The twentieth and twenty-first century US policies in the Middle East have somehow concentrated on oil resources in the region. Successive US administrations have continued to define the national security interest of the Middle East. Since 9/11, the US strategy for the Middle East has emphasized the use of military might directly or indirectly through supporting local military groups and administrations.
The Bush administration employed a policy of threatening to use force, as well as using force, as in the case of Iraq, to topple unruly regimes. His administration was credited with firmness. Even though some decisions were not popular about the Middle East, they still demonstrated the firmness of the US. The Obama administration has been quick to change its official position when the public reputation is at stake.
In doing so, it has ended up causing a number of crises with its old ally relationships and creating new enemies that were just recently its partners in various Middle East interventions. This essay examines the recent history of the US engagement in the Middle East. It sometimes touches on the North African Arab world countries for their significance in the affairs of the Middle East.
The paper concludes that the current US policy has been fragile, ineffective, and it needs an urgent overhaul for the country to regain its control and promise of bringing peace to the Middle East region. If the current policy persists, then the ongoing void in power will expand and may create more powerful insurgent groups, such as the Islamic State. Such groups will create more problems not only to the US position, but also directly to the citizens of the Middle East.
US Aid and Military Intervention in the Middle East
The US offers varied assistance and attention when working with Middle Eastern countries. For example, its leading recipient of aid is Israel, which is also considered its biggest ally. Other countries like Egypt and Jordan have been enemies and US allies at different periods, and they receive substantial aid from the US taxpayers. However, the US policy in the region does not only revolve around support, but it also sends its military to respective oil producing regions like Saudi Arabia to provide security for oil resources.
After the Gulf War, the cost of sustaining military operations to protect oil resources in the Middle East cost the United States about 30 to 60 billion dollars every year. In addition, the direct costs of military intervention, such as the war on Iraq inflated that figure substantially. Nevertheless, increased expenditure and military interventions have only served to increase the anti-American sentiments around the Middle East in countries that are not allies of the US (Kolodziej & Kanet 2008).
In 2003, the Bush administration changed its policy on protecting oil fields in the Saudi Arabian Gulf and withdrew its military. The move was a response to the request of the Saudi royal family; it was not a move to disengage entirely from the Middle East region.
Currently, the US maintains the idea that for peace to prevail in the world, it must maintain a strong presence in the Middle East directly or through its proxies. The encroachment of the Middle East relied on the democratization process that the US was undertaking in the world, justifying its move to influence regime changes in the countries that it considered dictatorships.
One hot matter in the Middle East has always been the Israel-Palestine relationship. After Obama took over from Bush, the United States set out to reconfigure the Middle East by examining its position and designing new ways that would likely be effective in realizing the hopes of the US in the region. In his second term in office, President Obama admitted that the relations of the US and most Middle East countries were not very good.
He also acknowledged that the region was in shambles, mostly Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Iran, and the Persian Gulf in large. The dynamics of the Middle East play an enormous part in the region’s present relationship with the United States. Beyond that, the policies that the US insists on applying also have an effect on the current situation.
Although the US military has no peer in the world, President Obama acknowledges the fact that the face of the US in the region cannot only be based on the army as a component of its leadership.
The current policy aims to recognize the role and potential benefits of diplomatic ties that the country has held with various nations over a long time enough to create a historic alliance. The US believes that using the same alliances and building new ones can compel countries in the Middle East to absorb democratic ideas, reduce or abandon military intervention for any conflict arising, and focus on strengthening diplomatic ties (Murrin et al. 2014).
Too much reliance on military intervention has led the US allocate a lot of funds to its military and less to its diplomats. Thus, even as the US is trying to increase the influence of its diplomacy, it faces a funding challenge. The Middle East demands patient cultivation of influence with leaders who run various factions and countries. Nevertheless, a rapid deployment of military as a quick solution has always been the number one option for the US.
At the same time, whatever little diplomacy is left in the region is used by the US to improve its position with its allies at the expense of the relationships with its prospective enemies. For example, the US relied on its diplomatic might and international influence to support a negotiated agreement with Israel on the terms of Palestinian capitulation (Murrin et al. 2014). At no point of the negotiations did the US consider and engage Palestine as an equal party in the negotiations.
In fact, the concerns and needs of the Palestinians to enjoy self-determination were never consulted by the US. Thus, any effort to broker peace now, which the US has always claimed to support, is a futile process. Palestine and any other nation that supports it in the Middle East see the way the United States is biased and have no interest in joining a negotiated agreement that favours one party. On the other side, the biggest ally to the US, which is Israel, discarded the peace process, further ensuring that any future peace deals disappeared.
The US views the Middle East as a major recipient of its arms exports. As a region, the Middle East is a business ally to many weapon manufacturers. To this end, the US supports conflict indirectly in the area by increasing focus on militarization to benefit its industries (Katzam et al. 2015). The US government promises to go slow on militarization, but any disengagement is quickly replaced by a new one in a different part of the Middle East.
