New York Post
March 10, 2012
Americans — left and right — are sick of thankless Mideast nation-building. Yet democratization was not our first choice, but rather a last resort after prior failures.
The United States had 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 9/11 perpetrators, 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’s Iraq. So after removing Saddam in 2003, we tried to leave behind something better.
In the last 10 years, America has spent more than $1 trillion and has lost thousands of US lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Both places seem far better off than when ruled by the Taliban and Saddam Hussein.
Yet the Iraqis now seem friendlier to Iran and Syria than to their liberators. In Afghanistan, riots continue over mistaken burning of some defaced Korans, despite serial US apologies.
How about bombing the bad guys and then staying clear? We just did that to the terrorist-friendly Khadafy dictatorship in Libya. But now that Khadafy is gone, Islamic gangs torture and execute black Africans who supported the deposed regime. British World War II cemeteries that were honored during 70 years of Libyan kings and dictators were ransacked in a “free” Libya.
Not having boots on the ground may ensure that endless chaos will consume post-Khadafy Libya. That was also true of Somalia and Lebanon after US troops were attacked and abruptly left.
How about 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 now dominate Egyptian politics. American aid workers were recently arrested and threatened with trial by Egyptian “reformers.”
Still another US 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 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 Persian Gulf oil-exporting nations. The Syrian regime is butchering thousands of its citizens.
Finally, we could return to the policy of establishing friendly relationships with Mideast dictatorships regardless of their internal politics — and then keeping mum about their excesses. We did that with Pakistan, which has received billions in US aid. Yet it is hard to imagine a more anti-American country than nuclear Pakistan, without which the Taliban couldn’t kill Americans so easily in Afghanistan.
The United States once saved the Kuwaiti regime after it was swallowed up by Saddam Hussein. We’ve also enjoyed strong ties with the Saudi monarchy. Neither country seems especially friendly to us. It’s still a crime to publicly practice Christianity in Saudi Arabia. Fifteen of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudis. Mideast oil costs less than $5 a barrel to produce; it sells for more than $100, largely due to the policies of our allies and OPEC members.
Let us review: 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 doesn’t 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 leave Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out.