US Middle East policy: Too close for comfort

A glance back at recent history illustrates the fact that rather than being a force for good in the Middle East and the Gulf, America is behind most of the region’s woes.

Its military interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya have been destabilizing and destructive. Those countries are experiencing more violence than ever before. America’s “gift” of democracy delivered on the back of missiles and F-16s have toppled dictatorships that maintained an iron grip on security, but what use are democratic freedoms when a lid has been lifted on simmering sectarianism, leaving people vulnerable to bombs outside mosques or while shopping with their kids in bustling markets?

And far from eradicating “terrorism,” the so-called “war on terror” appears to have exacerbated it. Today, Al-Qaeda, its affiliates and clones have permeated North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Iraq, Syria, Libya and the Sinai Peninsula. If the US is unable to achieve positive results, it should dismantle its bases and withdraw its troops.

It’s a total mystery to me why so many countries willingly—or, in some cases, grudgingly—put up with US infringements of their sovereignty when if any other nation acted accordingly, they’d be banging war drums. Is this what US exceptionalism really means? Is the region Washington’s oyster to consume whenever it feels like it without repercussions? It appears so.

Countries that have been “liberated” by the US military enjoy illusionary independence. Why is it that Afghan President Hamid Karzai is at liberty to complain bitterly about US drone attacks that kill civilians but is impotent when it comes to halting them?

Likewise, Pakistan whose leaders grumbled about the affront to their nation’s sovereignty when US Navy Seals flew in by helicopter to kill Osama bin Laden without taking permission from Islamabad, but ever since American drones have been bombing despite strong objections from Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who believes “drone strikes are counterproductive. They fan militancy and have rights and humanitarian implications.” He’s right. So, given that Pakistan has nuclear capability and has a military force of 1.2 million (including reservists), it’s beyond belief that he’s unable to tell the Obama administration “Stop now, or else!”

Obama talked a good talk about reaching out to the Arab and Muslim world early on in his presidency and pledged to respect other nations. His words were just hot air. The recent sortie by the US Army’s Delta Force into the Libyan city of Tripoli to capture Libyan national Abu Anas Al-Libi wanted by the FBI for his alleged role in the 1998 bombing of embassies in Africa, is just one example of Obama’s “respect.”

No wonder the Libyan government struggling to assert its authority over its fractured country has complained the seizure amounts to “kidnapping.” Kerry rejects that complaint, asserting the operation was “a legal and appropriate target for the US military.” Under US law, maybe, but since when is American law applicable to foreign states? The Obama administration should have worked with Libyan authorities to grab this Al-Qaeda head honcho or, better still, it should have lodged an extradition request through proper channels.

Obama’s billed as a reluctant war president when a few weeks ago he was poised to ignite a regional conflagration and potentially World War III because his ego was punctured when the Syrian regime dared to cross his red lines. His failure to give material backing to the Free Syrian Army years ago has produced a stalemate in Syria’s civil war, whose opposition fighters now include Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups out to replace the regime with a theocratic dictatorship.

He who hesitates is lost and Obama has not only undermined America’s credibility with his dithering, his last-minute acquiescence to the Russian-sponsored chemical weapons disarmament plan has served to bolster the regime, now being praised by Secretary of State John Kerry for thus far fulfilling its stated obligations. He’s done nothing to curtail the civil war and has no plan to do so, infuriating Israel and other regional allies who’ve invested heavily in the opposition.

Now that the Syrian regime is being praised for doing the right thing by cooperating in the disposal of its chemical arsenal, Obama has again flouted the concerns of US allies by seemingly embracing the new Iranian President Hassan Rowhani, a wily fox who’s set on getting anti-Iranian UN, US and EU economic sanctions lifted.

Kerry who’s pushed for détente with Iran for years is cheering on the initiative and provided there’s agreement on Iran’s nuclear issue, there’s no bar to the normalization of relations between Washington and Tehran.

Never mind that the ayatollahs are hand-in-glove with Hezbollah, while the Iranian Revolutionary Guard is fighting side-by-side with Hezbollah militias on the regime’s side. Thanks to Obama the Shiite triangle is alive and well even as Sunni states gasp for breath.

A report published in the World Tribune quotes former Chairman of US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Hugh Shelton telling Fox News that the Obama administration plotted for two years to destabilize two Arab countries—Egypt and Bahrain. Egyptians, including Defense Chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah El Sisi, certainly believe Obama is working against them in favor of the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Obama has managed to insult the Bahraini government by referring to the troubles there as “sectarian,” a characterization Bahrain rejects.

Bahrain’s foreign minister, Sheikh Khaled bin Ahmed Al-Khalifa, answered with a statement that read: “What is occurring today is a concerted effort by terrorist extremist groups to target security personnel and expatriates with the intent of spreading fear and division within Bahrain’s society, as well as targeting Bahrain’s national economy and development.”

What will it take for the leaders throughout the MENA region, the Middle East, the Gulf and South Asia to understand that the US has no friends, only interests and take action accordingly?

Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at heardonthegrapevines@yahoo.co.uk.

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