported, the US and its EU partners, especially Germany and Poland, pursued covert military means to bring down a corrupt pro-Russian government only to have it replaced by a pro-West billionaire totally dependent on the West for everything from advice to military and economic assistance, but with no hope of surviving in the absence of reaching an agreement with Moscow on natural gas supply and a host of other economic and strategic issues. As the power behind the client regime in Kiev, the US will not back down from a reckless confrontational course destructive to Ukrainians until there is no choice other than pursuing a political solution. Similarly, the US is not backing down on the reckless military solution it has been pursuing in Syria, a crisis that in June 2014 spilled over to Iraq and threatened regional stability. The question is why pursue reckless destabilizing policies toward the Middle East as well as Ukraine.
I do not subscribe to theories that the people conducting US foreign policy are asleep at the wheel, dumb, uncreative, and lack the experience. Nor are the policymakers and professional diplomats implementing policy reckless for no apparent reason. This is a pretext for many right wing politicians to resort to military solutions no matter what the crisis and the cost. On the contrary, the people conducting and implementing policy are professionals following certain perimeters and conforming to guidelines. There are ideological reasons behind US policy but there are also military/strategic considerations that play a role. Above all, the driving force behind US foreign policy is to maintain the economic, political and social status quo at home by maintaining a hegemonic role in the world, a foreign policy logic the US inherited from the mother country – the sort of Empire as a Way of Life, as William Appleman Williams argued trying to explain the historical continuity in US foreign affairs. Destabilization policy is in essence serving a purpose as we will see below.
CAUSES OF DESTABILIZATION OF THE MIDDLE EAST
There are many forces that account for instability in the contemporary nation-states of the Middle East. One such cause stems from the fact that the European colonial powers drew the regional map arbitrarily to serve their interests rather than permit any sort of self-determination for the people affected in artificially-created nation-states. Despite the wish of many Arabs for unity that the European, Irsaeli, and American governments are constantly undermining, the main sectarian divisions that predate the Imperialist Western interventions remain a major internal cause of regional instability. Religious fanaticism does extraordinary things to the human mind, including driving people to sacrifice themselves while taking down their brothers and sisters in suicide bombings. Added to religious sectarianism that has fanatics on all sides, there are tribal and ethnic identity issues intertwined with alliances based on personalities. Finally, there is the ambition of Sunni-dominated Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States behind which is the US to prevail over Shia-dominated Iran.
Another source of division is the gap that exists between the Muslim-based culture, values system and way of life struggling against the forces of modernity identified with the Christian West. Those forces of modernity encompass everything from modern science and technology to a consumerist culture and hedonistic value system that help to buttress capitalism. It is difficult to adjust to the modern economic system that creates a middle class and materialistic values while also trying to cling on to traditional values rooted in religion as a way of life. This clash was clearly seen in popular uprisings in the last four years and it continues to manifest itself in Mulsim countries, including Turkey.
A third factor of internal division is the perpetual foreign inference and in some cases military intervention by the US and its junior NATO partners. Although under a corrupt dictatorship, Libya had been relatively stable. Muammar Qaddafi with his considerable shortcomings as a leader had managed to forge a popular consensus over the last four decades and kept the country unified. This is not to say that Libya’s population was enjoying social justice and its human rights, but neither did Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States that the US has been supporting. After the US-NATO intervention, Libya has a marked absence of any rights, its national sovereignty surrendered to the West, its prospects for economic development that would help its population looks much worse than they did under Qaddafi, and the country is in a semi-civil war condition with regional-tribal divisions and political violence raging on.
Like Libya, Egypt is now under a façade of a democratic regime. The BBC is correct to label the military regime something of a giant company running the country on the basis of a corrupt and decadent clientist system with ties to foreign corporations. How is this different than what existed under the previous regime? Like Libya, Egypt has surrendered its sovereignty along with any trace of human rights and social justice, merely because this is what suits the US and its allies that refused to accept the Islamic Morsi regime. In addition, the Islamic Brotherhood, which Morsi represented, has been devastated. Therefore, we have in Egypt as much a supressed minority situation as we do in Libya. Both Libya and Egypt are in this current state of affairs because of covert US-EU interference that adamantly opposed the Islamic Morsi regime and wanted one they could manipulate. In both cases, however, the end result is that the people are much worse off today than they were before Arab Spring that the West manipulated to make sure a pro-West regime secures power, and North Africa is far less stable than it was five years ago.
