The Fundamental Question Is: Why Is America Still In The Middle East?

The Fundamental Question Is: Why Is America Still In The Middle East?

D.C.’s hysteria is dangerous. The strike wasn’t necessarily wrong, but the president must tread carefully. Too much of D.C. wants him not to.
Willis L. Krumholz
By

D.C. is all worked up over the killing of Qasem Soleimani, Iran’s top military operator. Democrats, driven by anti-Trump madness, have taken to eulogizing Soleimani. That’s insane. Meanwhile, D.C. Republicans are ecstatic about the killing.

Soleimani certainly deserved it. During the heyday of the Shiite uprising in Iraq, his forces were responsible for bombs that killed countless American servicemembers. It’s good that he is dead.

Soleimani was hit because Iranian proxies were behind recent attacks in Iraq, including one that killed an American contractor. The White House hopes this will warn Iran that America means business, and that Iran will cease its meddling in Iraq and stand down. Middle America hopes this is exactly what happens.

But D.C.’s hysteria is dangerous. The strike wasn’t necessarily wrong, but the president must tread carefully. Too much of D.C. wants him not to.

One side is too often blinded by a hysteria about the president that precludes a rational discussion. The other side has extreme hawkishness on Iran that the American people don’t match. People can celebrate Soleimani’s death, but many of the hawks in D.C. hope there’s more to come, and will push for it.

The Middle East’s Reality

Shiite Muslim Iran is next door to Iraq, of which 60 percent is Shiite. Some on Twitter posted videos of Iraqis celebrating in the streets about the Soleimani strike. Except these Iraqis are likely Sunnis, who make up around 30 percent of Iraq’s population. Much of the Shiite portion is furious at Soleimani’s death.

America is on a sectarian landmine. The big picture in the Middle East is that Shia Muslims and Sunni Muslims are locked in a 1,400 year-old civil war between the two main branches of Islam. What America has been doing in the Middle East for the last two decades, wittingly or not, is taking sides in this civil war, which could last a thousand more years. If America is sucked into open war with Iran, we would be explicitly taking a side in this religious war. But taking a side is a false choice, especially given America’s newfound energy independence.

Iran is an evil regime, but the United States’s allies in the Middle East—including Saudi Arabia and Qatar—are all unsavory Sunni countries. Iran has not chiefly funded an organization that did mass beheadings, raped Yazidis, and drowned Christians. Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and North Atlantic Treaty Organization member Turkey have. Beltway types talk about Iran being the number-one state sponsor of terror, when all the terror groups Americans have heard of—including al Qaeda and ISIS—are Sunni, and associated with our Sunni allies.

Pundits are comparing Soleimani to Osama bin Laden. But there’s a big difference between Soleimani’s brand of terror, which operated within the rationale of the Shiite Iranian state, and the Sunni Muslim terror of Osama bin Laden.

Iraq borders Iran to its west. The country that borders Iran to its east is Afghanistan. In other words, Iran is surrounded by U.S. troops. When Shiite Soleimani committed the evil act of funding Shiite militias in Iraq with bombs and weapons, which killed U.S. troops, it was the Iranian state’s way of imposing costs on America’s presence next door.

This isn’t making apology for the evil Iran regime. But ditching nuance, and not understanding the motivation of one’s enemy, is a recipe for getting thousands of American young men killed in a “s—thole country.” That’s unacceptable.

A pundit actually said that Iran would prove how irrational it was when it struck back, likely via proxies. But a country that feels encircled, like a wild animal, usually tries to retaliate. We must be prepared for that, and prepare tough responses that don’t lead to all-out war.

In the next few weeks, it is even possible that Iran responds through its Shia militia proxies with attacks on U.S. troops. That would force the United States to up the ante. The D.C. crowd would cheer, as war with Iran became more of a reality.

But war with Iran is fundamentally a D.C. craze. It isn’t in the interest of America, or normal Americans. The connected blue checks on Twitter, or the pundits talking to the camera on Fox News, won’t see their kids or neighbors fight, relatively speaking. Middle America would disproportionately bear the cost, as it always does.