At the same time, there is a heightened focus on the US relations to seek political alliance with the weapons recipient countries so that the US can have its manufactured systems outside the country in case there is a direct attack or when there is a need for direct US intervention.
The most powerful special interest groups in the United States are military manufacturers, and they support the violation of human rights by the United States in various areas of its occupation or support for military conflict. In fact, the US has always ignored the UN Security Council Resolution 687, which refers to military responses and human rights safeguards.
The justification of nearly 3 billion dollars in military aid from the US comes from an idea that Israel has very volatile neighbours and needs protection. Ironically, the US also supplies 80 per cent of all arms in use by the Arab states that are neighbours to Israel.
The region has many countries relying on force to exert their power and influence. In the past years, the Middle East witnessed many spikes of terrorist groups and attacks against civilians by Israel and Turkey, both of which have mainly relied on military aid from the United States.
It should be noted that there has been a US military base in Turkey for many years, with the US Navy also taking position in the nearby waters. The total number of troops stationed in these bases and the Arabian Peninsula is significantly larger and has been in the region since the Gulf War.
Every year, the US finds a reason to maintain a presence, mainly using the justifications of providing security or responding to threats directed at its allies. Since the Gulf War, the Arabian Gulf countries still hold the US with suspicion and ask whether the war was actually fought for international law and self-determination or human rights; they just see it as a bulldozing framework in the US to gain a toehold in the Middle East.
The US led a consistent air strike campaign in Iraq, despite receiving condemnation from the international community and Iraq’s neighbours. If Iraq had weapons of mass destruction, then its neighbours should have been the most concerned, yet they were adamant against the invasion by the US. On the other hand, the Iraq military suffered greatly in the Gulf War and was poorly funded and developed by the turn of the century.
The US policy on the Middle East is biased towards Israel. For example, the country freely accepts the maintenance of a sizeable nuclear arsenal by Israel, yet it does not condone even the thought of its Arab neighbours gaining nuclear weapons. From the outlook, the weapons of mass destruction are in the Middle East, and they have been brought by the US in its support for Israel, which makes the claim of keeping out weapons a false one.
The search for peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been ongoing for over two decades with no hope for a conclusion. The international consensus is that Israel should withdraw its forces from the boundaries known internationally so that it can guarantee security from Israel’s neighbours. It would involve the establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank. Israel would have a special status for sharing Jerusalem (Walt 2013).
The existence of two state nations has not been peaceful. Moreover, the US traditionally rejects the international consensus and follows the ideology of the Israeli right-wing government. It only wants Israel to partially withdraw from its occupied territories and has even supported Israel’s actions to take over the Palestinian land and to create a settlement for Jewish-only people, which is a clear violation of the international consensus on co-existence (Mitchell 2014).
The US interprets Israel as an autonomous nation and does not recognize the rights of Palestine, thus allowing the latter only a limited control of the West Bank. The arrangement follows the American Indian reservations model; where people are given their autonomy, but they live under severely limited rights. It is ironical that the US aids Israel with military and other forms and then encourages both Israel and Palestine to work out a peace agreement.
Thus, while on the surface it would appear that the US is maintaining a neutral interest in the conflict, the facts described so far show that the US is doing everything to give Israel an upper hand in the negotiations.
As a result, the US is making Israel have a larger share of the disputed lands. At the same time, it is encouraging Israel to use more force than dialogue and diplomatic systems to get what it wants, while Palestine faces no reception of dialogue and the Palestinians end up forming aggression groups to attack Israel individually (Mitchell 2014).
Incidentally, Palestine has been on the losing end. While the US insists on an agreement between the two parties, it goes on to accuse Palestine of failing to cede land to Israel. This comes after the fact that Palestine has already given Israel 78 per cent of the historic territory, based on the Oslo Accords.
In comparison, the only request by Palestine is for Israel to withdraw from the lands that it seized in 1967. This is not a Palestine only demand, but a requirement of international law. Based on the above facts, there should be no peace agreement, but a force to make Israel comply with the international law. However, the US forgets this fact and insists on one-sided negotiated agreement that will have Palestine lose more.
One of the main setbacks of the US policy in the Middle East is that the US takes the dual role of being a leading mediator and a diplomat. The US supports the Israeli forces to take over the disputed land by supplying the forces with military and financial resources, which expand Israel’s dominance. The US does not consider the rights, demands, and pleas of the Palestinians and the international community (Zunes 2001).
Interestingly, Israel has a population that is about 8.059 million, yet it receives 40 per cent of all US foreign aid; almost qualifying as an external state of the United States. Congress unanimously supports aid to Israel every year, which tops 3.5 billion annually. All this support comes despite any negative sentiments about the support as expressed by the US public.
The assistance to Israel is unconditional, meaning that Israel does not have to work under any circumstances for it to receive aid. In comparison, the other Persian Gulf monarchies that work as allies with the United States do not have similar political stability, well-trained militaries, and technological sophistication as Israel. They would be worthier recipients of the unconditional support.
