Saturday, July 16, 2016

US rolling disasters in the Middle East

"The United States needs to get into the habit of developing and implementing war termination strategies."

So says Chas Freeman as he takes a look at what Andrew Bacevich calls America's War for the Greater Middle East in his most recent book of that title: What America Keeps Getting Wrong in the Middle East The National Interest 06/13/2016. That comment was in particular reference to the inconclusive results of the Gulf War of 1991. Bacevich's chapter on that war is called "No Clean Ending." Bacevich concludes:

Viewed in the context of America' s expanding military involvement in the Greater Middle East ... Operation Desert Storm accomplished next to nothing. The Bush administration's declaration of victory in 1991 did, in fact, turn out to be premature. That results fell short of expectations stemmed less from flawed generalship, however, than from a fundamental misreading of the overall situation.

Although during the coming decade Washington developed an Ahablike mania regarding Saddam, the Iraqi dictator was merely a symptom of what the United States was contending with. The real problem had a multitude of aspects: the vacuum left by the eclipse of British imperial power; intractable economic backwardness and political illegitimacy; divisions within Islam compounded by the rise of Arab nationalism; the founding of Israel; and the advent of the Iranian Revolution.

It's hard to imagine how any victory over Iraq, no matter how complete, could have remedied this menu of challenges. After another decade of trying, the United States gave up the attempt. After 9/11, rather than vainly trying to prop up the Greater Middle East, Washington set out to transform it. A fundamental misreading of Desert Storm helped make that attempt appear plausible. The result was a disaster. [my emphasis]
Jeffrey Record wrote on the Gulf War in Dark Victory: America's Second War Against Iraq (2004):

Certainly in retrospect, the peace imposed on Iraq in 1991 was unsatisfactory. lt failed to unseat Saddam Hussein or thwart his continued attempts to acquire nuclear weapons, although international sanctions and inspections may have placed such weapons beyond reach. It left the Iraqi people impoverished by economic sanctions and imprisoned inside an exceptionally vicious police state. And because the coalition of 1991, with the exception of the United States and Great Britain, subsequently disintegrated over the issue of postwar policy toward Iraq, the peace ultimately proved unenforceable.
The Afghanistan War provides another example. Freeman writes, "The objectives of the NATO campaign have never been clear but appear to center on guaranteeing that there will no Islamist government in Kabul." He observes that this cold have been avoided by accepting the results of the first two months of the intervention:

The objectives of what was initially conceived as a punitive raid into Afghanistan in October 2001 were (1) to dismantle Al Qaeda and (2) to punish its Taliban hosts to ensure that “terrorists with global reach” would be denied a continuing safe haven in Afghanistan. The United States pursued these objectives by supporting mostly non-Pashtun enemies of the mostly Pashtun Taliban who had proven politico-military capabilities and staying power. A limited American and British investment of intelligence capabilities, special forces, air combat controllers and air strikes tilted the battlefield in favor of the Northern Alliance and against the Taliban. Within a little more than two months, the Taliban had been forced out of Kabul and the last remnants of Al Qaeda had been killed or driven from Afghanistan. We had achieved our objectives.

But instead of declaring victory and dancing off the field, we moved the goalposts. The United States launched an open-ended campaign and enlisted NATO in efforts to install a government in Kabul while building a state for it to govern, promoting feminism and protecting poppy growers. The poppies still flourish. All else looks to be ephemeral. [my emphasis]
Freeman criticizes the Clinton Administration's dual containment policy against Iraq and Iran, arguing that it was "plausible as a defense of Israel against its two most potent regional adversaries, Iran and Iraq. But it made no sense at all in terms of stabilizing the Gulf." One of the most predictable and obvious results of the invasion of Iraq in 2003 was strengthening Iran's position in the region: "The U.S. occupation culminated in a 'surge' of forces that entrenched a pro-Iranian regime in Baghdad and that only its authors consider a victory."

He also sees the ill-conceived drone wars as bringing blowback against American policies in the Middle East, writing, "The terrorist movements U.S. interventions have spawned now have safe havens not just in Afghanistan, but in the now failed states of Iraq and Syria, as well as Chad, Lebanon, Libya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Pakistan, the Sinai, Somalia and Yemen."

And Freeman warns against the illusions of Islamphobia:

In the end, the attribution of Muslim resentment of the West to Islam is just a version of the facile thesis that “they hate us because of who we are.” This is the opiate of the ignorant. It is self-expiating denial that past and present behavior by Western powers, including the United States, might have created grievances severe enough to motivate others to seek revenge for the indignities they have experienced. It is an excuse to ignore and do nothing about the ultimate sources of Muslim rage because they are too discomfiting to bear discussion. ...

For our part, Americans must be led to correct our counterproductive misunderstanding of Islam. Islamophobia has become as American as gun massacres. The presumptive candidate of one of our two major parties has suggested banning Muslims from entry into the United States. This is reflective of national attitudes that are incompatible with the cooperation we need with Muslim partners to fight terrorist extremism. If we do not correct these attitudes, we will continue to pay not just in treasure but in blood. Lots of it.[My emphasis]
Freeman makes this important observation about the current position of the US in the Greater Middle East, "The world’s reliance on energy from the Gulf has not diminished. But ours has. That gives us some freedom of maneuver. We should use it."

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