This is not to suggest a Western conspiracy theory operating in the Middle East, but rather a systematic policy intended to keep the region politically, economically and strategically linked to the West, something that precludes any attempt at national sovereignty Nasser-style of the 1960s, or pro-1979 Iranian style that resists integration with the West. In short, destabilization makes perfect sense if one considers that its goal is to keep the region dependent on the West.
US Divide and Conquer Policy in Syria and Iraq
To demonstrate the logic of US destabilization policy, we need to focus on the US-led interference and intervention, not to demonize the US and the West, or deflect focus from internal political problems and regional conflicts, or to imply that the US and its allies are solely responsible for all the divisions among Muslims who are no different than Christians when it comes to sources of divisions. Having engaged in many wars since the founding of Islam, Muslims are hardly strangers to conflict; not much different in this respect than the Western Christians. In so far as wars go, it is Christians have been responsible for some of the bloodiest conflicts from the era of the Crusades to the present, mostly against each other over land, ethnicity, spheres of influence, military, and political hegemony. Therefore, Muslims hardly have monopoly on divisions, considering that the bloody history of the West, wars between nations as well as civil wars.
Having said this, it is hypocritical for Western politicians and the media and analysts that reflect mainstream view to argue that Muslims create political problems entirely on their own, or to even argue that the whole Middle East-West conflict is rooted in a clash of civilizations owing to religious/cultural issues. There were no Muslims during the Vietnam War when the US became involved in a covert war (CIA operations via AIR AMERICA) in Laos and Cambodia and backed the Khmer Rouge because Washington was losing the military conflict with Vietnam. Just as the US created a catastrophic situation in Cambodia because of its covert operations intended to win the unwinnable Vietnam War, similarly, almost half a century later the US has created another monstrous mess in the Middle East because it has been trying unsuccessfully to bring down Syria’s regime and determine the regional balance of power where Iran is at the core.
One result is the Jihadist ofshoot of al-Qaeda known as ISIS, Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Part of the blame for the people failing to unite behind their governments must go to the regimes in Damascus and Baghdad for pursuing clientist and policies that are divisive and neglect to serve the broader public interest, especially failing to give hope to their citizens. In this sense, Western critics are correct to argue that the governments in question ultimately have the responsibility for their policies that only feed secterianism. At the same time, however, it is reprehensible and tragic that Washington, London and apologists of Western imperialism without any sense of self-criticism insist that the ongoing civil war and rebel activity is a problem solely created by the Arab political leadership.
Perhaps I should not be amazed at the arrogance of Western politicians and analysts when it comes to the Middle East. After all, the Nixon administration that created the tragedies of Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s and early 1970s, turned around and condemned the very monstrosity it had created, blaming the very people it had been supporting against Vietnam. Even more hypocritical, the US covertly cooperated with the Khmer Rouge remnants during the Reagan administration at a time that the US decried terrorist activity by Iran, a country with it also collaborated in order to undermine Nicaragua’s duly-elected regime.
In November 1986, the world discovered that the US had made an arms sales deal to Iran to finance the Nicaraguan Contra rebels and in exchange for release of US hostages held by Lebanese-based Hezbollah. Despite the numerous legal violations, including the Boland Amendment prohibiting arms sales to the contras, as well as failure of congressional oversight in this Watergate-style scandal involving a number of top Reagan administration officials, the bottom line is that the US accomplished nothing other than to destabilize both Central America and the Middle East through its double-dealing that violated US laws.
In mid-June 2014, I am amazed that the US as well as European governments publicly announced that they have done all they can to “help Iraq”, just as they “helped” Afghanistan. Therefore, it is time for the government in Baghdad to defend itself if it is under attack by ISIS Jihadists, instead of asking for outside assistance. Never mind that that these same ISIS Jihadists were doing the bidding of the US and its EU partners in Syria and are now on a campaign to carve out a larger Islamic fundamentalist state in the Levant. Never mind that the US has been on the side of Jihadists when it serves its purpose and labeling them terrorists otherwise, a story that has been dragging since the 1980s with the US-backed Mujahedin in Afghanistan fighting against the secular regime backed by the Soviets.
It seems that the history of US double-dealing is repeating itself in Iraq where there was a secular regime under Saddam Hussein, albeit a dictatorship sometime aided by the US in the 1980s against the war with Iran. When Saddam became too independent of US policy, the latter decided to topple him because of the possession of non existing weapons of mass destruction and ties to al-Qaeda. In June 2014, President Obama claimed: “We can’t fix Iraq”. This is indeed ironic coming from the US that is responsible for destroying Iraq during the first decade of the 21st century at a cost of close to one trillion dollars to the US taxpayer and a catastrophic cost to the people and country of Iraq.
