Sick and tired of the Mid­dle East

Noth­ing the U.S. has tried has been a clear suc­cess

The Washington Times Daily - - Opinion - By Vic­tor Davis Han­son

Amer­i­cans — left, right, Democrats and Repub­li­cans — are all sick of thank­less na­tion­build­ing in the Mid­dle East. Yet de­moc­ra­ti­za­tion was not our first choice but rather a last re­sort af­ter ear­lier fail­ures. The United States long ago sup­plied Afghan in­sur­gents, who ex­pelled the Sovi­ets af­ter a decade of fight­ing. Then we left. The coun­try de­scended into even worse me­dieval­ism un­der the Tal­iban. So, af­ter re­mov­ing the Tal­iban, who had hosted the per­pe­tra­tors of Sept. 11, 2001, we promised in 2001 to stay on.

We won the first Gulf War in 1991. Then most of our forces left the re­gion. The re­sult was the mass mur­der of the Iraqi Kurds and Shi­ites, 12 years of no-fly zones and a failed oil-for-food em­bargo of Sad­dam Hus­sein’s Iraq. So, af­ter re­mov­ing Sad­dam in 2003, we tried to leave be­hind some­thing bet­ter.

In the past 10 years, the United States has spent more than $1 tril­lion and has lost thou­sands of Amer­i­can lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both places seem far bet­ter off than when ruled by the Tal­iban and Sad­dam Hus­sein — at least for a while longer.

Yet the Iraqis bear Amer­i­cans lit­tle good will. They seem friend­lier to Iran and Syria than to their lib­er­a­tors. In Afghanistan, ri­ots con­tinue over the mis­taken burn­ing of some de­faced Ko­rans, de­spite se­rial Amer­i­can apolo­gies.

How about the choice of bomb­ing the bad guys and then just stay­ing clear? We just did that to the ter­ror­ist-friendly Gad­hafi dic­ta­tor­ship in Libya. But now that Moam­mar Gad­hafi is gone, there is chaos. Is­lamic gangs tor­ture and ex­e­cute black Africans who sup­ported the de­posed regime, ac­cord­ing to press re­ports. Bri­tish World War II ceme­ter­ies that were hon­ored dur­ing 70 years of Libyan kings and dic­ta­tors could not sur­vive six months of a “free” Libya. In Beng­hazi, gangs just ran­sacked and de­faced the mon­u­ments of the Bri­tish war dead.

Not hav­ing boots on the ground may en­sure that end­less chaos will con­sume the hope of a calm post-gad­hafi Libya. That also was true of So­ma­lia and Le­banon af­ter Amer­i­can troops were at­tacked and abruptly left.

How about an­other op­tion of aid and words of en­cour­age­ment only? We have urged Egyp­tian re­form, un­der both Ge­orge W. Bush and now Pres­i­dent Obama. When pro­test­ers forced the re­moval of dic­ta­tor Hosni Mubarak, the United States ap­proved. It even ap­pears likely that we will keep send­ing Egypt an­nual sub­si­dies of more than $1.5 bil­lion — as we have for more than 30 years. Yet anti-amer­i­can Is­lamists are now the dom­i­nant force in Egyp­tian pol­i­tics. Amer­i­can aid work­ers were ar­rested re­cently and threat­ened with trial by new Egyp­tian re­form­ers.

Still an­other Amer­i­can choice would be not to na­tion-build, bomb or even get near a Mid­dle East­ern coun­try — as is the case with Iran and Syria. The United States has not had diplo­matic re­la­tions with Iran since the shah left in 1979. Un­til the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion des­per­ately tried to re-es­tab­lish con­tacts with the Bashar As­sad regime in Syria by ap­point­ing a new am­bas­sador, there had been nearly six years of es­trange­ment.

Yet Iran is near­ing its goal of ob­tain­ing a nu­clear weapon both to threaten Is­rael and to bully other oil-ex­port­ing regimes of the Per­sian Gulf. The Syr­ian gov­ern­ment is butcher­ing thou­sands of its own cit­i­zens with im­punity.

A final op­tion would be to re­turn to the old pol­icy of re-es­tab­lish­ing friendly re­la­tion­ships with Mid­dle East­ern dic­ta­tor­ships re­gard­less of their in­ter­nal pol­i­tics — and then keep­ing mum about their ex­cesses. We did that with Pak­istan, which has both re­ceived bil­lions in U.S. aid and pro­duced a nu­clear bomb. Yet it is hard to imag­ine a more anti-amer­i­can coun­try than nu­clear Pak­istan, with­out which the Tal­iban could not kill Amer­i­cans so eas­ily in Afghanistan.

The United States once saved the Kuwaiti regime af­ter it was swal­lowed up by Sad­dam Hus­sein. We have en­joyed strong ties with the Saudi monar­chy as well. Nei­ther coun­try seems es­pe­cially friendly to the United States. It is still a crime to pub­licly prac­tice Chris­tian­ity in Saudi Ara­bia. Fif­teen of the 19 mass-mur­der­ing hi­jack­ers of Sept. 11 were Saudis. Oil in the Mid­dle East costs less than $5 a bar­rel to pro­duce; it sells for more than $100, largely be­cause of the poli­cies of our al­lies and mem­bers of the Or­ga­ni­za­tion of Petroleum Ex­port­ing Coun­tries.

Let us re­view the var­i­ous Amer­i­can pol­icy op­tions for the Mid­dle East over the past few decades. Mil­i­tary as­sis­tance or puni­tive in­ter­ven­tion with­out fol­low-up mostly failed. The ver­dict on far more costly na­tion-build­ing is still out. Try­ing to help pop­u­lar in­sur­gents top­ple un­pop­u­lar dic­ta­tors does not guar­an­tee any­thing bet­ter. Prop­ping up dic­ta­tors with mil­i­tary aid is both odi­ous and coun­ter­pro­duc­tive. Keep­ing clear of ma­ni­a­cal regimes leads to ei­ther nu­clear ac­qui­si­tion or geno­cide — or 16 acres of rub­ble in Man­hat­tan.

What have we learned? Trib­al­ism, oil and Is­lamic fun­da­men­tal­ism are a bad mix that leaves Amer­i­cans sick and tired of the Mid­dle East — both when we get in it and when we try to stay out of it.


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