Monday, January 6, 2020

Middle East Policy - Costs & Benefits

The Middle East has been one of our primary foreign policy problems since the end of the Vietnam War.  We have had troops in a combat environment in Afghanistan for almost two decades, twice invaded Iraq, and actively engaged in hostilities in Syria, Libya, and a number of smaller states. 

The Middle East is a tangled mass of ethnic, religious and tribal groups with grudges that go back hundreds of years.   It is a region full of dictatorships or fake democracies controlled by the powerful who fix elections to provide cover for their right to line their pockets and deny basic human rights.  It is literally half a world away from our borders and most of the region represents the antithesis of the ideals we strive for in our Democracy. 

We scarcely lift a finger for conflicts or even genocide in Africa, Asia or Eastern Europe.  But the middle east is abundantly endowed with oil, which we want for our cars, factories and industry.  Our economic wealth has been rooted in cheap oil since back when European colonial empires dominated the region.  But in the first part of the last century lots of new countries emerged as colonial empires collapsed.  The new states wanted to control and profit from the oil within their boundaries.  

70 years ago we orchestrated the overthrow of a socialist leaning democratically elected government in Iran to install a dictator friendly to our business goals.  We have since used our military muscle regularly to protect our access to oil even if that meant supporting dictators or overthrowing elected governments.  No surprise we are not popular.

Benefits of our interventionist policies:  

We may still pay a little bit less to drive our cars, heat our homes and fuel our factories but much of the rest of the world now produces oil.  Natural gas has become abundant and cheap.  Solar and wind power are moving closer to becoming cheaper than extracting and burning oil.  King oil is shaky on its throne.

Burdens of our interventionist policies:

1.  We have lost thousands of young men in Middle East wars, and hundreds of thousands of veterans are physically, emotionally or mentally disabled by their service. 

2.  Our meddling has made us the target for Middle East based terrorists who have killed thousands of innocent civilians.  Trying to protect ourselves we have made it tediously complex to get on a plane to fly anywhere.  

3.  Within our country some of us have lashed out at other innocent neighbors with middle eastern backgrounds.

4.  Probably about 10 Trillion dollars of our National debt can be tied directly to our military operations in the Middle East over the last 30 years.  

5.  Our meddling has exacerbated religious and cultural tensions in the Middle East far more often than it has improved them.

6.  We have undermined the development of democracy in the region.  Our ham-handed efforts to impose our will allows corrupt regimes to blame us for their countries problems as they line the pockets of the rich, deny basic rights to the poor, and set ethnic and religious groups against one another.  

7.  As we have seen with Syria, our lack of commitment to countries without significant oil reserves allows fake Democracies to build a power base for themselves in the region by supporting the worst kind of dictators, who accept the support because they see our activities in the region as a looming threat.

8.  Our polices have enabled the denial of global warming by using cheap oil as a crutch to avoid committing to develop cleaner ways of meeting our power and heating needs. 

The Hippocratic oath seems to me instructive about an intelligent and realistic foreign policy - first do no harm.  Our interventionist policies in the Middle East seem to be consistently doing more harm than good.  Maybe it is time we just bought oil on the open market and let the Middle East solve their own problems.

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