We are thirteen years into the 21st Century equivalent of the Thirty Years War. What started out as a religious war is rapidly headed for an all-out set of political realignments centering around the Middle East but including Eastern Europe and Northern Africa. Our role in this conflict is very unclear.
The Thirty Years’ war began in 1618 with a group of Protestants throwing three Catholics out of a window in Prague. Grievances and rivalries then spread to neighboring countries resulting in a series of overthrows and violence that persisted for thirty years. While religious conflict gets credit for the origin of the war, the primary driver of its length and depth were rivalries among groups vying for political hegemony in Central Europe.
September 11, 2001, was the opening salvo of this new conflict. A fundamentalist Wahhabi Muslim seeking to expand and extend the political power of a branch of Islam levied an attack against a perceived non-Muslim interloper. Many countries responded to the attacks with support for the overthrow of the governments in Afghanistan and Iraq. Over the time period between 2001 and 2010, tensions simmered and then erupted into a series of internecine conflicts within several countries.
Fast-forward to 2014. Out of 16 countries in the Middle East, only three have any semblance of freedom: Israel, Turkey and Lebanon. Of those three, two actively house terrorists. Saudi Arabia and Iran are fighting proxy wars financed by oil and gas revenues throughout the region. Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait are major financiers for ISIS terrorists.
By every measure of liberty, the results of the upheaval over the past few years has been more to the benefit of extremists and dictators than for democracy. Even Tunisia, where the government is at least somewhat more free than in the past, the President may only be a Muslim and an opposition leader was only recently assassinated. The region is going through a realignment and the United States is continually undermining any alliances it has, natural or otherwise.
We are providing military aid to eight of the nations of the Middle East or their opposition and financial aid to seven. We have promoted and undermined our own allies sometimes within the stretch of a week. We support Israel while we support Palestine. We support Syrian rebels while we don’t support Syrian rebels. We support Iraq while we don’t support Iraq. The list goes on.
I challenge anyone to state with any coherency our overall strategy. I watched several of the segments of an interview with the President on the New York Times’ website. One quote that struck me is that he stated that “societies don’t work if political factions take maximalist positions.” Is it possible that this is the same individual who signed into law a shift of one-sixth of the economy into government hands without a single vote cast by the opposition?
In the same interview, the President placed responsibility squarely on the Iraqi government for the current upheaval. This is very similar to the government’s characterization of the shelling of a UN school in Gaza by Israel as “totally unacceptable and totally indefensible” while at the same time providing aid to Gaza that is no doubt ending up in the hands of Hamas. This is similar to our mission in Somalia during the Clinton presidency.
Part of the problem is our lack of commitment to any moral principles. We are making no clear statements about action and consequence. Instead, we blame YouTube videos for violence and then we decline to pursue justice in any rigorous fashion. Right now, our allies and our opponents find us to be ignorant in core issues.
Outside of the interests behind ISIS, there are very few supporters. Rarely has there been a more simple case to make for military intervention. We squandered our words when we threatened Syria and did nothing. The Middle East pays attention. They see us preening and chattering without assuming the moral authority to smite evil.
Then again, what happens if we decimate ISIS? What support do the people have in the region of finding peace? For that, maybe if we had left enough troops in Iraq… but we didn’t. And so now the President does not want to bite the hands that feed him, nor does he want to be viewed as weak. So he blames Al-Maliki and has the Vice-President offer military support in exchange for new leadership.
As the President stated “we remain the one indispensable nation. There is not one issue in which our leadership is not critical.” So our leadership in the Middle East is to blame other leaders and applaud that we have no presence and thus can watch the carnage safely from afar. The President further grudgingly concluded the Surge as a success, but characterized it as an inevitable success that would only last a temporary period of time.
Political alliances, like friendships, are built on trust. Can anyone in the Middle East right now trust the United States? Is there any ally who can rely on us to support them or any enemy who can rely on us to oppose them? Or are we locked in a reactionary diplomacy similar to that of Neville Chamberlain?
The one fact that we might all agree on is that things are deteriorating, not improving, in the Middle East. Whomever one supports, the conflicts are raging and until strong leadership takes hold, it will rage on. Pity the civilians in the region who are clamoring for support and protection.
While it may indeed be a fool’s errand to intervene militarily in an effort to stop the violence, consistency, honor and trust with our allies costs us nothing except keeping our commitments and making consistent statements. I believe that this would be very simple for us, were we to have a moral basis in our actions. But that is hard to have if you are stuck in the morass of moral relativity, as appears to be our President and our past and future Presidential candidates housed then and now at the Department of State.
So the Middle East is burning, people are dying and we react to the press more than our internal moral compass. It is a lamentable state of affairs. I will borrow from Joseph Welch and repeat his immortal question, “Have you no decency, sir?”