A Plea for Mideast Policy Realism

Over the past two decades, a neoconservative-driven foreign policy has led to strategic disaster after disaster, but neocon belligerence continues to dominate Official Washington, a dilemma that former U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Chas W. Freeman addresses.

By Chas W. Freeman

Twenty-six years ago, when the elder President Bush asked me to be his ambassador to Saudi Arabia, he assured me that “nothing much ever happens in Arabia.” That had been the case for quite a while. Now no one would refer to any part of the Middle East even the Arabian Peninsula as a zone of tranquility. It was a different world back then.

Mistakes made here in Washington had a great deal to do with why and how that relatively stable world disappeared.

Former U.S. Ambassador Charles W. "Chas" Freeman. (Photo credit: Chasfreeman.net)

Former U.S. Ambassador Charles W. “Chas” Freeman. (Photo credit: Chasfreeman.net)

–In 1993, the United States unilaterally replaced reliance on the balance between Iraq and Iran with so-called “dual containment” of both directly by the U.S. armed forces. This created an unprecedented requirement for a large, long-term U.S. military presence in the Gulf. That, in turn, stimulated the birth of anti-American terrorism with global reach. One result: 9/11.

–From 2003 to date, Americans have racked up $6 trillion in outlays and unfunded liabilities for two wars we have lost. That $6 trillion much of it yet to be borrowed might otherwise have been invested in America’s human and physical infrastructure. We live amidst the falling educational standards, collapsing bridges, man-eating potholes, transportation gridlock, and declining international competitiveness that are the consequences of our not spending that money here.

–After 9/11/2001, in America’s zeal to track down and kill our enemies and terrorize their supporters, we embraced practices like kidnapping, torture, and political assassination. By doing so, we voluntarily surrendered the moral high ground the United States had long occupied in world affairs and forfeited our credentials as exemplars and advocates of human rights.

–Since 2001, Washington has quixotically attempted to exclude both militant Islam and the Pashtun plurality from a significant role in governing Afghanistan, while making it safe for homegrown narcocrats. Afghanistan is now a political debacle, human rights disaster, terrorist training camp, or drug bust waiting to happen.

–In 2003, the United States decapitated and destabilized Iraq, erasing inhibitions to sectarian strife there and, ultimately, in Syria as well. This fostered anarchy and religious extremist movements that have brought untold suffering to millions, driving them to seek refuge, first in neighboring countries, then beyond.

–For almost five decades, the United States aided and abetted a fraudulent “peace process” and the institutionalization of intolerable injustice for the Arabs of the Holy Land. This enabled Israel to keep expanding but eroded the Jewish state’s democracy, alienated the majority of the world’s Jews from it, delegitimized it in the eyes of the international community, gravely damaged its prospects for domestic tranquility, and placed its long-term survival in doubt.

–In 2011, Americans mistook mob rule in the streets of the Middle East for democracy and turned our back on leaders we had previously supported. This cost us our reputation as a reliable ally and helped install incompetent government in Egypt, state collapse and anarchy in Libya, and civil war in Yemen.

–For most of the past 20 years, Washington demanded that Iran end its nuclear program but declined to speak with it.  By the time American diplomats finally did sit down with the Iranians, their program had expanded and advanced.  Despite some rollback, we ended up accepting Iranian nuclear capabilities much beyond what they had earlier offered.

–Over the course of this decade, instead of a strategy to combat Islamist violence, the Obama administration executed a campaign plan involving the promiscuous use of drone warfare.  This multiplied America’s enemies and spread terrorism to ever more parts of West Asia and North Africa. One result: the so-called “Islamic State” Da’esh now has more foreign recruits than it can induct or train.

–Since 2011, Americans have put neither our military power nor our money where our mouths were in Syria. The continued mass death and dislocation there is in part a result of a uniquely American combination of policy overreach, operational hesitancy, and ideologically palsied diplomacy. The strife we helped kindle in Syria (and Iraq) continues to have unforeseen knock-on effects, like the incubation of Da’esh, the destabilization of the European Union by overwhelming refugee flows, and the reappearance of Russian power in the Middle East.

By now, the consequences of multiple U.S. missteps  are obvious to all but the most determined American partisans of diplomacy-free foreign policy. Our many bruising encounters with the inconvenient realities of the Middle East should have taught us a lot about how to conduct or not conduct diplomacy and war, as well as the limitations of purely military solutions to political problems.