Contradictions of US Goals in the MIDDLE EAST
From the Iranian Revolution to the present, the US and its junior strategic partners have been trying to determine the balance of power in the Middle East based on the early Cold War model that divided spheres of influence, a model itself based on 19th century European and American Imperialism in Asia. The contention of the US and its partners has been that the goals of interference at the very least and military intervention at worst is to help the region economically by integrating it into the Western-based market economy, promote “freedom and democracy” and secular institutions accordingly, and securing strategic alliances that help stabilize the region as part of the Western zone. Public statements notwithstanding, we must judge policy based on its results rather than rhetoric.
The question if the US and its partners have achieved any of their publicly-stated goals, including stabilizing the Middle East can only be judged by the empirical results on the ground.
Is the Middle East more stable because of US-NATO interference and aggressive intervention in the late 20th and early 21st century?
Are the people of the Middle East enjoying greater freedom and democracy and the benefits of the market-based economy as the US stated goal promises?
With the exception of a handful of corporations, has US-NATO intervention helped to stimulate economic growth and development in the West?
Has Iran, Russia and China, all rivals of the US and NATO, weakened or strengthened as a result of US-led interference and intervention?
Has the US-led interference and intervention in the Arab Spring revolts engendered greater democracy or simply resulted in recycled dictatorships of various types, massive refugee problem, and economic hardships for the people involved?
At first glance, one may be convinced that the US wants to destroy Islamic fanaticism and engender stability in the Middle East as part of the well-publicized anti-terrorism campaign. That is only at first glance and if one does not analyze the events of the last three decades to determine if the US and its allies have achieved their goals or actually strengthened Islamic fanaticism and destabilized the Muslim areas from Pakistan to the Middle East and North Africa to parts of sub-Sahara Africa. The question is why destabilize these areas that are increasingly integrated under Chinese economic influence and to some degree Indian?
Is the answer:
1) to help strengthen Israel that sees Iran as a rival?
2) to weaken these countries so the US can feel free to determine the balance of power and exert influence against its rivals Iran, Russia and China?
3) to help spread freedom and democracy and the principles of “American-style” free market economic principles as part of the ongoing globalization process?
4) to have a presence there because China and to a lesser extent India, Russia and Iran will continue to play an influential role in the 21st century?
There is something seriously wrong when the Islamic Republic of Iran is trying to maintain Middle East stability by respecting the status quo, while the US and its allies that accuse Iran of destabilizing the region is the major cause of instability today and in the past. There is also something seriously wrong that the US is in the odd position of having no choice but to selectively go along with Iran’s goal of stabilizing Iraq from ISIS jihadists, something that is an admission of US policy failure in Syria. On 16 June 2014, the US accepted Iran’s proposal for collaboration to stabilize Iraq by working together against ISIS. On 29 January 2002, President George W. Bush made the following statement in his “State of the Union Address”:
“Iran aggressively pursues these weapons [of mass destruction] and exports terror, while an unelected few repress the Iranian people’s hope for freedom. … States like these, and their terrorist allies, constitute an axis of evil, arming to threaten the peace of the world.”
If Iran was the Axis of Evil and the core of world terrorism 12 years ago, why collaborate with that country to stabilize Iraq today? If Bush was uttering war propaganda in order to secure public support for US military solutions to manufactured crises of Islamic terrorism, how does the current ISIS issue reveal the degree of US policy failures? In response to US journalists and other apologists of neo-colonialism promoting Iraq’s breakup into several zones, I wrote in 2012 that the assumption that governments outside of Iraq have the arrogance to decide the kind of regime in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other Muslim nations constitutes indisputable proof of imperialist thinking. What I could not possibly predict in 2012 was that the fiendish scheme to divide Iraq would actually backfire on the US and its allies, resulting in the situation of summer 2014 when Jihadists more extreme that al-Qaeda are threatening to draw the map of the Middle East.