US Violating its Rules and Beliefs
The Middle East citizens resent the US for many reasons, one of which is the persistent occupation and its reliance on military intervention to advance its interests without benefitting the people of the region. In fact, the main consequence of the occupation of Iraq was a high human toll. Before Iraqi even moved on after the 1991 Gulf War, it fell victim to the US invasion to topple Saddam Hussein in the name of reducing terrorist threats and maintaining order to prevent the creation of mass destruction weapons.
Resultantly, hundreds of people experience malnutrition and death from ailments that are avoidable. The civilians are victims of sanctions that cause a humanitarian crisis. These were people with sources of economic livelihood before the invasion, but these sources were destroyed by the US during the invasion. Sadly, they could not get enough support from their government because it was also destroyed in the process (Zunes 2001).
What ensued after the US invasion of Iraq was a rise in opposition groups keen to defend the plight of their people and strongly opposed to the US policy of using punitive sanctions in the region. Eventually, the UN inspectors arrived in Iraq and found no evidence of weapons, but the US still maintained its sanctions, which caused resentment from the Iraqi regime.
The problem with the Iraqi government compliance came from the fact that the US did not spell out conditions for the lifting of sanctions. Additionally, the UN did not help matters because it also failed to offer a practical claim to sustain the lifting of sanctions (Kolodziej & Kanet 2008).
The position of the US regarding the implementation of the international law has been a wavering one. The example showed by its relationship with the Israel-Palestine conflict, as well as its relationship with Iraq, and the clumsy justifications of the invasion indicate a skewed Middle East policy that the country embraces. The US claims that it enforces sanctions and conducts airstrikes to show support for the resolutions of the UN Security Council. On the contrary, it carries out these actions in the pursuit of its interests.
The US also misuses its veto power to implement sanctions against countries that oppose its foreign policy. At the same time, it votes to prevent the enactment of sanctions on its allies, such as Turkey, Morocco, and Israel when they are occupying neighbouring countries.
Incidentally, the occupation of another country’s territory is a grave violation of international law, and it goes directly against the UN Charter. It should not even be subject to negotiations and warrants unquestioned sanctions. It is difficult to understand how the US manages to prevent sanctions on its allies in the Arab world and Israel when there is enough evidence to show encroachment of the territories of neighbouring countries.
The use of veto power to protect its allies from censure is not a new trick in the US-Middle East policy, but an ongoing refinement of a practice that began more than three decades ago. For instance, the US protected Israel from the UN Security Council resolutions that sought to stop Israel’s invasion of Palestinian land. Instead, it facilitated Israel to settle on the disputed land.
As a result, the US violated the UN resolution 465. The action questions the legality and morality of campaigning for peace in the region, yet it is the one causing conflicts by its action of helping u Israel’s quest to develop itself inside neighbouring territory (Kolodziej & Kanet 2008).
Another irony in the actions of the US in the Middle East is its support for autocratic regimes, yet its invasion into Iraq was mainly due to the excuse of fighting the authoritarian government of Saddam Hussein. The current wave of democracy and respect for human rights in the Middle East resembles the success that was achieved in other parts of the world where the US spearheaded the adoption of democracy.
While countries in the Middle East seek to be democratized, the US fails to support them secretly focuses on military and diplomatic support that allows the people to continue living under autocratic regimes. Such actions question the praise for democracy that the US showers on its other policies.
In Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Egypt, and Morocco, the US continues to support autocratic leaders by saying that it is helping the countries to transition and to recognize human rights. The US supported an authoritarian regime in Yemen. However, it withdrew all its support in the 1990s immediately a democratically elected government was formed (Schlies 2014).
The rhetoric of the US is laudable. Nevertheless, the US real policy in human rights record in the Middle East region is very easy to point out. Respect for human rights is a foreign idea in the Arab world. The US cites the cultural practices of the Middle East people, and their religious affiliations are the leading causes of lack of respect for human rights.
In reality, the colonial and military intervention of the US and other Western powers in the region, which ended up causing uneven economic development, have been the major causes of the present situation in the Middle East. In fact, the results come from the Western nations’ policies of upholding sanctions and providing aid conditions to force regimes to suppress their people.
The US is quick to sell arms and to offer military aid to governments when it is clear that they are suppressing their population. The assistance helps the autocratic regimes to stay in power. It also strengthens the state, allowing it to commit more internal repression (Echague 2013).
At the same time, the US cites its support for Israel because it considers it the only democracy in the region. However, the US forgets countries like Iran, which has fruitful and peaceful elections. The arms that the US supplies to Israel only help in suppressing the Palestinians when they push for self-rule.
Resultantly, the US is riddled with radical movements protesting against the US policy in the region. The revolutionary movements come up because they see the US only responding to military threats and conflicts, with no listening ear for diplomacy and dialogue petitions.