But, for the most part, American politicians and pundits have been more comfortable reaffirming ideological preconceptions and tendentious partisan narratives than facing up to what the policies and actions they have advocated have actually produced and why they did so.

Our continuing misadventures in the Middle East and much of the turmoil there are consequences of this evasion of any “after-action review” process. The misadventures began as we still affirmed our fidelity to the United Nations Charter and international law. They continue amidst our studied disregard of both.

It has been a quarter century since Saddam Hussein decided to celebrate the end of the Cold War and his American and Gulf Arab-supported assault on Iran by invading, looting, and annexing Kuwait. Iraq’s brazen aggression united the United Nations behind Western and Islamic coalitions that came to Kuwait’s rescue.

The rescue took place in the name of defending the sovereignty and independence of the weak and their immunity from bullying or invasion by the strong. That’s what the UN Charter was meant to guarantee.

Since then, almost no one in American public office has referred to either the Charter or international law. When President Obama did so in the UN General Assembly at the end of September, there was stunned silence in the hall as other countries’ leaders marveled at his chutzpah. He was, after all, extolling  principles Americans once upheld but now refuse to apply to ourselves or our friends.

The President’s castigation of other great powers for their deviations from the Charter and international law simply reminded many present of U.S. actions in Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Libya, and Syria. These have marked the relapse to a state of international disorder in which the strong do what they will and the weak suffer what they must. That was, of course, precisely what the war to liberate Kuwait was meant to prevent becoming the post Cold War norm.

What might we learn from our continuing misadventures in the Middle East? One key conclusion is that, just as diplomacy without military backing is hamstrung, military power, however great, has limited utility and can even be dangerously counterproductive unless it is informed and accompanied by diplomacy.

We have shown that force can remove regimes. We have seen that it cannot replace them or the political structures it destroys. Our armed forces can shock, awe, and vanquish their foes on the battlefield. But we have learned the hard way in Afghanistan and Iraq that wars do not end until the defeated accept defeat and stand down their resistance.

Translating military outcomes into lasting adjustments in the behavior of those we have defeated is the job of diplomats, not warriors. For the most part, we have not called on our diplomats to do that job.

Judging by the plague of incompetent campaign gerbils and carpetbaggers we appointed to manage Iraq and Afghanistan after we occupied them, our government lacks the diplomatic professionalism, expertise, and skills as well as the politico-military backing and resources needed to craft or sustain peace.

We have no war termination strategies and no one who would know how to implement them if we did, so America’s wars never end. We have also come to understand that threats to attack projects like Iran’s nuclear program are more likely to stiffen the backs of those we are trying to intimidate than to bring them to their knees.

As the German proverb cautions: “the best enemies are those that make threats.” Threats offend the pride of their targets even as they menace their security. Warning that you plan to attack an adversary stimulates military countermeasures and efforts at deterrence on its part. It also promotes hatred and bravado, not thoughts of surrender. If you are serious about attacking a foreign adversary, better get on with it!

But we have learned from studying our options vis-à-vis Iran that bombing can destroy program infrastructure but probably not all of it. Assassination can murder key project personnel but most likely not all of them. Cyber attacks can cripple software and even destroy some equipment but they invite retaliation in kind.

None of these aggressive measures can erase a society’s scientific, technological, engineering, and mathematical skills. The competencies that created complex defense programs remain available to reconstitute them.

Short of occupation and pacification, the only way to eliminate or at least mitigate latent menaces like that of the Iranian nuclear program is through the negotiation of a binding framework of impartially verified undertakings to constrain them. That is what we have finally worked out with Iran. But in negotiations, the perfect is often the enemy of the good and ripe moments soon rot away.

In 2005, Iran offered a deal. We rejected it, refused to talk to Iran directly, and doubled down on sanctions. Ten years later, we settled for much less than what was originally offered. It’s important to know when time is on your side and when it isn’t. And it’s important to understand what sanctions can do and what they can’t.

A century ago, Woodrow Wilson declared that “a nation that is boycotted is a nation that is in sight of surrender. Apply this economic, peaceful, silent, deadly remedy and there will be no need for force.” We’ve spent a hundred years testing this alluring theory. It’s now clear that, when he articulated it, Wilson was out to lunch.

