The Middle East's Problems Are Really Our Problems
It's our problem, actually, and we've made it theirs.
It is the West that simultaneously wants "the Arab Spring" and "stability." Democracy and strong government control. Honest government and stable kleptocrats.
Check out our split-brain reaction to the Palestinian Authority. By rights, the U.S. should have nothing to do with people who venerate and pay for terror against civilians; teach their children that their country is "from the (Jordan) River to the (Mediterranean) Sea; rob donors and international agencies blind; jail people for their Facebook posts; hold office eight years after the end of a single elected term; refuse to seat an elected parliament; and refuse to acknowledge the permanence and legitimacy of America's ally, Israel. And yet the U.S. treats Palestinian leaders as if they were diplomats, declines to close the PLO "embassy" in Washington, trains their police, maintains the functional equivalent of an embassy in eastern Jerusalem for them – while declining to do the same for the State of Israel in western Jerusalem, and gives priority to the so-called "peace process" over security for our democratic ally.
In the name of "stability."
We're not much better in the rest of the Arab world. Knocking off the Taliban in 2002 and Saddam Hussein in 2003, the U.S. installed governments presumed to be based on American-style democratic norms. The Taliban is thoroughly resurgent, while American casualties rise. Iraq ended up with ISIS, Iranian and Iranian-sponsored militias, and a Baghdad government beating on our Kurdish allies. The 2011 "Arab Spring" was supposed to be the harbinger of Arab governments that honored Western education, free speech, civil society, women's rights, regular elections, and tolerance of minorities and minority opinion. That was supposed to be Libya after we ousted Gaddafi in 2012 and how it was going to be when the CIA-armed "moderate Syrians" ousted Bashar Assad. How's that working out?
Over the weekend, in a joint statement, President Vladimir Putin and President Donald Trump agreed that "[t]here is no military solution to the conflict in Syria." In the official communiqué produced on the margins of the conference in Da Nang, the two presidents "[c]onfirmed that the ultimate political solution to the conflict must be forged through the Geneva process pursuant to UNSCR 2254. They also took note of President Asad's recent commitment to the Geneva process and constitutional reform and elections as called for under UNSCR 2254."
Assad wins with our blessing. Never mind the 500,000-plus Syrian casualties, the 4.8 million Syrians who fled to camps in the region, the 6.6 million internally displaced, and the million who have requested asylum in Europe. Maybe it was just an effort to show increasing "stability" in the region, but it is an example of how willing countries – including Russia – are to dissemble so as not to admit that Iran and its militias have no intention of leaving Syria and are, in fact, building a permanent base less than 30 miles from Israel's border. There will be no stability.
Now we're dissembling on Lebanon – and on Saudi Arabia – neither of which was stable when the media suddenly discovered them.
In Lebanon, Hezb'allah has been running the show with the military and financial assistance of Iran for decades; the 1983 Marine barracks bombing should be a clue. Despite U.N. Resolution 1701 of 2006, which forbids Hezb'allah arms south of the Litani River, there are an estimated 110,000 missiles and rockets there, most underneath or inside what appear to be civilian dwellings and schools. If that isn't enough missiles for you, the IDF has confirmed that Iran's IRGC has been building missile production facilities in Lebanon more than 150 feet below ground. In exchange, Hezb'allah supplies men and arms for the fight in Syria, contributing to carnage on a scale unseen in this century, including the use of chemical weapons.
The American response has been to arm and train the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF), insisting and pretending that the LAF is not actually controlled by the actual government of Lebanon, that it is a force for stability – or maybe insisting and pretending that it is controlled by the government. "The United States expects an orderly political process in Lebanon and will remain supportive of the legitimate institutions of the Lebanese state," said Pentagon spokesman Maj. Adrian Rankine-Galloway – including the Hezb'allah-controlled LAF.
We expected an "orderly process" in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria as well, and we found American weapons in the hands of hostile forces in each case. The administration has admitted that Iranian-backed forces in Iraq have American-supplied equipment, and a number of recent American casualties in Afghanistan have come from Afghans undergoing training with our forces.
And so to Saudi Arabia, where Crown Prince Mohammed bin Sultan (MbS) is shaking up the country both domestically and internationally.
But Saudi Arabia was far from stable before him, with a huge young population with few career choices, women under siege, a Wahhabi religious authority wedded to Sunni jihad, corruption among the princely class (there are 15,000 princes plus families), a single-commodity economy, and Iran stirring up Shiite minority communities both in Saudi itself and in other Gulf countries. MbS appears to have strong support from various quarters of the kingdom as he makes his choices and sets the country on a path to royal succession from a single branch of the Saudi family tree. He may succeed, and he may not. He may create more instability with no redeeming forward progress, and he may set the stage for a country better able to find its way in the 21st century.
One thing is for sure. The U.S. and its Western allies have wanted the impossible from the Middle East: stability and progress, the firm hand of government control, and free institutions. That is our problem, and we've helped to make it theirs.