Many Islamic movements and related groups seek peace and use peaceful methods to promote a culture of coexistence and dialogue among the people in the region. They encourage the region to cooperate with the West and to have favourable and reciprocating, economic and social policies. Most Islamic groups stand for democratic ideals. Moreover, they are replacements of many discredited Arab nationalist movements (Echague 2013).
Growth of Dissident Groups
Some groups in the Middle East are reactionary, violent, and anti-American. There are also groups that do not oppose the interests of the US; instead, they are cautious in their approach to policies that touch on the socioeconomic fabric of the region. Many of these movements are now in the forefront of struggles in countries that have dramatic displacement of populations.
Dislocations happen due to war or varied economic development. The rise of such movements has mainly come because of the current US policy in the Middle East. The US is an advocate of neoliberalism, yet this model of an economy has benefited a small group of people only. It uses international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to force its economic policies on countries that need financial assistance.
However, the conditions of aid destroy the competitiveness of the recipient countries. The beneficiary countries end up reducing taxes, reducing civil service, eliminating subsidies, and lowering tariffs, which leave them as net importers and very vulnerable to fluctuations in the global economy. The conditions also devalue their currencies and make their citizens poorer.
The effects of the neoliberal policies have been offensive to countries that have dominant Muslim populations because they go against the high social justice ethics that the religion supports.
As a result, many groups and religious based organizations have come out strongly to oppose interventions of the international aid agencies backed by the United States. The conservative policies of the Islam religion also oppose rampant materialism that the US imports to local elites in countries that agree to receive its aid and assistance in formulating economic and social policies (Zunes 2001).
The Middle East region experienced an ideological vacuum after failed economic interventions by the US due to the incompatibility of its policies and the Arab-Islamic ideologies. The poor seeking economic justice ended up succumbing to the appeal of the radical Islamic movements. Meanwhile, the neoliberal policies destroyed traditional economies and moved millions of people who were already facing poverty into peasantry.
As a result, rural populations that were surviving on subsidies and other government interventions became poorer and had to move to urban areas where they could only manage to live in slums. An example of a country that has been a victim of the failed economic policies is Egypt, which has many of its citizens living in slums in Cairo. Additionally, the poor urban population has been a critical security threat to the regimes because of its agitation and fight for economic justice.
On the other hand, the few elites in the countries that were once recipients of free trade and privatization policies end up becoming super rich and gaining more power to advance their political interests. Those left behind become bitter with the US and their ruling elites. They end up as easy targets for joining various Islamic activist groups that rally against corruption, materialism, and injustice in their nations. Thus, the policies introduced by the US have also contributed to more strife in the Middle East (Echague 2013).
Another noted response to the Middle East situation has been to counter terrorism, but it has also been very counterproductive. After the September 11, 2011 attacks in the United States, the country got another excuse to advance its interventions in military and economic ways in the Middle East. It had a legitimate use of its cold war tactics in a post-Cold War world.
Thus, the US went after countries that it saw as potential financiers of the terrorist movements that were taking root in the Middle East. Unlike in the past where the US could easily point out the states that needed intervention and then confront them directly, terrorism was a formless movement made of various groups existing in more than one country as factions and receiving multiple aid sources.
Thus, the US tried to counter terrorism by attacking countries that were potential hotbeds for terrorism activity, even if they did not have a direct link to funding terrorist groups. Such countries included Iraq, Sudan, Libya, and Iran. Syria also appeared as a supporter of terrorism. At the same, Syria was unwilling to cooperate with the U.S policy interests. It has been impossible for the US to respond to terrorist threats with its military might on a large-scale basis.
The US seems to have learned from its past mistakes; therefore, it is relying on the small military interventions and indirect participation through funding of other groups to fight terrorist groups. However, the country is yet to recognize that the root of terrorist activities against it is the grievances that many people and groups in the Middle East hold against the US.
As long as the Middle East policy of the US does not change, then the grievances will continue to spike new revolts and force the US to use more hostile tactics. Consequently, it will face recurring dilemma of protecting its interests and supporting threats against it at the same time (Glint 2014).
Al-Qaeda and Taliban were jihadist movements that targeted the West after the collapse of the Soviet Union. American target attacks existed throughout the last decade in Beirut, Lebanon. The attackers were known to the US. Hoverer, there was another movement that went without the US notice, until 1996 and 1998 when it attacked US interests. The US termed al-Qaeda at the time as Saudi dissidents attacking America.
During that period, Americans became interested in the dissidents, and they relied on their scholarly resources on the Middle East to find an explanation. The US seemed to downplay the terrorist threat posed by dissidents until the September 11 attacks happened (Glint 2014).
The regimes went down after the US military interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, but the US military was unable to maintain peace in the region. It had spiked restlessness and anarchy. Not everything in Iraq and Afghanistan turned out rosy as the US policy promised. Both Iraq and Afghanistan have not found real democracy yet; there are parliaments taking control of governments in both countries (Schlies 2014).