If sanctions are not linked to a diplomatic process aimed at dispute resolution, they entrench differences rather than bridge them. Our recent experience with Iran bears this out. So, by the way, do the results of sanctions against Mao’s China, Kim Il-sung’s North Korea, Castro’s Cuba, and Putin’s Russia.

Sanctions make some people poor and others rich. But, on their own, they neither bring about regime change nor break the will of foreign nationalists.

Dean Acheson was right when he said: that “to determine the pattern of rulership in another country requires conquering it. . . . The idea of using commercial restrictions as a substitute for war in getting control over somebody else’s country is a persistent and mischievous superstition in the conduct of foreign affairs.”

Sanctions quite predictably did not suffice to bring about Saddam’s withdrawal from Kuwait. Air and ground attack were needed to achieve that. Nor could sanctions topple the regimes in Iraq and Libya. For that, the direct use of force was required.

Syria has since underscored the reality that sanctions also come up short even when buttressed by covert action to foment and intensify rebellion. Despite tough sanctions, ostracism, and multiple foreign-supported insurgencies, President Bashar al-Assad is still the head of what passes for a national government in his country.

The case of Iran further buttresses Acheson’s point. Thirty years of escalating sanctions on Iran did nothing but reinforce its obduracy. Only after the reopening of direct diplomatic dialogue finally enabled hard bargaining were we able to trade sanctions relief for restrictions on the Iranian nuclear program.

Ironically, it turns out, the only utility of sanctions in terms of changing behavior lies in their agreed removal. Imposing them doesn’t accomplish much and may even be counterproductive. Yet, as a political cheap shot, sanctions, combined with diatribe and ostracism, remain the preferred response of the United States to foreign defiance.

That’s because, as someone wise in the ways of Washington once pointed out, “sanctions always succeed in their principal objective, which is to make those who impose them feel good.” But gratifying as it may be to politicians trying to show how tough they are, the pain inflicted by sanctions is meaningless unless it leads to agreement by their target country to change its policies and practices.

Agreed change can only be achieved through trade-offs. And these need to be arranged in negotiations focused on a “yes-able” proposition. Sanctions relief can be a useful part of the bargaining process. But sanctions that are imposed to give the appearance of changing behavior without bargaining with those on whom they are inflicted are diplomatic and military cowardice tarted up as moral outrage.

Which brings me to our recent experiences with the deployment and use of the U.S. military in the Middle East. These ought to have taught us a lot about strategy and the conduct of war as well as what is required to translate the results of war into a better peace. They have certainly demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that strategic incoherence invites punishment by the uncontrolled course of events.

A strategy is a plan for actions that can achieve a desired objective with minimal investment of effort, resources, and time. The objective must be clear and attainable. The operational concept must be realistic and simple enough to avoid tripping on itself. To promote efficiency, it should draw on the synergies of all relevant elements of national and international power  political, economic, informational, and military.

For a strategy to succeed, the tactics by which it is implemented must be both feasible and flexible. The strategy must weigh the interests and changing perceptions of affected parties and consider how best to accommodate, counter, or correct these.

Since we became a world power 70 years ago, the United States has sought to sustain stability in the Persian Gulf. A related objective has been to preclude monopoly control of the region’s energy resources by a hostile power.

We accomplished these tasks successfully for decades without stationing significant forces in the region by ensuring that Iraq and Iran balanced each other, by arming the countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) to buttress that balance, and by showing that if our friends in the GCC were threatened, we could arrive in time and with sufficient firepower to defend them. Our strategy protected the Arab societies of the Gulf at minimal cost, with a minimal U.S. troop presence, and minimal social or religious friction.

The 1990-1991 Gulf War validated this strategy. The United States led forces that joined with a Saudi-led coalition to liberate Kuwait and chastise Iraq. Together, Western and Islamic coalition air forces and armies reduced the military power of Iraq to levels that enabled it once again to balance Iran without threatening its other neighbors.

But in 1993, the Clinton administration abruptly abandoned the effort to use Iraq to balance Iran. With no prior consultation with either the U.S. military or our security partners in the Gulf, the White House suddenly proclaimed a policy of “dual containment,” under which the United States undertook unilaterally to balance both Baghdad and Tehran simultaneously.

This made sense in terms of protecting Israel from either Iraq or Iran, but not otherwise.  It deprived the Gulf Arabs of a role in determining a low-cost national security strategy for their region and required the creation of a long-term American military presence in the Gulf.

