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Why Washington Clings to a Failed Middle East Strategy

By Gareth Porter,

The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power.  The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.

But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up.  The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis. 

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those "rogue" regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem:  Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Bush administration's invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept.  It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.

But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another.

  • The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq merely empowered Shi'a forces to form a regime whose geostrategic interests are far closer to Iran than to the United States;
  • The U.S.-encouraged Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 only strengthened the position of Hezbollah as the largest, most popular and most disciplined political-military force in the country, leading ultimately the Hezbollah-backed government now being formed.
  • Israeli and U.S. threats to attack Iran, Hezbollah and Syria since 2006 brought an even more massive influx of rockets and missiles into Lebanon and Syria which now appears to deter Israeli aggressiveness toward its adversaries for the first time.  
  • U.S.-Israeli efforts to create a client Palestinian entity and crush Hamas through the siege of Gaza has backfired, strengthening the Hamas claim to be the only viable Palestinian entity.
  • The U.S. insistence on demonstrating the effectiveness of its military power in Afghanistan  has only revealed the inability of the U.S. military to master the Afghan insurgency.

And now the Mubarak regime is in its final days.  As one talking head after another has  pointed out in recent days, it has been the lynchpin of the U.S. strategy.  The main function of the U.S. client state relationship with Egypt was to allow Israel to avoid coming to terms with Palestinian demands.

The costs of the illusory quest for dominance in the Middle East have been incalculable. By continuing to support Israeli extremist refusal to seek a peaceful settlement, trying to prop up Arab authoritarian regimes that are friendly with Israel and seeking to project military power in the region through both airbases in the Gulf States and a semi-permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategy has assiduously built up long-term antagonism toward the United States and pushed many throughout the Islamic world to sympathize with Al Qaeda-style jihadism.   It has also fed Sunni-Shi'a tensions in the region and created a crisis over Iran's nuclear program.

Although this is clearly the time to scrap that Middle East strategy, the nature of U.S. national security policymaking poses formidable obstacles to such an adjustment   Bureaucrats and bureaucracies always want to hold on to policies and programs that have given them power and prestige, even if those policies and programs have been costly failures.  Above all, in fact, they want to avoid having to admit the failure and the costs involved.  So they go on defending and pursuing strategies long after the costs and failure have become clear.   

An historical parallel to the present strategy in the Middle East is the Cold War strategy in East Asia, including the policy of surrounding, isolating and pressuring the Communist Chinese regime.  As documented in my own history of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, Perils of Dominance, the national security bureaucracy was so committed to that strategy that it resisted any alternative to war in South Vietnam in 1964-65, because it believed the loss of South Vietnam would mean the end of Cold War strategy, with its military alliances, client regimes and network of military bases surrounding China.   It was only during the Nixon administration that the White House wrested control of national security policy from the bureaucracy sufficiently to scrap that Cold War strategy in East Asia and reach an historic accommodation with China.

The present strategic crisis can only be resolved by a similar political decision to reach another historical accommodation - this time with the "resistance bloc" in the Middle East.  Despite the demonization of Iran and the rest of the "resistance bloc", their interests on the primary issue of al Qaeda-like global terrorism have long been more aligned with the objective security interests of the United States than those of some regimes with which the United States has been allied (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan). 

Scrapping the failed strategy in favor of an historic accommodation in the region would:

  • reduce the Sunni-Shi'a geopolitical tensions in the region by supporting a new Iran-Egypt relationship;
  • force Israel to reconsider its refusal to enter into real negotiations on a Palestinian settlement;
  • reduce the level of antagonism toward the United States in the Islamic world and
  • create a new opportunity for agreement  between the United States and Iran that could resolve the nuclear issue. 

It will be far more difficult, however, for the United States to make this strategic adjustment than it was for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to secretly set in motion their accommodation with China.  Unconditional support for Israel, the search for client states and determination to project military power into the Middle East, which are central to the failed strategy, have long reflected the interests of the two most powerful domestic U.S. political power blocs  bearing on national security policy: the pro-Israel bloc and the militarist bloc.  Whereas Nixon and Kissinger were not immobilized by fealty to any such power bloc, both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress.   

