Evenhandedness doesn’t play in the Middle East.
Calling all American diplomats! Repeat after me: “They’re not like us, they’re not like us …”
For the past dozen years, our foreign policy has tried to tease out the hidden American we imagine resides in everyone. For even longer, we’ve tried to impose American-style solutions on populations with radically different cultures. We’ve been trying to convince pit bulls they’re really house cats.
Hasn’t worked, won’t work.
Show us a crisis and we want to play honest broker – whether the locals want our help or not. In two generations of trying to mediate in the Mid-East, the best result we’ve gotten has been the endless fleecing of the 1978 Camp David Accords in which we bribe the parties to accept the status quo they’d already accepted on the quiet.
Elsewhere in the region, our attempts to convince factions addled by centuries of hatred to split the difference have met with consistent failure. Worse, we’ve repeatedly taken a promising situation and made a disaster of it.
Pile atop our honest-broker mania the State Department’s paralyzing obsession with stability and our addiction to buzz words only we mean (“democracy,” “tolerance,” “the rule of law”), and you’ve got a prescription for continued failure.
But our diplomats are hooked.
In Iraq, a Frankenstein’s Monster of a state, we refused to let the country come apart, fighting, instead, to preserve artificial borders drawn by Europeans for their own ends almost a century ago. Adding to the mess, we all but abandoned the Kurdish allies who fought beside us against Saddam in the interests of an imaginary concord between groups whose violent hatred of one another had only been restrained by brutal tyranny.
Then we insisted on rapid “free” elections, even though, in states such as Iraq, the majority or plurality ethnic group or religious faction wins – and sees that as a license to crush the losers (a situation we also saw with ex-President Mohammed Morsi and his attempted Islamist takeover in Egypt).
In Afghanistan, after we took our revenge for 9/11, we turned our backs on the Northern Alliance, which had fought beside us against al Qaeda and the Taliban (see a pattern here?). Then, after all our bluster about free and fair elections, we let “our” man steal the first presidential ballot – and we kept supporting him, while trying to play honest broker between Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Taliban and various other zero-sum-game players.
In Egypt, our determination to “see all sides and respect all views” led to our mindless support of the anti-American Islamist Morsi regime because it had come to power in premature elections on which we insisted. Then, when tens of millions of Egyptians came out into the streets to protest against the Muslim Brotherhood’s coup-by-ballot, our ambassador stuck by Morsi to the bitter end, praising him in the media and insulting the freedom protesters.
The result? Morsi’s gone, and while the freedom protesters blame us for supporting an Islamist thug, the Muslim Brotherhood blames us for tolerating Morsi’s overthrow. When our Deputy Secretary of State visited Cairo in the aftermath, not one political party agreed to meet with him.
Now we fantasize about mediating a compromise between Syria’s rebels, who are increasingly dominated by al Qaeda franchises, and the Assad government, backed by Hezbollah and Iran (will someone explain to me why it’s bad for us that our enemies are killing each other?).
In the Middle East, you (a) pick a side and stick to it, (b) look after your own interests first, and (c) don’t send your troops to preserve a doomed regional order.
Watch: Will our government overcome its vanity to see the Middle East as the locals see it?
Crisis Watch Bottom Line: When you manage to alienate every faction in a troubled country, as we’ve done in Iran, Afghanistan, Egypt, Syria and elsewhere, it’s certainly an achievement.
Ralph Peters is a long-standing member of the “Armchair General” team and the author, most recently, of the Civil War novel “Hell or Richmond.”
Originally published in the January 2014 issue of Armchair General.