The irritations that presence entailed gave birth to al Qa`eda and led to 9/11. The subsequent U.S. invasion and destruction of Iraq’s power and independence from Iran ensured that there was no way to sustain a stable balance of power in the Gulf that did not require the continuation of a huge, expensive, and locally burdensome American military presence there. So Americans garrison the Gulf, and there we will remain.

No one openly questions this situation but no one is comfortable with it. And with good reason. It is politically awkward for all concerned. It presupposes a degree of congruity in U.S. and Arab views that no longer exists. And, notwithstanding the Obama administration’s considerable efforts to allay Gulf Arab concerns, they suspect that the logic of events in the region could yet drive America toward rapprochement with Iran and strategic cooperation with it against Sunni Islamism.

In assessing American reliability, our partners in the Gulf cannot forget what happened to Hosni Mubarak. Not surprisingly, they want to reduce dependence on America for their protection as much as they can. This is leading to a lot of arms purchases and outreach by Saudi Arabia and other GCC members to countries in Europe as well as China, India and Russia. It has also stimulated assertively independent foreign policies on their part.

But the capacity of the GCC countries for self-reliance is limited. No matter how heavily they arm themselves, they cannot match either the population or the potential for subversive trouble-making that their Iranian adversary and its fellow travelers possess. Sadly for the GCC, there is no great power other than the United States with power projection capabilities and an inclination to protect the Gulf Arab states from external challenges. So there is no escape from GCC reliance on America.

Meanwhile, however, the apparent contradictions between U.S. interests and policies and those of our GCC partners are widening. The United States now asserts objectives in the region that do not coincide with those of most GCC members. These include support of the Shi`ite-dominated Iraqi government against its Sunni opposition and assigning priority in Syria to the defeat of Da’esh over the ouster of President Assad.

U.S. support for the Kurds disturbs our Arab friends as well as our Turkish ally. America supports the GCC’s military operations in Yemen less out of conviction than the perceived need to sustain solidarity with Saudi Arabia.

The United States and Gulf Arab governments have in effect agreed to disagree about the sources of instability in Bahrain and Egypt and how to cure them. Where a common ideology of anti-communism once united us or caused us to downplay our disagreements, passionate differences between Americans and Arabs over Salafism, Zionism, feminism, religious tolerance, sexual mores, and democratic vs. autocratic systems of governance now openly divide us.

Neither side harbors the sympathy and affection for the other that it once did. Islamophobia in the United States is matched by disillusionment with America in the Gulf. But the ultimate sources of mutual discomfort are the strategic conundrums of what to do about Syria and how to deal with Iran.

Wishful thinking about the region’s strategic geometry and determination to exclude powerful governments and leaders from participation in the region’s politics have failed to curb endless warfare, mass flight to safe havens, and the promotion of extremist ideologies. Diplomatic processes that leave out those who must agree to an altered status quo or acquiesce in it for it to last are exercises in public relations flimflam, not serious attempts at problem solving.

No party with proven strength on the ground, however odious, can be ignored. All parties, including what’s left of the Syrian government led by President Assad and its external backers, must sign on to a solution for it to take hold. Russia has just forcefully reinforced this point.

President Putin, not President Obama, now holds the keys to a solution of Europe’s refugee crisis. As long as one or more of the external and internal parties in Syria is willing to fight to the last Syrian to get its way, the anarchy will continue. So will the refugee flows. Assad will remain in power in part of the country. And Da’esh and its like will flourish in the rest. This situation is and should be acceptable to no one.

It is almost certainly too late to put the Syrian Humpty Dumpty together again. The same is likely true of Iraq (as well as Libya). The future political geography of the Fertile Crescent now looks to be a mosaic of religiously and ethnically purified principalities, statelets, and thugdoms. If this is indeed what comes to pass in the region, Iran, Israel, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and great powers outside the area will all play destabilizing games aimed at dividing and ruling it.

Conceivably, Da’esh could forge a viable Levantine “Sunnistan” that balances both Iran and Israel, but that is hard to imagine and would be unacceptable to all but the most religiously constipated Salafi Muslims. Even less plausibly, portions of Iraq and Syria could come together in some sort of federal structure that can play a regional balancing role.

