With the renewed confrontation of long time foes US and Iran, following the series of events – withdrawal of US from “Iran deal;” refusal of oil sanction waiver to select countries (including India); recognition of Golan Heights as Israeli territory by US, designating Iran’s Revolutionary Guards as “terrorist organization;” assassination of General Qasem Soleimani and the subsequent Iranian retort- the Gulf and Middle East (West Asia) is yet again at the brink of a war, which may have global ramifications.
If we go beyond the invincible American propaganda and analyse deeply the American policy in the Middle East in the past 40 years or so, it becomes quite clear that US is mainly responsible for all the mess which we witness these days ranging from Afghanistan to Syria and from al-Qaeda to ISIS.
In my opinion, US policy has been a complete failure, both from American as well as global perspective. What it has led to is just the highly volatile and unstable situation, deeply divided society, loss of millions of lives, global refugee crisis and rise of non-state actors.
Let’s look at some of the classic American misadventures and my argument as to why continued US intervention in the region is uncalled for.
It all started with the land which is called “graveyard of empires.” Afghanistan, historically, has been the junction between great empires in Turkey, Persia, Mongolia, and India; but no power could ever exercise complete control over it due to the difficult terrain and paucity of resources. But its strategic location has been the reason for the warring factions to compete for this landlocked area, as it provided them with a much-needed line of defence.
The British, although a military giant, couldn’t conquer Afghanistan even at its peak but was able to control its foreign affairs against rival Russia. After the decline of the “Empire” era, Russia sought to spread its communist revolution to this land; thus, led a ground invasion in 1979.
From here on the rise of a monster called “Mujahideen” or “jihadists” started taking shape. The US, which had already tasted severe defeat in Vietnam, was now hell-bent on making Afghanistan, “the Vietnam” for the Soviets. Instead of directly fighting the Soviets, the US tried to rouse the extreme religious feelings among Afghan tribals against the “Godless invader.”
They armed the Mujahideens with the latest weapons to wage the holy war. Not only this, the radicalized youth from across the Islamic world ranging from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia were encouraged to move to Afghanistan to fight the holy war (jihad).
This was a call something like the medieval times, in which religion was invoked by Sultans in order to fight the war, which shouldn’t have the place in late 20th century. But unfortunately, the cold war politics dragged into itself the Islamic fundamentalism.
With the help of proxy wars, the US although was able to force Soviet Russia to withdraw from Afghanistan, but at the same time, it completely decimated its secular power structure which existed till 1978. As the US had no long term plans for Afghanistan, other than driving Soviets out, the lack of any central authority led to civil war in Afghanistan.
Out of the warring, Mujahideen groups emerged the all-powerful Taliban which ascended the throne of Kabul in 1996. From among the several militant groups promoted by the US emerged the al-Qaeda, led by Laden.
The US obviously had no problem with all this until and unless it itself came under fire by the fundamentalists. The bombing of US embassies in Kenya and Tanzania followed by the 9/11 attacks, established al-Qaeda as a potent force to reckon with.
What followed next was ground invasion of Afghanistan, to rout the Taliban regime and capture Laden. The US as expected toppled the Taliban regime within three months but as is said about the “graveyard of Empires”, it got stuck there.
The American army was now beaten in their own game by the guerrilla war tactics of Taliban militants. Given the geography of Afghanistan, the US could never exercise full control, especially in the rural Afghan areas.
In the meanwhile, the Taliban expanded itself not only in Afghanistan but also in Pakistan and now poses a serious challenge to the governments in both these states. Having exhausted its resources for years and realised the futility of their stay, the US started withdrawing in 2014, the process which is now continuing under Trump. Now the US, seeks to have “talks” with the same Taliban, as it couldn’t defeat them.
Among all the power games, the ultimate sufferers are the people of Afghanistan, who once enjoyed much peace and freedom, but now live under perpetual fear of fundamentalist forces.
The story of Iraq is also much like Afghanistan, the ground invasion on the pretext of alleged “chemical weapons,” the power vacuum and subsequent rise of ISIS.