The assumption that the US reserves the right to determine regimes and deny national sovereignty to countries around the world is an integral part of Pax Americana legacy and demonstrates that there is a total absence of democratic thinking and a double-standard when treating European countries versus Muslim and/or Third World. At the same time, there is a certain degree of simplemindedness about this approach because the evolution of events has proved that backing Jihadists in Syria not only causes enormous problems with Russia and China, but it places in jeopardy the map of the Middle East that the US and its partners, including Israel wanted to draw. Just as the US created al-Qaeda when the USSR invaded Afghanistan in order to sustain in power a pro-Soviet regime in the 1980s, similarly it has now created an offshoot of al-Qaeda threatening the Middle East. If the goal of the US was to determine the balance of power in the Middle East and exploit its resources, then it has failed miserably toward that goal and it has only created more problems for itself.
ISIS Sources of Financing and Western Media Coverage
One key question that mainstream orgainzations are now asking about ISIS sources of financing is why the US tolerated its closest allies – Kuwait, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States, all Sunni and all under a form of dictatorship – to have millions of dollars flowing from wealthy individuals into ISIS. One reason that the US refused to listen to Iraqi premier Nouri al-Maliki about ISIS financing sources is because the enemies of the Jihadist offshoot of al-Qaeda are Iran and Syria that the US and its junior partners also deem enemies. Therefore, it was not until very recently that the issue of financing sources for ISIS began to concern the US because it realized the imminent break up of Iraq and the consolidation of Jihadists who are greater enemies than Iran or Syria.
Just as the US had turned a blind eye to ISIS financing until very recently, the Western media hardly covered ISIS, and even today with the world-wide publicity it only focuses on the organization’s role in Iraq and not the devastation it has caused in Syria. The Jihadist “foreign legion” in Syria that included ISIS was not a problem for the Western media because Western governments advocated Assad’s overthrow and the weakening of Iran. There are reports that ISIS, mainly backed by Saudi Salafi-Wahabi elements have been spreading terror mot just among Shias, but anyone standing in their way, inclduing Sunnis. Yet, the media has not revealed anything about the Saudi-ISIS connection and the US indirect links to ISIS.
Now that the destabilization problem seems to be affecting US interests, the Western mainstream media has changed its tune and following the main line of their governments.One of the most blatant lies to come out of Washington and repeated by the media as truth is that the US intelligence agenies were taken by surprise when Jihadists moved in so aggressively against Iraq, coming so closely to the capital. This is a blatant lie because the Pentagon and CIA, among other agencies had tons of information not just about the movements of the Jihadists, but also their sources of financing and their ambitions to establish an autonomous state. In other words, the media is now continuing its distraction campaign, blaming lack or faulty intelligence, misrepresentations of analysts’ reports, and other such details intended to cover up the obvious role of the government to keep silent about the Jihadists until they became a serious threat to Iraq – against remaining still silent about Syria.
Credibility Deficit in US Foreign Policy
In June 2014, the US and its NATO partners have found themselves in the unusual position of pondering to send military assistance to the Shiite Iraqi regime in order to stabilize it and protect the oil fields that Jihadists coming in from northwest Syria are threatening. Just a few days before the ISIS crisis in Iraq erupted, Obama candidly admitted that it would be naïve to assume that the US can fight global terrorism on its own, proposing instead a partnership and putting $5 billion on the table toward that end. Although the new “terrorism” assistance program is in addition to others, it is extraordinarily naïve to believe that these programs mostly aiming at police/military solutions would be any more effective than spending one trillion dollars in Iraq and Afghanistan chasing ghosts that have returned with real guns and threaten the very regimes the US set up through military means.
An offshoot of al-Qaeda, the ISIS (Sunni Muslim) insurgents are threatening to take control major parts of Iraq and disrupt oil flows. ISIS – Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – has already seized Nineveh that includes Mosul, disrupting cities and villages and planning to head south to complete their conquest of more territory. ISIS Jihadists that the US and its allies, including Turkey assisted against the Syrian government have now turned against their former supporters. This is something that many analysts, including Turks, had been warning would take place, but the US-EU-Turkey agenda was to bring down Assad at any cost when such a prospect was extremely difficult because Russia, Iran and China were behind Assad.
Although Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and the semi-autonomous Kurdistan Peshmerga have been helping Iraq against Sunni Jihadists, preventing them from taking over the strategic city of Kirkuk, the government in Baghdad has appealed for broader assistance to preserve the country’s territorial integrity. The approach from the EU and US is not to repeat the mistakes of the past by becoming involved. Iran has suggested helping in cooperation with the US, a prospect that entails the US would now have to be with its arch-enemy in the region, and it would mean that the US finally recognizes Iran has been and will continue to determine the regional balance of power.