With Turkey sidelined, Russia doubling down on support for the Assad government in Syria, and no potential Arab partner available to help balance Iran, the GCC states have been driven to deconflict some of their Iran policies clandestinely with Israel. But Israel’s treatment of its captive Arab population and neighbors makes it morally and politically anathema to other actors in the region.

And Israel’s use of negotiations to deceive its negotiating partners and others interested in brokering peace for it with the Palestinians and other Arabs has gained it a worldwide reputation for diplomatic chicanery that it will not soon live down. As long as it continues to oppress its captive Arab population, Israel will disqualify itself as any country’s public partner in strategy and diplomacy in the Middle East.

Meanwhile, in Iraq and Syria, the attempt to use air power to stop Da’esh and training a ground force to oppose it without fixing the broken political environment in which extremism flourishes has failed. This should not be a surprise. Analogous Israeli campaigns against Hamas and Hezbullah had earlier failed.

The Saudi-led GCC campaign in Yemen is unlikely to prove the exception to the rule that you can’t accomplish objectives you can’t define. Nor can you overthrow or install a regime from the air, even when you totally dominate the airspace.

The Iran nuclear deal shows that diplomacy can solve problems that bombing cannot. Political problems, including those with a religious dimension to them, require political solutions. And political solutions depend on politico-military strategies that inform sound policies.

There is no such strategy or agreed policy for dealing with Iran now that its nuclear program has been constrained and sanctions will be lifted. The United States seems to have no clear idea of what it now wants from Iran, and Iran just wants America to go away.

The GCC would like Iran isolated and contained, as it was before the United States helped install a pro-Iranian government in Baghdad and connived with Israel to propel Hezbullah to the commanding heights of Lebanese politics. But there is no GCC strategy with any prospect of achieving this result. Wars of religion, not strategy, are shaping the future of the Middle East.

As refugees overwhelm Europe and both Assad and Da’esh continue to hold their own against the forces arrayed against them, the world is moving toward the conclusion that any outcome in Syria any outcome at all that can stop the carnage is better than its continuation. The ongoing disintegration of the Fertile Crescent fuels extremism; empowers Iran; drives Iran, Iraq, Russia and Syria together; weakens the strategic position of the GCC; vexes Turkey; and leaves the United States on a strategic treadmill.

The region seems headed, after still more tragedy and bloodshed, toward an unwelcome inevitability the eventual acknowledgment of Iran’s hegemony in Iraq and Syria and political influence in Bahrain, Gaza, Lebanon, and Yemen. That is not where Americans and our Gulf Arab friends imagined we would end up 25 years after liberating Kuwait from Iraqi aggression. But it is where protracted strategic incoherence has brought us.  We can no longer avoid considering whether an opening to Iran is not the key to peace and stability in the Middle East.

Whatever our answer to that question, the 70-year-old partnership between Americans and Gulf Arabs has never faced more or greater challenges than at present. We will not surmount these challenges if we do not both learn from our mistakes and work together to cope with the unpalatable realities they have created.

Doing so will require intensified dialogue between us, imagination, and openness to novel strategic partnerships and alignments. There are new realities in the Middle East. It does no good to deny or rail against them. We must now adjust to them and strive to turn them to our advantage.

Chas W. Freeman was U.S. Ambassador to Saudi Arabia from 1989 to 1992. In 2009, Freeman was the Obama administration’s first choice to chair the National Intelligence Council, which oversees U.S. intelligence analysis, but withdrew his name after several weeks of fierce criticism from supporters of Israel’s foreign policy. His above comments were made in a speech to the 24th Annual Arab-U.S. Policymakers Conference on Oct. 14, 2015. [Reprinted with the author’s permission.]

17 comments for “A Plea for Mideast Policy Realism

  1. Vesuvius
    October 26, 2015 at 04:49

    Thanks for this wise article. It’s a shame that the President did not hire former Ambassador Freeman to his team, but instead let the neocons hound him away. Mr Freeman’s advice is just what the President needs.

  2. F. G. Sanford
    October 20, 2015 at 22:41

    “…an inclination to protect the Gulf Arab states from external challenges. So there is no escape from GCC reliance on America. “latent menaces like that of the Iranian nuclear program” “our Arab friends…our Turkish ally” “…President Bashar al-Assad is still the head of what passes for a national government in his country.” “anti-communism once united us” “Neither side harbors the sympathy and affection for the other that it once did.” “the promotion of extremist ideologies” “our Gulf Arab friends” “partnership between Americans and Gulf Arabs”

    This is all very carefully contrived and linguistically camouflaged Zionist claptrap. No one can assault Freeman’s skill as a diplomat; he’s a master at couching imperial psychopathy in the language of faux rationalism.

