May 9, 2023

The Search for a Cohesive U.S. Policy in the Arab World

The United States looses its credibility among global citizens when it carves out vastly different policies to guide its reactions to remarkably similar situations in the various nation-states of the Middle East. While the goal of “winning hearts and minds” is at the forefront of U.S. military and diplomatic strategy these days, there is a dangerous disconnect between that strategic goal and the tactics actually employed in dealing with the various governments of in the Middle Eastern region. And those differences in tactics combine to constitute a serious strategic error for U.S. interest in the region and around the globe.

While the events in Tunisia and Egypt happened so fast that it was honestly rather impractical for the U.S. to even consider intervening one way or another, by the time the crisis in Libya came around the Obama administration publicly adopted a policy of intervention in the domestic conflict based on the stated rationale that the people of Libya, largely peaceful protesters and demonstrators, needed protection from their own ruthless, fratricidal government. Yet when largely peaceful protests and demonstrations in Bahrain resulted in an equally vicious response from the Bahraini government, the “policy” of intervening in a domestic Arab conflict when the government turned violent against its own citizen demonstrators was quickly abandoned.

Likewise in Syria, when the Syrian people began boldly standing up to the brutal regime of Bashar al-Asad, the Syrian government began a systematic campaign of violence against the largely peaceful Syrian protesters and demonstrators. While American-backed military action against Libya rages on, under the stated policy rationale of protecting peaceful protesters and demonstrators from their fratricidal government, not one ounce of military might has even been threatened against the Bahraini or Syrian governments as a result of their similar domestic slaughters. Those governments continue to be given carte blanche by the Obama administration to violently subdue peaceful calls for democracy while Libya is being pummeled for the exact same offense.

I am not a fan of restraint when it comes to stopping the slaughter of peaceful demonstrators, and I believe that if we were going to intervene in Libya then it should have been much more decisive and, by now, conclusive. But I am also not a fan of a weak and inconsistent foreign policy in the Arab world and, frankly, an application of foreign policy that weakens our standing among Arabs in the long term. I am not arguing here in favor of intervention or non-intervention, but rather a consistent intervention policy that serves U.S. interests and yields long-term global goodwill toward the U.S. and the American people.

What good will it be to the U.S. in the end to finally help rid the Middle Eastern region of brutal and repressive regimes, only to still be resented by the people of those nations we helped because of our reluctance to do so in the beginning when it counted?


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