Meanwhile, the Cedar Revolution happened in Lebanon in 2005, where millions moved to the streets to protest peacefully. The people remained peaceful throughout their walk in Beirut.
The protestors included women, which was a surprising thing in the Arab world where men do all the public activities, while women take a back seat when it comes to public affairs. The protest had a simple message asking the Syrians to get out of Lebanon. Later, many scholars and analysts termed the revolution as a texting revolution because of the heavy usage of mobile phones in the country to rally people to turn to the streets.
Mixed Priorities of US Policy
The 2005 march in Lebanon was to usher a new form of protest by civilians that the US had not anticipated in the Middle East. It would also showed the power of the people of the Middle East to fight for social justice without relying on non-governmental organizations and the international organizations that were been active in the region for very long and were unable to create tangible solutions to economic injustice issues affecting most poor citizens.
By 2010, citizens in the Arabic countries were becoming agitated with the status quo of their governments in fighting economic injustice and social disparities. At the same time, the proliferation of the Internet and smartphones allowed the people to exercise free speech without the knowledge or control of their respective governments. Sentiments grew as many people waited for opportunities to hold demonstrations (Schlies 2014).
In Egypt, thousands took to Tahrir Square after being prompted by messages on a Facebook page that had become very popular in a very short time. The US had a chance to promote its freedom and leadership policy in response to the uprising in the Arab world.
Many citizens were calling for real democracy, where they used democratic avenues such as gathering and holding mass protests as ways of defeating their autocratic governments. Nevertheless, the US did not seize the opportunity to champion for freedom. Instead, in its true fashion, the US stuck with authoritarian leaders. In Egypt, it continued to support the government of Mubarak even after 80,000 people stayed in Tahrir Square protesting for three days (Glint 2014).
Unfortunately, failure to work in advance with opposing groups meant that the US came late to the table when governments were overturned in the widely popular Arab spring. In Libya, the US found itself in a situation where the Libya was in control of jihads.
The Muslim Brotherhood took over in Egypt, yet its policies were not very congruent with those of the United States. The US changed its policy quickly and chose to work with the rebel groups in advance after learning that it was going to lose control of the region because many of its ally presidents were being overthrown from office (Glint 2014).
The US was busy implementing its scheduled exit from Iraq when the Syrian uprising emerged. It did not pay much attention to the geopolitics of Syria. However, civil demonstrations in Syria did not succeed like they did in other countries during the Arab spring. In Syria, the Assad government requested external assistance and transformed the uprising into a war. The United States then went into presidential election campaigns and did not have time for foreign policy regarding Syria.
Meanwhile, the situation in Syria was escalating. Iran was supporting the Syrian government and quickly changing its support into a political statement that would be joined by the Russians and the Chinese. The US had threatened Syria with an invasion, which prompted the Syrian government to use force quash a civilian uprising that was challenging its legitimacy.
Meanwhile, the US had shelved its attack into Syria; it chose to leave neighbouring Iraq completely. Unfortunately, Syria had crossed the line when it fought civilians, forcing many to turn into rebels and fight the government (Kolodziej & Kanet 2008).
As the conflict in Syria unfolded, many rebel groups in the region saw it as an opportunity to grow their influence in the region. The first group to join the war was Hezbollah, which had vested interests in fighting Israel as a proxy fight against the United States. There were four regimes involved in the war by the time President Obama was considering fighting Syria for a second time.
It would have been very easy for the US to intervene in Syria and oust the Assad government at the first time in 2011. However, the US delayed and allowed the region to handle its matters, as the US retreated to elect its president. Things had changed when it came back.
As it was later revealed, the US failed to strike Syria because it had entered a deal with Iran that it was not going to strike any of its allies. Thus, attacking Syria would kill a deal with Iran and upset Iran’s relations with the US and Israel by extension, which was an enemy to many Iran allies in the region. The events described above elaborate the way the US became a victim of its chameleon policy.
The US was working with autocratic governments on one side, while it was seeking to remove them from power on the other hand. In reality, the US has only been working with elites and caring less about citizens who cannot give it power over governments (Walt 2013).
Financial interest groups, including military goods manufacturers and oil extracting companies mainly inform the US policy. They advise the government either to embrace military intervention or to seek diplomatic ties to improve trade and grow neoliberal economic influence in the region. This helps the American companies and other multinational corporations of interest to the US to gain entry into various Middle East markets, such as Iran.
The US has expressed its interest in dialogue with Iran, which is a change in its most critical stand in the country. The Arab spring just revealed to the US that it could lose its partners quickly if it did not play its cards well.
As a result, it has been shifting its talk about military intervention and not seeking dialogue with the new regime establishments in the region. The US is now working with the Muslim Brotherhood in North America, while it collaborates with the Ayatollah in Iran, although deep relationships are yet to develop (Glint 2014).
Even with its changing tactics, the US is yet to have effective policies that will deal with the Arab Spring and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Many groups concerned with the ineffectiveness of the policy recommend that the US should step up its support for pro-democracy movements in Iran and Syria. Unfortunately, this is the advice that has allowed the US to ignore the plight of the Palestinians in its quest to give Israel unconditional support.