One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy.  And without a push for such a change from outside, we face the distinct possibility of a national security bureaucracy and White House continuing to deny the strategy's utter failure and disastrous consequences.  

Gareth Porter is an investigative historian and journalist on U.S. national security policy who has been independent since a brief period of university teaching in the 1980s. Dr. Porter is the author of four books, the latest of which is Perils of Dominance: Imbalance of Power and the Road to War in Vietnam (University of California Press, 2005). He has written regularly for Inter Press Service on U.S. policy toward Iraq and Iran since 2005.

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facts, possibly, or probably, being based on believing Washington words and appearances.

The present strategic crisis can only be resolved by a similar political decision to reach another historical accommodation - this time with the "resistance bloc" in the Middle East. Despite the demonization of Iran and the rest of the "resistance bloc", their interests on the primary issue of al Qaeda-like global terrorism have long been more aligned with the objective security interests of the United States than those of some regimes with which the United States has been allied (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan).

That's based on the assumption that the US, Washington has really been concerned about Al Qaeda and -like global terrorism, and that that global terrorism actually exists. There are acts of terrorism spotting the globe, but some of these acts can also be secretly carried out by states using false flag attacks as well as "agents provocateurs", two tactics the US and several other states have proven histories of committing; in the past and recently.

The excerpted paragraph also seems based on the assumption that we're supposed to really believe that the war on Afghanistan was truly about 9/11. If so, then 9/11 was a pretext for so-called justifying the war, which if it had truly been about Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda having been responsible for 9/11, then there was no need for the US to exert itself, the Taliban offered to hand OBL over if the US, Washington provided sufficient preliminary proof of his guilt, something Washington had no intention of doing. And people should realize that OBL still remains uncharged by the US for if he was charged, then he'd be listed for 9/11 in the FBI's Web site, the FBI's Ten Most Wanted list. He's not listed there for 9/11 and an FBI officer told an inquiring reporter that the reason is that the US doesn't have sufficient proof to charge him for 9/11. The war on Afghanistan has never been about 9/11; that event was only a pretext, like the "New Pearl Harbor" attack that Washington political elites had said would be needed for Washington to be able to get the country to support war on Afghanistan (and, a little later, Iraq).

Washington doesn't hate Al Qaeda. Washington, the CIA, created Al Qaeda, and as Sibel Edmonds said, she has or knows of proof that Osama bin Laden, Al Qaeda and Taliban were in relations with Washington right up to 9/11. But some White House official or US ambassador reportedly told a Pakistani official and an Indian official in July 2001 that there'd be war on Afghanistan no later than October 2001. The war was planned in advance for definite launching and Bush reportedly had the plans on his desk during the week or days prior to 9/11.

If those two elements of the whole story happen to be false, which the plan for war on Afghanistan most likely is not, since some military, war experts say that one month is not sufficient for launching a war like the US led against Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, well, the rest of the above is not false and is verifiable.

The reasons of Iran and Washington differ, plenty. President Ahmadinejad is among the many people who've said that 9/11 was most likely a false flag attack and that Washington, some of its elites, and their experts would be responsible. Iran and Washington haven't expressed the same views about 9/11 at all; except, both acknowledge that 9/11 happened, which is something no one denies.

Re. US bases being "semi-permanent":

For the time being, it's rather clear that the intention is for these bases in Iraq and Afghanistan to be permanent; just like US military bases in Okinawa and Guam have not been only "semi" permanent. There's no end yet in sight of when they'll be ended. They'll be ended when Americans see to regime change, drastic regime change in the US and/or when the US empire has declined to the point of no longer being able to maintain these bases; but whether it's what the Chinese leadership wants to do, or not, they keep funding the US and its war machine, imperialism, and so on, according to plenty of economics experts.

Global terrorism is what the US leads and commits and has been doing for decades. The War On Terrorism is a false appelation; it's really War OF Terrorism. That's what Washington has been leading and committing.

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