The Jihadists that the US helped to create in the Syrian civil war have seized major towns and oil refineries are roughly 60 miles from the Iraqi capital, prompting the US and its NATO allies to consider yet another form of intervention. This in itself is an admission of policy failure, as they are scrambling to justify why ‘limited intervention’ is the only option and it is up to Iraq to solve the problem that the US created. The irony of all this is the US intervention this time resembles the manner that the US helped to create al-Qaeda in its nascent stage in the 1980s when the Soviets were helping the secular regime in Afghanistan that the US wanted destroyed and replaced by a pro-Western one. Meanwhile, the government in Afghanistan among other governments in the area are seriously concerned that what has taken place in Syria and Iraq can easily take place in their own countries.
There are several things to consider about the US invasion of Iraq and its consequences untiil the ISIS risis.
1. The lies on which the US invaded the country, namely, that it a) had weapons of mass destruction, and b) that there was a link to al-Qaeda, when it was well known that the al-Qaeda organization was made up primarily of Saudis with which the Bush family as well as a number of well-connected Republicans had multi-billion dollar interests. The real reasons were the oil reserves, the US obsession to counterbalance Iran, and strengthen the defense industry in which Republicans and Democrats had personal financial interests. It is interesting to note, that the US defense and intelligent budgets skyrocketed as a result of this war combined with Afghanistan, while the US economy continued losing ground to China.
2. War and occupation that destroyed the country. During the occupation, US forces committed war crimes, but the International Court has not dared to charge any US official. Just as the US destroyed Vietnam where it committed war crimes, and just as Vietnam has taken many decades to rebuild and it is still in the process of doing so, similarly it will take many decades to rebuild Iraq that the US left in ruins. Yet, there is no talk about helping Iraq revive, only about dividing it and exploiting its oil reserves.
3. US tax payers paid for a war in order to advance the profits of Republican party-linked corporations in which Bush, Cheney, Baker, Rumsfeld and others were connected, corporations such as the Carlyle Group and Halliburton that defrauded the US government of millions of dollars in contract work in Iraq. This is the same Halliburton against which Nigeria filed corruption charges against Cheney as CEO, and the same company that was partly responsible for the Deep Horizon oil disaster in autumn 2010.
4. Iraq was not among the top 20 most corrupt countries in the world before the US invasion, but it advanced to the number #2 spot during the occupation! The US reduced the country into a concentration camp where corruption was the way of doing business. Focused only on oil and counterbalancing Iran, the US was unable to do anything with Iraq other than leave a devastated country that its people must rebuild.
5. The issue of federalism and/or breaking up Iraq was one that concerned American politicians, think tanks, journalists, and academics after the US invaded. The question is why? While the Kurdish population has historically wanted autonomy, the US has never been interested in this minority group, otherwise it would demand that Turkey also submit to some type of federalist system. The goal is to keep Iraq weak and dependent on the US so that it can exploit its oil and counterbalance Iran, while also determining the regional balance of power.
Iraq and Afghanistan represent the twilight of Pax Americana, the last vestiges of an imperial democracy operating on a foreign policy based on a predominantly Protestant missionary pretext about the White Anglo-Saxon Christians ‘saving’ the weaker dark-skinned non-Christian brethren whose land just happens to have natural resources that the West needs, and it just happens to be located in a place of strategic interest.
The larger issue here is the credibility gap in US foreign policy, considering that ISI would not exist if it were not for the US and its allies trying to remove Assad from power. ISIS was made possible by the US and its allies, including Sunni-dominated Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. The core of the issue here is what journalist or analyst with a good command of at least some of the facts in this case tries to cover up the role of the US and its allies in this latest destabilizing force in the Middle East, and the credibility gap in US foreign policy?
In a recent essay entitled “Corporate-Sponsored Terrorism: Death Squads in Colombia”, I noted the glaring contradictions in US policy not just in the domain of “terrorism” that has been largely manufactured, but in US policy in general. The Middle East situation demonstrates the US is pursuing policies that backfire and force it into a compromising position against its own stated goals, including removing the Assad regime, weakening Iran’s role to determine the balance of power, and crippling terrorism. However, we see a similar pattern, perhaps much more dangerous because Russia has nuclear weapons, in the case of Ukraine where US policy is totally incoherent and justified not on the basis of any tangible real interests, but of containing Russia; a policy that only strengthens Russia internally and forces China to assist it more than it wishes
Jon Kofas is a retired university Professor from Indiana University.