In a counterargument, supporters of current US policy say that Israel can easily give Palestine other land portions in exchange for the settled portions. It begs the question of whether Palestine should just leave Israel to have its best parts and remain with the unwanted parts of the land in question. On the other issues, supporters of the US policy have been urging it to invade Syria to destroy the government because it is funding terrorism, and it is an ally of Iran.
The same advice was used to support the invasion of Iraq by the US forces. On the contrary, the outcome of the attack was not positive, other than the removal of Saddam Hussein. The Syrian situation is not very similar to the Iraq one; thus a direct attack would affect the plan of the US to develop ties with Iran, which presents significant market potential for both military and other economic goods.
The US policy has relied on scholars’ advice based in the United States. The scholars purport to study the Middle East, yet many simply reiterate past practices that failed to yield tangible solutions in decades. For example, the researchers advise the US to focus on the US-Israel partnership first because Israel is the only stable ally in the region.
However, when looking at the facts presented in this essay, Israel does nothing to support a peaceful coexistence in the Middle East. Instead, it only provokes its neighbouring states with its inhumane considerations and fight against the Palestinians. It is, therefore, awkward that advisors assume that maintaining cordial relationships with Israel will improve bilateral relations between the US and the Middle East.
The other advice has been to create pro-Western democracies and few dictatorships in the region. Unfortunately, as demonstrated by the examples in this essay, the pro-Western democracies end up implementing neoliberal policies that affect their poorest citizens negatively and further fuel hate against the United States. Consequently, rebellious groups calling for legitimate existence, as well as support from well-wishers and volunteers arise (Freeman 2014).
Mixed Priorities and the Arab Spring
When countries are democracies, they become reliable partners because they trade more and are innovative in their social and economic spaces. They even prefer diplomatic ways to solve their differences to safeguard their economic prosperities. Such is the nature of democracy, which has been one of the reasons for the US advancing its democratic ideology to countries in the Middle East.
Nevertheless, its tactics used to ensure that the states achieve stable and well-functioning democracies remain questionable. The US foreign policy in the Middle East has been the basis of the review throughout this essay. While it may have some noble intentions, such as the democratic ideal, the US has some undesirable mechanisms and unfavourable outcomes in the region (Freeman 2014).
This essay has already hinted on a collaborative relationship between the Muslim Brotherhood and the US in the Arab states of North Africa, including Egypt. President Obama’s Administration has also called for an individualistic look at all the countries that were involved in the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring revealed the weaknesses of the US power and established an understanding that the US has no absolute control over the affairs of the region.
At the same time, the US does not have enough financial might to reverse the economic justice problems affecting the countries that were hit by the Arab Spring by itself (Phares 2014). It is other Gulf States and China or other economies that will come in through trade and aid to help develop the countries that are devastated by their autocratic regimes.
The US policy now seeks to provide stable political and democratic foundations in countries where there are no stable governments, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Egypt, and other nations involved in the Arab Spring. With the rise of democracy, the US government hopes to grow an independent influence in the region through diplomatic ties and trade and, hopefully, control any states that emerge. On the other hand, the Arab countries may view democracy as a way of being independent from the US and its influence because they will be ruled by governments elected by the citizens in free and fair elections (Freeman 2014).
On resources, especially energy, the US still has a stake in the region. The US mainly relies on Saudi Arabia after the Arab Spring destabilized other major oil producers.
However, the US recently discovered commercial applications of shale technology, which have allowed it to increase output of its oil wells in Texas and the surrounding regions significantly. Thus, the demand for oil imports has gone down drastically. At the same time, the rise of renewable energy development has also reduced energy demand, but the US still prefers to save its oil due to its non-renewable nature (Keiswetter 2012).
Much of the Gulf region is insecure and requires the assistance of the international community. There is an overall desire to have the oil energy market stabilize throughout the world, which brings out the need to improve security in the region, especially in Yemen and Syria.
The increase in terrorist activities and groups in the last few years only highlights the fact that the Islamic extremist philosophy is not the right one in giving justice to the oppressed citizens of the Middle East. It merely replaces one autocratic leadership with another, where those who are out of terms with the prevailing political ideology become victims.
Mixed Priorities and the Islamic State (ISIL)
The Arab Spring only destabilized the region and brought it to the attention of the world over the need to embrace fair, democratic practices and assist citizens in gaining social and political justice. However, the effects of the Iraq invasion by the US led to another problem of rebel groups that have since been transferred to Syria to cause additional unrest in the region.
The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), also known as ISIS, which will be referred elsewhere as the Islamic State, is a transnational insurgent group that the US also considers as a terrorist group (Glint 2014).