Iraq presents a completely confused picture of US foreign policy. Although not big supporters of Saddam Hussein, the US justified its invasion of Iran in 1980, obviously due to it’s more antipathy towards Iran. Not only the US, but the Soviet Union too helped Saddam in his war against the Iranians. But in spite of all the efforts war ended in a stalemate, much against the US wishes. This should be better acknowledged as the diplomatic defeat of the US.
The Gulf war of 1991 was a high point for the US, both military and diplomatically. It was successfully able to liberate Kuwait, cripple Saddam and yet not remove him from power. US policymakers under senior Bush rightly realised the need of Saddam, in order to check Iranian ambitions.
But then again the blunder came in 2003 when junior Bush ventured upon invading Iraq and removing Saddam on the flimsy grounds of alleged use of chemical weapons. This greed for total control over Iraq, in order to gain control over its resources, was to have serious implications in the years to come. For a few years, the American military had a strong presence in Iraq, but then its gradual withdrawal was to lead to a struggle for power as happened in the case of Afghanistan.
The weak regime at Bagdad gradually led to the rise of ISIS by 2013, which controlled large areas in Iraq and Syria. The devastation caused then by ISIS and the allied forces brought misery to the people of Iraq. With the rising tensions between the US and Iran, Iraq needs to fear again as it will be used as the prime base for the US military to launch attacks on Iranian territories.
The latest foreign policy misadventure was done by the Trump regime last year with its withdrawal from the “Iran Nuclear Deal.” The deal made after much negotiations were expected to bring relative peace in the region, which in fact it was doing with Iran adhering to much of the regulations.
But unexpectedly, the warmongering Trump administration, in order to please its core voter base, went on to withdraw from the deal unilaterally (withdrawing unilaterally has become a tradition under Trump), much against the wishes of its European allies.
Given the history of bad blood between US and Iran, which could be traced back to the Iranian revolution of 1979 and subsequent hostage crises, the current provocation by Trump is not going to help the peace process in any manner.
In the last 40 years, the proxy war led by Iran and the US (and its allies) has caused lots of death and destruction right from Lebanon to Yemen. Presently, if there’s a war between the two, it again would be a foreign policy disaster for the US.
Although the US has an upper hand over Iran militarily, however, what is the guarantee that Russia will not involve itself, just like that in case of Syria. Besides that the history also needs to be taken into account. The nascently revolutionized Iran in 1980 was successfully able to resist Saddam, who was then backed by both the US and Soviet Russia.
Given the strategic importance of Strait of Hormuz and the whole gulf at large, any full-scale war will lead to a global oil crisis, which could rattle the markets across the globe. Besides this an unstable Iran will be more dangerous than Afghanistan and Iraq, Trump should keep this in mind.
Before 2011, the US used to align with any sort of regime be it the totalitarian states like Libya and Egypt or the monarchy such as Bahrain and Jordan, given that its economic interests were fulfilled. It at least did not try to annoy its friendly dictators. The policy had paid the US dividends for long and maintained a relative peace in these nations.
But come the 2011 Arab Spring, the Obama administration tried to reverse its previous policy. It deposed its friends in countries such as Libya and Egypt, thus leading to long political instability in these countries.
It tried a similar experiment in Syria but failed thoroughly. Assad refused to bow to US diktat and what followed next was years of proxy civil war. The civil war in the meantime also paved the way for the rise of ISIS.
With the active support of Putin, Assad was able to crush both the rebels and ISIS but all this came at a huge cost. Much developed and growing Syria was completely rattled with millions of deaths, widespread poverty, hunger and a severe global refugee crisis.
Finally, having realised the futility of war after killing millions, Trump decided to withdraw last year, adding to its list of failed misadventures.
After looking at all the cases and several others which are by-products in several Middle-east countries, it can be concluded that continued intervention of foreign superpowers has been the reason for the sorry state of affairs.
There is obviously no immediate solution to this, but the global and regional superpowers must realise that their continued misadventures and involvement in domestic affairs of any country is not going to help anyone other than aggravating death and destruction.