Some Facebook posts circulating since the Paris tragedy voice outrage that the U.S. and its allies failed to stop ISIS at its inception.
To those I ask what, pray tell, was the beginning?
Was it during the three hundred years of Crusades when Western European Christians invaded the Middle East to drive out Islam?
Was it after WWI when the Western powers reorganized the colonized Middle East, shifting borders to suit the desires of various Western nations regardless of existing ethnic, tribal, or religious boundaries?
Was it after WWII when Western powers again reorganized Arab lands, shoving the Palestinians aside to carve out a homeland for the Jews? Couldn’t we have predicted that Arabs would resist? Perhaps that would have been the best time to nuke the whole region.
Was it when we armed the Afghan Mujaheddin in the 1980s to help them overthrow Soviet occupation? Couldn’t we have predicted that once the Cold War ended, we would abandon Afghanistan and leave tribal leaders like Osama bin Laden to take what he’d been taught to organize his devastated homeland.
Was it when we marched into Iraq, toppling the strong man government of Saddam Hussein and unleashing sectarian violence between Sunnis and Shias?
Was it when the 2011 Arab spring spread from Egypt through other Middle Eastern nations and Syria’s President Assad fought back against his nation’s rebellion? The U.S. and allies hurried into Syria with support and secret ‘advisors’ to assist the rebels, bringing in sophisticated arms and other supplies that are now in the hands of ISIS. Gee, how could we have guessed?
The claim that the U. S. could have inflicted a fatal incisive strike against ISIS at any point along this tortured path shows ignorance and a single-minded obsession to heap criticism on President Obama. ISIS has never existed as a discrete target. Any attack on ISIS would result in massive collateral damage.
The entire mess points to one overarching conclusion: the more we intervene in the Middle East, the worse things get.
We’re good at meddling in other people’s affairs. At what point do we have an honest national dialogue centered on the question: Why are we in the Middle East at all?
I can tell you. It’s because of money, oil and religion. And money. Did I say money?[i]
According to a 2013 report, “over the last six decades, the U.S. has invested $299 billion in military and economic aid for Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries currently in turmoil. Egypt tops a list of ten nations, receiving $114 billion since the end of World War II. Iraq comes in second, getting nearly $60 billion from the U.S. (over and above war costs). Far outpacing those ten countries is Israel, an ally that received another $185 billion in U.S. aid in the same period.”[ii]
Why not just hand all that arms money over to the arms dealers and let them keep the weapons?
Are we getting what we paid for? If the objective is to keep the region destabilized so that we can maintain a level of control over the oil, yes. If the objective is to undermine Arab strength in order to further prop up Israel, yes.
We continue to send billions of dollars of foreign aid to the region, larding the already excessive oil profits lining the pockets of the region’s leaders. With all that money, leaders so inclined can invest in distant terrorists or add to their nation’s arsenal by purchasing arms and equipment manufactured in Western nations.
Supporters of Israel dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is religious. People concerned about U. S. energy profits dismiss dollar amounts because their agenda is oil. Both groups fail to recognize the larger agenda behind their pet projects: money.
According to a 2013 report, “Each year, around $45-60 billion worth of arms sales are agreed. Most of these sales (something like 75%) are to developing countries. The five permanent members of the UN Security Council (U.S., Russia, France, United Kingdom and China), together with Germany and Italy account for around 85% of the arms sold between 2004 and 2011.[iii]
Nearly twenty years ago, an incisive review of our foreign aid pointed to this folly:
“An examination of $13.6 billion in U.S. foreign aid activity for Fiscal Year 1997 reveals that almost half of the aid is military in nature. This assistance, in conjunction with large-scale arms exports, may actually be working counter to many stated U.S. foreign policy objectives such as promoting sustainable development, protecting human health and fostering economic growth.”[iv]
George Washington famously cautioned against the quagmire in which we’re now floundering:
“The great rule of conduct for us in regard to foreign nations is in extending our commercial relations, to have with them as little political connection as possible.”[v]
Just six days ago, the columnist citing this wisdom called for an end to all but humanitarian aid to foreign nations. He’s not alone.
Opponents of a hands-off approach will cite the potential for increasing interference in the region from nations like Russia and China. In theory, our presence at the arms trade table balances their influence. But we have to ask ourselves, who was there first? I can tell you. It was us.[vi]
If we want the violence to stop, we’ll have to
- stop giving our tax dollars to nations who spend it on arms,
- eliminate any and all subsidies to arms dealers and manufacturers,
- remove our forces entirely from the region and let them sort it out themselves, and
- rescind and renegotiate any treaties with other nations so that any and all foreign aid is in the form of food, educational materials, medical supplies, and other humanitarian assistance.
Why not? It’s the only thing we haven’t tried.
[i] For an excellent overview of the money problem, see http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/politics/news/a39727/paris-attacks-middle-eastern-oligarchies/
[ii] A graph showing money received by various nations: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/05/06/us-aid-middle-east_n_3223151.html