The US Army worked together with the rebels during the Iraq invasion to hunt down Saddam Hussein. Many believe that the rise of ISIL has its roots in the period of occupation. In 2012, when there was an uprising in Syria, the ISIL forces took advantage of the US withdrawal and moved into Syria, with many of them remaining in Iraq to coordinate activities.
The United States sees ISIL or the Islamic State as a threat; thus, it has been taking several initiatives to quell the group. However, the US also allowed ISIL to fight Assad’s government in Syria because it was against the regime and had no way of intervening in the matter directly. Thus, it is believed to have funded rebel forces to fight the Syrian government.
Consequently, it gave ISIL enough power through military aid. However, the allegations are not accurate, but they show the double handedness of the US policy in Syria (Katzam et al. 2015).
The ISIL group is now the main rebel outfit that is fighting the Syrian government and its allied forces, such as Hezbollah. Meanwhile, countries that are sympathetic to the US interests, such as Israel, have backed the rebel groups that are fighting under the banner of the Syrian opposition. In fact, the US provided sophisticated weaponry to rebel groups that it backed in the start of the war, despite clear indications that some of the groups fighting in the opposition had explicit relations with terrorist groups elsewhere (Katzam et al. 2015).
The US was willing to look aside and forget its interest to fight terrorism in the world by working with so-called terrorist groups to fight Syria, which is a country it accused of funding and facilitating terrorism. One begs to ask whether the US has a different definition of terrorism groups, or whether there are other threats in Syrian that the US is keen to destroy that surpass the threat of terrorism.
Many parties interested in fostering peace in the Middle East accuse the US and its regional proxies for creating and funding the militant groups that are fighting in Syria and are moving towards being assimilated into the Islamic State banner. Some accusations are that the US still supports these groups, even though it denies such allegations in public (Press TV 2015).
When the conflict in Syria started, a rebel group called Harakat Hazm received American-made anti-tank TOW missiles that it used actively to fight the Assad government. The US offered such aid as a justification that the opposition needed additional military power so that the government forces would not overwhelm it.
The Syrian war had two sides when it began; the opposition and the government. With time, several groups in the opposition began fighting others based on fighting corruption and the wrong ideology. An example is the Nusra Front rebel group that does not fight the Assad regime; instead, it fights the other rebel groups in a situation that would be characterized as in-fighting (Abdulrahim 2015).
Due to the changing dynamics of the Syrian war, many small groups have disbanded, and their members resigned or joined the remaining ones. It is one of the reasons for the growth of the power wielded by the Islamic State. Western and Arab nationals supporting the opposition in Syria do not have a presence in the country. Instead, they have commanding and resource centres in Turkey and Jordan, where they coordinate activities and send supplies to the opposing forces.
The challenge for the United States, as brought out by its agreement to deal with insurgent forces, is that it now has to balance its support for opposition forces delicately and avoid creating or giving ISIL more powers. ISIL thrives in the Sunni majority areas in Iraq and Syria. Moreover, it controls many areas in the eastern provinces of Syria. It has become a commanding force dictating the agenda of other smaller forces in the region.
In 2014, ISIL led other smaller insurgent forces used by the US to topple Saddam Hussein into advancing along the Tigris and Euphrates rivers and taking over parts of Iraq, including one of its major cities. With the occupation of the towns and provinces, the Islamic State went on to kill Syrian and Iraqi adversaries and citizens who held separate religious beliefs (Katzam et al. 2015).
A mark of contradiction in the US policy in Syria is that it is no longer funding rebel forces that were the main elements of the opposition coalition fighting Assad. Now, most of the groups have to rely on internal resources; thus, they face an additional enemy in the form of the insurgent groups that have turned against the opposition coalition (Abdulrahim 2015).
Since the threat of the Islamic State manifested itself in the Syrian War and subsequent invasions back in Iraq, the US has been quick to change its policy from support to ‘attack’. It now wants to make sure that the Islamic State does not have legitimacy in the region. The threats that Syria posed to the US, namely the funding of terrorists and accommodating terrorists, are now the same threats that the Islamic State poses to the US.
The new US policy is to gather and share intelligence about the Islamic State activities and to use financial measures against the group so that it shrinks the geographic and political spaces of the group. The US also hopes to shrink the labour and the financial resources available and cause the group to die naturally.
While the strategy by the US may pay off, many see it as merely a response to the adverse publicity that the group created about the might of the US in the region. With its failure to intervene adequately in Syria, the power of the US in Middle East remains questionable. Thus, the US quick response to the Islamic State is seen as a tactic to restore its reputation as a world super power. However, this is coming at a time when the forces fighting the Syrian government need a lot of assistance.
In its 2016 budget proposals and request, the US hopes to fund Iraq and Syria train and equip programs that will advance its assistance to groups that are sympathetic (Katzam et al. 2015).
The Verdict on Current US Policy
The tension and on-going conflict due to the US policy in the Middle East are sowing more conflict in the region and has presented ingredients for another arms race for the world’s most powerful nations. The US is weighing its involvement in an ongoing crisis in Ukraine, but it has not dealt with matters that it contributed to their start in North America and the Middle East.