DC Has a Track Record of Stupid Wars

Eggheads sitting in a cushy office came up with plans to overthrow dictators like Saddam Hussein and Muammar Qaddafi in Libya, only to create power vacuums that resulted in violence and increased sectarian strife. They talk about a Shiite crescent—meaning Iran controlling land from Iran to Syria—but they made this possible with the overthrow of Saddam.

The same crowd was desperate to join our Sunni Muslim “allies” to overthrow Syrian semi-Shia dictator Bashar al-Assad. What followed was human misery on a massive scale. Meanwhile, America turned a blind eye to Gulf allies like Saudi Arabia arming jihadists, including al-Qaeda and its affiliates. D.C. spent $1 billion a year arming “moderate rebels” in Syria, who were to fight the Assad regime. The program was wildly unsuccessful, and ended up arming jihadists.

The CIA helped countries like Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar get western weapons into Syria, many of which ended up in the arms of radical jihadists. All the “Benghazi” stuff you used to hear about, including the presence of Americans in Libya, and the fact that those Americans were relatively unguarded, was possibly because the CIA was running a “rat-line” of weapons into Syria. Even the rise of the despicable Islamic State, or ISIS, was heavily aided by the large cache of Saudi and U.S.-supplied weapons floating around in Syria and Iraq.

Why Is America Still in the Middle East?

The worst part about these interventions is when America wrecks something, it owns it. We’ve been in Iraq more or less since 2003. We are still in Syria, even though President Trump saw extreme bipartisan and media criticism for moving a few hundred troops out of one area.

Americans now understand America has a Hotel California foreign policy.

We’ve been in Afghanistan nearly 20 years, even though the Taliban currently controls the same area of land that it did a decade ago. Our servicemembers in Afghanistan are forced to defend warlords and Afghan security forces who practice child rape.

All told, we’ve spent $6.4 trillion in Middle East wars and the war on terror. Americans now understand America has a Hotel California foreign policy. People in D.C. get us in places, and while we can check out any time we like, we can never leave.

The real question is: why is America still in Iraq, or the Middle East at all? Yes, America pulling out would cause uncertainty and increased violence. But it’s likely remaining in the Middle East is making things worse, emboldening bad actors on both sides of the Sunni-Shia divide. That doesn’t mean America is the bad guy, or doesn’t provide short-term stability, but sometimes short-term stability is undesirable, and breeds long-term instability.

Besides, these are not our fights. Trying to control the entire Middle East is neither possible nor a U.S. national security interest.

End the Washington Cesspool

Too often, people in D.C. make money from the messes they create. They get the contracts, the foreign policy prognosticating gigs, and the book and speaking tours. Normal America gets a higher national debt and even more strained national budget. And it’s our sons, daughters, brothers, cousins, and friends who go fight D.C.’s stupid wars.

As pundits and bureaucrats rotate from think tank job to government job and back again, how does this not affect policy?

After all these years of failure, the conservative party in America—containing pundits and politicians who will quickly claim they can’t do much about Normal America’s ills—is still perfectly happy to intervene in countries that most Americans can’t find on a map. The last time this worked was World War II, and maybe Korea. We’ve had many wars and interventions since that time.

Meanwhile, Normal America has all sorts of unaddressed problems: low wages for working males, single mothers yearning for happiness, dilapidated towns, abortion, crime, drugs, and hurting children.

Besides realigning U.S. military priorities, one solution to this misalignment of priorities is strict reporting laws and enforcement for foreign money. Too many of Washington’s pundits and think tanks take money from Saudi Arabia or Qatar, for example. The influential Brookings Institution receives all sorts of money from Qatar. As pundits and bureaucrats rotate from think tank job to government job and back again, how does this not affect policy?

Most importantly, America must get completely out of Iraq, and the Middle East. America won’t be around forever. You can count on that. But the longer we stay in the Middle East, the more we hasten the day that America ceases to exist. Or, worse, becomes unrecognizable from the good and just place it should be.

Willis L. Krumholz is a fellow at Defense Priorities. He holds a JD and MBA degree from the University of St. Thomas, and works in the financial services industry. The views expressed are those of the author only. You can follow Willis on Twitter @WillKrumholz.

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