    When it comes to the “promotion of extremist ideologies”, nobody tops the medieval horror show maintained by “our Gulf Arab friends”. “Anticommunism” certainly never united us. They’ve relied on us to preserve slavery, harems, ritual human sacrifice, torture, and the most corrupt and extreme system of social stratification ever to disgrace the American ideals embodied in The Constitution and The Declaration of Independence. What we’re protecting is the access to oil revenue profits because our own corrupt corporatocracy cannot allow American ingenuity to achieve energy independence without giving up its own hedonism. “Sympathy and affection” for these barbarians and criminals? Please, linguistic erudition can only go so far to whitewash the truth. The so-called “Carter Doctrine” was implemented along with the Richard Pipes criminal “Team-B” CIA operation. We don’t have any “Arab friends”, and if we ever had sympathy and affection for that monstrosity, then we deserve the inevitable ruination our own hypocrisy is visiting upon us.

  3. John
    October 20, 2015 at 22:32

    > “–After 9/11/2001, in America’s zeal to track down and kill our enemies and terrorize their supporters, we embraced practices like kidnapping, torture, and political assassination. By doing so, we voluntarily surrendered the moral high ground the United States had long occupied in world affairs and forfeited our credentials as exemplars and advocates of human rights.”

    This isn’t untrue, of course. But a nation defines itself by its ideals, and these ideals unambiguously are at odds with policies of kidnapping, torture, political assassination, and beyond that rights abuse such as indiscriminate surveillance. So one may say that that the United States has surrendered the moral high ground, but one could equally well say that all of this represents an attack on the United States. The fact that the ideals of the United States stand opposed to these sorts of dirty practices means that the United States has an inexhaustible supply of people who would firmly oppose them. In order to carry out those practices means that these people have somehow been silenced. Whether because they were lied to, wrongly imprisoned, attacked, demeaned, degraded, excluded, pestered, pressured, dismissed, or ignored, they were somehow taken out of a process which they were meant to be a part of. So it’s an attack on those people, and thus an attack on the country itself, to partake in dirty practices leaving a floundering foreign policy in its wake.

  4. October 20, 2015 at 19:37

    Thank you for proving it is possible for public people to think and write clearly. You are far too rare. Please keep at whatever you are doing that relates to your broad yet focused vision. Thanks again.

  5. Mortimer
    October 20, 2015 at 19:12

    Huge Gratitude for that corroboration, Abbywood.

    It’s painful that our collective diminished attention span is so,so pervasively present.

  6. Abbybwood
    October 20, 2015 at 18:48

    I remember paying very close attention to the whole Iraq/Kuwait situation.

    The U.S. ambassador to Iraq, April Glaspie, CLEARLY told Saddam Hussein regarding his complaint that Kuwait was stealing Iraqi oil via the use of “slant oil drilling” techniques and what did she say to him?:

    “The United States has NO OPINION ON YOUR BORDER DISPUTE WITH KUWAIT.”: This was printed on the front page of the NYT back in the day!!!


    Now I’m sure none of this is currently being taught in U.S. high school American History classes. I’ll betcha if you went out to your local super market or DMV and asked the first hundred people who April Glaspie is they’d guess, “Wasn’t she that Broadway person who starred in Kinky Boots?”

    The United States LED Saddam into invading Kuwait just as easily as she could have STOPPED Saddam from taking action. This is just a fact of life folks.

    The United States had a plan PRIOR to 9/11 to invade “seven Middle East countries in five years” according to Gen. Wesley Clark. But no one seems to want to discuss this.

    There is just too much B.S. coming out of the mouths of those who should (and do) know better regarding the TRUTH of American history/intelligence.

    Until we get to the TRUTH about ALL the honest reasons the United States has been single-handedly creating chaos not just in the Middle East, but all over the damn planet for as long as I can remember (born in 1950), NOTHING will change regarding our foreign policy!

    The Neocons who have been running the “Deep State” for decades need to be publicly called out for bringing the planet to the brink of a nuclear WW III conflagration.

