Photo illustration by Shaun Venish/123RF/Photodisc
Photo illustration by Shaun Venish/123RF/Photodisc - Evolution of Turmoil in Middle East: Western Role (part one) - MPC Journal
© Photo illustration by Shaun Venish/123RF/Photodisc

Given the current Middle Eastern scenario, one may reasonably hold the argument that the on-going turmoil in Middle East owes its burden equally to the Machiavellian Anglo-American policies in the region and the harrowing failure of the Muslim governments/leaderships in the Middle East to rationally respond to those challenges.

The Anglo-American Alliance

UK’s former premier Tony Blair, the advocate of Junior Bush’s unwarranted invasion of Iraq once said, “We have tried intervention and putting down troops in Iraq; we’ve tried intervention without putting in troops in Libya; and we’ve tried no intervention at all but demanding regime change in Syria. It’s not clear to me that, even if our policy did not work, subsequent policies would have worked better.”

In 2005, former US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice confessed at a speech at the American University in Cairo: “For 60 years, my country, the United States, pursued stability at the expense of democracy in this region here in the Middle East, and we achieved neither.” The result is that the political dynamic across the Middle East became a competition “between repressive dictatorships and illiberal opposition groups.”

The Obama administration seems at long last to understand that the fight against religious extremism in the Middle East will be a long, twilight struggle. For now, it will not involve American boots on the ground. But it will be a difficult campaign to manage with so many crosscutting rivalries among the regional allies.


Middle East & Backlash of Western Policies

History provides a sobering lesson about western involvement in the Middle East.  The lesson of the past decades of US involvement is that the Americans do not have the ability to solve the underlying problems that make the region so combustible, no matter how much in the way of troops, money and intellectual effort they throw at it. Yet the shift of emphasis from “fixing” to managed withdrawal and “offshore balancing” comes with its own perils.

By allying with the Gulf regimes, mostly notable with Saudi Arabia, the West contributed to the creation of a Wahhabi-funded Islamist-conservative ideology that spread around the region. By doing that the West subsequently created its leanings towards generating a notorious personality in the name of Osama Bin Laden- a CIA nurtured and trained person who fought against Russians in Afghanistan.  This was “Reagan’s Jihad” of the 1980s. “Glowing praise of the murderous exploits of today’s supporters of arch-terrorist [Osama] bin Laden and his Taliban collaborators, and their holy war against the ‘evil empire’, was issued by US President Ronald Reagan on March 8, 1985.”   US-run Radio Liberty and Radio Free Europe beamed Islamic fundamentalist tirades across Central Asia, while paradoxically denouncing the “Islamic revolution” that toppled the pro-US Shah of Iran in 1979.

Ironically during the post Cold War period, George W. Bush’s doctrine of the axis of evil accompanied with Washington’s sponsored project of transformational democracy via regime change provided a spicy recipe for political turmoil in the region of West Asia.

The Devil’s Advocacy of Interventionism

The evidence shows that US military interventions create more jihadists – for example, as documented by journalists in Yemen – or new, yet worse groups such as Al-Qaeda in Iraq, which morphed into ISIS.

Yet radical Islamists existed for decades before 9/11, posing little or no threat to the distant United States. In fact, during the Cold War, the United States fuelled Islamist jihadism to battle communism — for example, aiding the Mujahedeen fighters in Afghanistan, which later morphed into the original Al-Qaeda group.

Iraq did not specifically harbour Al-Qaeda, but it had provided training camps and other support to terrorist groups fighting the government of Turkey and Iran, as well as hard-line Palestinian groups. In fact, according to the Council on Foreign Relations in 2005 “the question of Iraq’s link to terrorism grew more urgent with Saddam’s suspected determination to develop weapons of mass destruction (WMD), which Bush administration officials feared he might share with terrorists who could launch devastating attacks against the United States.” Nonetheless, the official reason that the US cited for launching the invasion was exemplified.

