The disaster in Iraq has exposed a rich vein of incompetence not only in the White House but in the press. In a recent column, Roger Cohen points out in the Times that the U.S. invasion of Iraq, carried out under entirely false pretenses, has backfired in any number of ways. It has played into the hands America’s nemesis, Iran, while infuriating Saudi Arabia, a key ally. It upset the Sunni-Shiite balance of power, leading to the all-oout sectarian warfare that is now engulfing the region. It encouraged the growth of Al Qaeda in Iraq and has forced Washington to seek help from Tehran. Yet help is not likely to be forthcoming due to resistance everywhere from Riyadh and Tel Aviv to Capitol Hill. In the end, Cohen throws up his hands and declares: “A logical approach in the Middle East is seldom a feasible approach.” Nonsense. It is not logic that got the U.S. into this mess, but a tower of illogic that neocons like Cohen have helped build up to frightful proportions. Why is U.S. policy in the Middle East such an utter mess? Let us count the ways.
- The United States pretends to oppose militant Islam yet allies itself with Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait, and other Persian Gulf states that are the prime funders of jihad throughout the globe. In a secret 2009 memo made public by Wikileaks, then-secretary of state Hillary Clinton observed that the Saudis “constitute the most significant source of funding to Sunni terrorist groups worldwide.” Yet Washington has done nothing to force the Saudis to turn off the spigot. To the contrary, Obama has fairly fawned over the Persian Gulf tyrants, bowing low to Saudi King Abdullah during a G-20 summit meeting in 2009 and absurdly praising Qatar’s Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani for promoting democracy everywhere but in his own country.
- The U.S. claims to oppose religious fundamentalism, yet supports Saudi Wahhabists who, since the 1980s, have funded the construction of thousands of mosques and madrasas from Indonesia to London, every last one a breeding ground for violence and intolerance.
- It claims to oppose religious sectarianism, yet, directly or indirectly, has backed sectarian forces in Syria and Iraq that are now slaughtering every last Shiite they can get their hands on.
- It claims to back only moderate, secular forces in Syria. Yet the Free Syrian Army, the chief object of its affections, has been implicated in anti-Christian atrocities and has collaborated militarily with Al-Nusra.
- The U.S. has never officially repudiated George W. Bush’s absurd “Axis of Evil” rhetoric even though it now seeks a rapprochement with Iran, number two on Dubya’s list of evil-doers.
- It tosses the “terrorism” label about with abandon despite the facet that years of misuse have rendered the term all but meaningless.
- It has provided Israel and Saudi Arabia with open-ended security guarantees that effectively allow either country to lead it about by the nose. With ISIS now tearing Iraq into little bits and pieces, it is therefore at a loss over what to do. If it allies with Iran, it will infuriate both Riyadh and Tel Aviv. If it doesn’t, it will have to stand by and watch as Iran, Iraq, and likely Syria as well form themselves into a Shiite arc of resistance while ISIS carves out a caliphate extending from t the Tigris and Euphrates he Mediterranean.
- It claims to want nothing more than stability in the Middle East, yet by pouring hundreds of billions of dollars a year into the region in the form of energy revenue, much of which is then used to purchase U.S. military hardware, it is pouring oil on the fire. Saudi Arabia is a basket case. Besides oil, it exports nothing but Qur’ans and holy warriors. It devotes 13 percent of GDP to the military (Israel devotes only about 9 percent)l, yet in the event of a real war it would be a sitting duck. Besides oil, it exports nothing other than Qur’ans and holy warriors. Yet the Obama administration is tied to it hand and foot.
- The U.S. has done nothing to rein in a monstrous oil economy that is at the heart of today’s turmoil. Even Thomas L. Friedman is occasionally right about certain things, and one of those is a carbon tax, which, if adopted, would have a wide range of positive effects. It would reduce CO2 output, it would reduce highway congestion and suburban sprawl, and it would send energy prices falling through the floor. With the Persian Gulf states losing much of their economic clout, funding for groups like ISIS would plummet. Yet the U.S. is paralyzed. It prefers to watch its empire collapse all around it rather than engage in meaningful reform.
This is the equivalent of a four-way head-on collision. U.S. policy in the Middle East is so rickety and absurd that the entire structure is now crashing down around us. Ordinary people could not come up with something so ridiculous. Rather, it took some of the best minds in the country working together for decades on end. Unchastened, neocons are now scouring the globe for fresh disasters in the making – in the Ukraine, in the Baltic, and perhaps the East China Sea. Is this the way empires end, not with a ban or a whimper but a sigh of confusion?