    They should all be in prison, not dining at the Four Seasons in D.C.

    • rosemerry
      October 21, 2015 at 13:41

      Great comment, Abbybwood!
      The whole article had good points, but why assume the USA has a right to own the ME, tell Russia what to do, ensure peace never exists?
      Also, how much early US history does Chas ignore when he writes:

      “By doing so, we voluntarily surrendered the moral high ground the United States had long occupied in world affairs and forfeited our credentials as exemplars and advocates of human rights.

    • Bob Van Noy
      October 21, 2015 at 16:35

      Thanks for the reminder Abbybwood, you are exactly right to bring us back to that outrage brought about by the George HW Bush administration. Much of this current mess in the ME begins with Bush1 but then I also think much of our total dilemma with the “Deep State” goes back to HW’s involvement in nearly everything…

  7. Abe
    October 20, 2015 at 16:07

    there is again a narrative, which is that Israeli interests and American interests are identical; Israeli values and American values are identical. Neither is true, if you examine it.

  8. Abe
    October 20, 2015 at 15:24

    Chas W. Freeman, George H. W. Bush’s appointed Ambassador to Saudi Arabia during that remarkable exercise in US Mideast policy “realism”, Operation Desert Storm, regales us herewith:

    “[…] in 1993, the Clinton administration abruptly abandoned the effort to use Iraq to balance Iran. With no prior consultation with either the U.S. military or our security partners in the Gulf, the White House suddenly proclaimed a policy of “dual containment,” under which the United States undertook unilaterally to balance both Baghdad and Tehran simultaneously.

    This made sense in terms of protecting Israel from either Iraq or Iran, but not otherwise. It deprived the Gulf Arabs of a role in determining a low-cost national security strategy for their region and required the creation of a long-term American military presence in the Gulf.

    The irritations that presence entailed gave birth to al Qa`eda and led to 9/11. The subsequent U.S. invasion and destruction of Iraq’s power and independence from Iran ensured that there was no way to sustain a stable balance of power in the Gulf that did not require the continuation of a huge, expensive, and locally burdensome American military presence there. So Americans garrison the Gulf, and there we will remain.”

    Alas, the burdens of Empire, “In patience to abide, To veil the threat of terror And check the show of pride”.

    Sure, Chas has the requisite bona fides: his own page on the Anti-Defamation League website http://archive.adl.org/main_anti_israel/charles_w_freeman_own_words.html

    Freeman’s propaganda boilerplate characterization of America’s misadventures in the Middle East mirrors the CIA alumni “blowback” shite regularly dispensed by Mssrs. Paul Pillar and Graham Fuller on the pages of Consortium News: Nary a whisper about America’s deliberate training and funding of Al Qaeda brand du jour terror.

    Yeah, Freeman would have made an awesome chair of the National Intelligence Council, if only…

    • Mortimer
      October 20, 2015 at 18:45

      “[…] in 1993, the Clinton administration abruptly abandoned the effort to use Iraq to balance Iran. With no prior consultation with either the U.S. military or our security partners in the Gulf, the White House suddenly proclaimed a policy of “dual containment,” under which the United States undertook unilaterally to balance both Baghdad and Tehran simultaneously.

      “Duel Containment” meant, in Iran, a continued Isolation — and in Iraq, GHW Bush declared crippling sanctions — which caused ultimate derogation to both nations, but especially to Iraq where creeping wretchedness caused the death of five hundred thousand children, with an equal number of adults.

      Clinton’s State Secretary, Madeline Albright, was particularly (criminally) brutal in reply to the question, ‘are/were 500,000 child deaths worth maintaining the sanctions?’ —- Her cold blooded reply was, “Yes.”

      The isolation/debilitation of Iran was as economic imprisonment of a nation.
      The sanctions against Iraq, with “no-fly zone” arbitrary indiscriminate bombings by US/UK jets was as Participatory Punishment of an innocent Populace in the name of “Defense Policy.”

      Walter Scott’s line, “Oh what a tangled web we weave, when First we practice to deceive”
      is apropos here to any reasonable/logically thinking human being.