Creation of ISIS

Unwittingly, the desire to spread democracy in the Middle East led to the formation of ISIS. Two decisive complications emerged following the US invasion of Iraq: The first one is that insurgency against US occupation of Iraq was legitimized. The second one is that the resultant Shiite dominated “democracy” provided ISIS with a recruitment pool of alienated Sunnis. Furthermore, the heavy weaponry abandoned by the fleeing Iraqi army, much of which was provided by the US, helped ISIS to transform into a pseudo army able to consolidate its power and increase its gains. Finally, the democratic revolution and resultant civil war in Syria to overthrow the brutal regime of Basher Al-Assad has established ISIS as the main rebel group leading to the radicalisation of the once moderate opposition in that conflict.

American policy has sought to straddle the motivations of all parties and is therefore on the verge of losing the ability to shape events. The US is now opposed to, or at odds in some way or another with, all parties in the region: With Egypt on human rights; with Saudi Arabia over Yemen; with each of the Syrian parties over different, yet conflicting objectives.

Washington Plan to Oust Assad

The US proclaims the determination to remove Assad but has been unwilling or unable to generate effective leverage – political or military – to achieve that aim. Nor has the US put forward an alternative political structure to replace Assad should his departure somehow be realized. In Washington there are many figures, who point out that there is a flaw in the logic of an official policy that calls for the overthrow of Assad but shares with him numerous mortal enemies, chiefly ISIS and Jabhat Al-Nusra. In other words, there is no plan.

Western Engineered Policy of Centrifugalism

While contributing to the creation of Islamism, the West has stoked the Sunni-Shia divide.  CIA hands were behind most Middle Eastern leaders, including Ali Hassan Salameh, the Palestinian ‘Red Prince’, and Saddam Hussein, who was even a CIA asset as revealed by Rashid Khalidi. Genocides were overlooked; such as the ones against the Kurds while the Kurds were embraced by the West to guarantee leverage – destabilization factor – in their relationship with the dictator regimes.  The West, via its ally Israel, helped sponsor Hamas, while also propping up the government of the Palestinian Authority through training security forces.

West-Israel Honeymoon

The West was also intimately involved in the creation of Israel and remained obsessed regarding its security. Europe and the US wanted an outpost in the Middle East and Israel was a perfect candidate. The creation of the Palestinian refugee problem unsettled other regimes in the Middle East, and also forced many Muslim majority countries to eschew human rights in order to “combat Israel”.  Israel, many experts conclude, has opposed democracy in the Middle East and supported dictators. Opposition to Israel, although often rhetorical, helped create Arab nationalism under Gamal Abdel Nasser and necessitated dictatorship in Egypt and gave rise to Hezbollah in Lebanon.  Also the “axis of resistance” run by Bashar Al-Assad was created to oppose Israel.  The UN has blamed Israel for lack of reform and overall stagnation in the region.

Some commentators have argued that the West’s traditional support for Sunni regimes is the problem, resulting in what Eldar Mamedov calls “Shiaphobia”. He argues “The West should live up to its own self-proclaimed reputation as the protector of religious liberty and pluralism worldwide.”  The Economist  concluded on the Shia-Sunni divide: “many of the West’s potential or de facto allies are scarcely more savoury. Some of the most capable anti-IS forces are the Shia militias that once fought American soldiers and waged a vicious sectarian war against Sunnis.”

A UN report on Arab integration noted “the Western parties perceive the Arab region as vital to their achievement of three main goals, namely, maintaining oil flow at reasonable costs; preserving the security and military supremacy of Israel; and fighting terrorism.”

To read Part Two (Evolution of Turmoil in Middle East: Beyond Religion), please click HERE.

To read Part Three (Evolution of Turmoil in Middle East: Chemistry of Complex Dynamics), please click HERE.

By Hakim Charles

Hakim Charles studied political science of the Middle East, European Studies, journalism and linguistics. He has been lecturing at different German universities since 2011 on issues related to ideology and the interplay of power thereof in socio-political life, and religion and its relationship to contemporary politics in the regions of West Asia and North Africa, especially Egypt and Syria. He is also the editor-in-chief of the Mashreq Politics & Culture Journal (MPC Journal) since 2014 and has published over 100 articles in different languages, academic and otherwise, in a wide spectrum of on-line and printed newspapers, journals and think tanks. His current research focuses on Islam-inspired political ideologies such as Islamist extremism and Salafism, radicalisation, de-radicalisation processes in Germany as well as peace and conflict in the Middle East.

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