A Festival of Lies
Below I cite two excellent and similar articles on our problems and the world’s problems with the Middle East. They are both worth reading, but it is interesting that neither can offer much of an answer to our dilemmas there. It is also interesting that the first article was written by a major contributor to the liberal New York Times.
I can offer some suggestions: 1. recognize that the main problem is Islam and the ignorance and savagery that go with it, 2. eliminate our dependence on middle-eastern oil by increasing domestic drilling and approving the Keystone pipeline, 3. keep a sizable contingent of combat troops in Iraq, as we all thought would be the case and as has been the case in Germany, Japan and Korea. The nonsense now going on between their Shia president and their Sunni vice-president would not be allowed.
A Festival of Lies
By THOMAS L. FRIEDMAN March 24, 2012 New York Times
THE historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.
“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “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 they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”
And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.
This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.
So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that. Look at Egypt: More than half of its women and a quarter of its men can’t read. The young Egyptians who drove the revolution are desperate for the educational tools and freedom to succeed in the modern world. Our response should have been to shift our aid money from military equipment to building science-and-technology high schools and community colleges across Egypt.
Yet, instead, a year later, we’re in the crazy situation of paying $5 million in bail to an Egyptian junta to get U.S. democracy workers out of jail there, while likely certifying that this junta is liberalizing and merits another $1.3 billion in arms aid. We’re going to give $1.3 billion more in guns to a country whose only predators are illiteracy and poverty.
In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave. Is there anything funnier? Afghan men need to be trained to fight? They defeated the British and the Soviets!
The problem is that we turned a blind eye as President Hamid Karzai stole the election and operated a corrupt regime. Then President Obama declared that our policy was to surge U.S. troops to clear out the Taliban so “good” Afghan government could come in and take our place. There is no such government. Our problem is not that Afghans don’t know the way to fight. It is that not enough have the will to fight for the government they have. How many would fight for Karzai if we didn’t pay them?
And so it goes. In Pakistan, we pay the Pakistani Army to be two-faced, otherwise it would be only one-faced and totally against us. In Bahrain, we looked the other way while ruling Sunni hard-liners crushed a Shiite-led movement for more power-sharing, and we silently watch our ally Israel build more settlements in the West Bank that we know are a disaster for its Jewish democracy.
But we don’t tell Pakistan the truth because it has nukes. We don’t tell the Saudis the truth because we’re addicted to their oil. We don’t tell Bahrain the truth because we need its naval base. We don’t tell Egypt the truth because we’re afraid it will walk from Camp David. We don’t tell Israel the truth because it has votes.
And we don’t tell Karzai the truth because Obama is afraid John McCain will call him a wimp.
Sorry, but nothing good can be built on a soil so rich with lies on our side and so rich with sectarianism, tribalism and oil-fueled fundamentalism on their side. Don’t get me wrong. I believe change is possible and am ready to invest in it. But it has got to start with them wanting it. I’ll support anyone in that region who truly shares our values — and the agenda of the Arab Human Development Report — and is ready to fight for them. But I am fed up with supporting people just because they look less awful than the other guys and eventually turn out to be just as bad.
Where people don’t share our values, we should insulate ourselves by reducing our dependence on oil. But we must stop wanting good government more than they do, looking the other way at bad behavior, telling ourselves that next year will be different, sticking with a bad war for fear of being called wimps and selling more tanks to people who can’t read.
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We Give Up
By Victor Davis Hanson March 8, 2012 National Review
Americans — left, right, Democrats, and Republicans — are all sick of thankless nation-building in the Middle East. Yet democratization was not our first choice, but rather a last resort after other methods failed.
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 9/11, 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, twelve years of no-fly zones, and a failed oil-for-food embargo of Saddam’s Iraq. So after removing Saddam in 2003, we tried to leave behind something better.
In the last ten years, the United States has spent more than $1 trillion, and thousands of American lives have been lost in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both places seem far better off than they were before American intervention — at least for a while longer.
Yet the Iraqis now 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 option of bombing the bad guys and then just staying clear? We just did that to the terrorist-friendly Gaddafi dictatorship in Libya. But now that Gaddafi 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-Gaddafi Libya. That was also true of Somalia and Lebanon after American troops were attacked and abruptly left.
How about another option: aid and words of encouragement only? We have urged Egyptian reform, under both George W. Bush and now Barack 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 recently arrested and threatened with trial by new Egyptian reformers.
Still another American choice would be not to nation-build, bomb, or even to get near a Middle Eastern country — as we seem to be doing 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 reestablish contacts with the Bashar al-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 now butchering thousands of its own citizens with impunity.
A final option would be to return to the old policy of reestablishing friendly relationships with Middle East 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 U.S. It is still a crime to publicly practice Christianity in Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 mass-murdering hijackers of 9/11 were Saudis. Oil in the Middle East costs less than $5 a barrel to produce; it now sells for over $100, largely because of the policies of our allies and OPEC members.
Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last 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 they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.