      All the conditions for this horror have been put-in-place wholly by & thru US, UK. EU/NATO policy and facility — from the training, arming and actual Encouraging of JIHADISTS, after GHW Bush’s give-of-approval to Saddam for his incursion into Kuwait after seducing him into the Iran/Iraq war. — lets spell it out, the combined expenditure of Iraqi finances lost in the USA induced war against Iran ( Iraq was, at that time our [junior varsity] client state in the Middle East) with the debilitating loss of able-bodied personnel thru drawn-out war placed Iraq (Saddam) in an economic catastrophe.

      Kuwait, another US succor State had been found guilty of Slant Drilling into Iraqi oil fields, literally Stealing and selling Iraq’s oil while Iraq did America’s bidding against Iran, at Iraq’s Expense ! ! !

      That, ladies and gentlemen is the reality that led to the GHW Bush “coalition-of-the-willing”
      Let’s examine some words & ideas put forth by the Political Expression; CONTAINMENT
      as if, kept in a Container, maybe constricted or a Receptacle, pigeonholed –
      a useful vessel/utensil, fit for The Master’s use – a desk drawer, closet, a useable dictator at your disposal — all are depictions of “containment” as Diplomatic Policy Construct.

      An Iraq/Iran “Balance” was gained by the inducement of the Iraq-Iran war that significantly diminished Both economies!! (All Politics is war) —
      The systematic dismantling of the Middle East is Structured Political Policy strategically designed/ Not Happenstance, as the Culprits would have us to believe thru Media Manipulation.

      The new “Trade Agreements” put forward In Our Faces are another block in the building of McWorld, as described by Benjamin Barber in his memorable Jihad vs McWorld brilliant analysis written in 1992, if I remember correctly.

      All witness today has been painstakingly planned and is dynamically fluid — the outcome will not be pleasant for any of us no matter who triumphs –

      McWorld equals austerity/ Jihad equals sharia
      Neither means freedom or justice for all… .

      • Mortimer
        October 20, 2015 at 18:55

        after seducing him into the Iran/Iraq war. —

        This should say after REAGAN (& cohorts) seduced him into the Iran/Iraq war.

    • October 20, 2015 at 19:44

      Mortimer, What is your point? Do you believe Clinton did the right thing attempting to protect Israel more efficiently by containing an area nearly the size of the western United states?

      • Mortimer
        October 21, 2015 at 09:48

        The canard that were ‘protecting Israel’ is pure rubbish, Garrett. We were systematically destabilizing/decomposing the Nation of Iraq.
        They were a defenseless country when we cowardly went in for the kill on 3/19/2003.

        Saddam had been our ally in the Middle East- the CIA installed and protected him.
        It paints a terribly horrible picture of US integrity.

        If you’d focus on the 3-D picture of oil company execs meeting with Dick Cheney in the late 1990’s to erect a strategy for the taking of Iraq oil fields, you’d understand what Operation Iraq Liberation was really all about.

        9/11 was/is a planned deception – it was the thing Phil Zelikow and Ash Carter wrote about in 1998 when they called for “A New Pearl Harbor” to jump-start Middle East aggression.

  9. Zachary Smith
    October 20, 2015 at 14:45

    An interesting and useful essay. But I couldn’t help but notice Turkey and Saudi Arabia got sort of a free ride. Also, neither ISIS nor the “good terrorists” were mentioned.

  10. Tom Welsh
    October 20, 2015 at 14:15

    “We’ve spent a hundred years testing this alluring theory. It’s now clear that, when he articulated it, Wilson was out to lunch”.

    And the rest of the time.

  11. Michael
    October 20, 2015 at 14:08

    Funny, it is a mixed bag of insigths, shrewd judgements and diplomatic conservatism and hypocrisy, spiced with some (large) omissions.
    The wishes of the GCC as umbrella for the imperialist designs of the past decades comes without the vulgar mention of Oil, the fake crusade against Daesh, a largely US responsabilty Toyota included, the reluctant acceptance, but acceptance of the multi ethnic states as a solution albeit not solving the problem and the final touch about finding new partners, all that shows the profund disarray prevailing in US policy, it mean of choice: brutal military force and reluctant recourse to talk.
    Most stunning is the absence of conception of a global, linked geopolitic. You simply can’t isoladed the Golfe and ME from the Asian rising, specially China.

    But USA can isolate itself, reducing its paranoïds fears, become a normal large rich potent country on equal terms with others such as its now vassals in EU. Let’s say bye-bye to exceptionalism, white man burden, and the domination of greed.

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