Just after withdrawing from Iraq, the US is contemplating sending non-combat forces into the country again to fight the Islamic State. Meanwhile, the conflict in Syria continues to create a humanitarian crisis that is the most severe in the current world. After involvement in Syria, Hezbollah has since engaged Israel in the conflict with an apparent exchange of fire to mark a turnaround in year 2006 when Israel moved into Lebanon to crash it.
The deal mentioned earlier in this essay on the US working with Iran to create a positive, collaborative arrangement for economic growth has created some tensions between the US and its key ally, Israel. Another natural circumstance, addition to the complexity of the Middle East situation is the death of King Abdullah, head of Saudi Arabia.
Another country in the region, Yemen, is about to face a transition dilemma because its president just resigned about a month ago. The country is at loggerheads as rebels are expressing their desire to seize power, which may plunge it into anarchy and civil war (Goodman & Mate 2015).
The dithering by the US in the Middle East is now threatening years of work that it has taken to build peace in the region and all the lives lost so far will be in vain. The current US policy is indecisive and seeks favourable opportunities, while the country is quick to appease the media and public at the expense of long-term strategic commitments that will help the Middle East find its footing and provide economic and social justice for all its citizens (Glint 2014).
As US is diverting its response to the Islamic state, other insurgent groups and nations are taking advantage to launch offensives. Palestinian rebel groups, in the past year, launched rocket attacks towards Israel. Based on Israel’s history of response, the country is likely to go into a war with the groups or the entire Palestine in the Gaza strip (Schlies 2014).
The current US policy has emphasized politics and ideology, seeking to appear perfect and agreeable. However, it has ended up causing more strife and loss of previous gains in peace. Now, the US is unable to create a strong central government in Iraq because its support for opposition groups has created several allies and enemies that are keen on advancing their causes and do not fear resorting to anarchy to drive their point.
The same indecisive nature of the US policy concerning Syria and its planned invasion ended up permitting the country to become a breeding zone for jihadists, who have ended up as the Islamic State problem that the US faces today. The US policy in the region is similar to dreaming because many of its plans have not succeeded as expected.
Moreover, many more seem to be mirages. For example, in explaining its lack of direct involvement in the Assad case in Syria, the US hoped that the president would face enough pressure from the opposition and citizens and eventually cede power without a lot of resistance. However, the Syrian president is still in office and continues to gain support from sympathetic states like Iran.
If the US policy was very consistent, then the US would not be allies with Iran or rebel forces at any time during its engagement with the region, unless there was a change of their stand against its interest. Unfortunately, the US went on to try and forge alliances to try and divide engagements based on specific issues.
Sadly, it only ended up with bitter relationships when the issues changed into bigger problems. Even long-term friends of the US in the region are not sure where they should place their allegiance. They do not know whether the US will collaborate with their enemy nations in the future and dissident insurgent groups, or whether it will stick with them through all circumstances.
The US standing in the Middle East is now compromised by its persistent change of official grounds. In Egypt, the US threatened that it was going to withdraw military support because the president and his administration were abusing the human rights of their citizens. Conversely, before the threat could sink in, the US announced that it was resuming military aid to indicate its support for the execution of supporters of the country’s first elected president. Such a move makes one wonder what the US fights for and supports.
A significant problem with US policy is that it relied on giving military aid and having the US military presence in the region to bulldoze its agenda. The strategy worked for a while, until its enemies became too many and too disorganized to attack. A return to diplomacy for the US was difficult, but not impossible. It has tried to combine both diplomacy and military intervention only to come out confused in the action strategy and the aim of the particular policy.
The short-sightedness of the policy has become an enormous cost, as the US now has to fight many reputational wars in the region to keep its allies, grow new allies, and appeal to the international community to support its cause. Rather than spend more money on supporting various groups, the US would be best served by a change of policy to embrace more firmness on its stand.
Its allies and enemies need to understand that the US can keep its word and its interests in check. If the US Middle East policy was firm, the region would be having less chaos springing up to fill a leadership void that the uncertainty of the US policy created in the region.
Leaving the Middle East is not an option because the region can only succeed when it has an external powerful mediator, but the mediator must step up and play the role well with clearly defined boundaries. The destiny of the people of the Middle East needs to be determined by persons living in the region; the US should only move in with the intention of helping and defining solutions.
The neoliberal policies failed in the past. The US militarism shows significant signs of failure in leaving a long-term solution. The US should be protecting itself against adverse consequences by working with its allies and keeping its word. Above all, it has to consider demilitarizing the region and giving full diplomacy a chance.
One would look at the current fate of the Islamic world in evaluating the current policy in the Middle East. The critical questions would be whether there is a sense of democracy growing, or whether the US has finally been able to dominate the region with its control. In addition, one would evaluate whether there is stability in the region. The answer to all the questions would “NO”; the US has been unable to realize its goals, and it is failing in its current Middle East policy.
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