False allies betray our interests abroad.
President Ronald Reagan had it right: “Trust, but verify.” Which, if you think about, means: “Don’t trust them at all.” In dealing with states we’ve convinced ourselves are allies – despite abundant evidence to the contrary – last year, 2012, saw our diplomats and decision-makers at their most willfully naïve. We trusted extremists, oppressors and sponsors of terror. And we paid for it, in blood, money and shame. Consider a few examples:
- In Libya, four Americans, including an ambassador, died when our consulate and a CIA post were attacked. Managers at the State Department had chosen to entrust security to undisciplined and dubious local militias, rather than to our military (which State’s left-wing faction despises). Foggy Bottom bureaucrats put more faith in thugs than in our Marines.
- In Syria, the U.S. administration, searching for a clean, cheap way to support the rebels opposing the Assad regime (which helped kill many Americans), bewilderingly handed the mission to the Saudis and the Qataris. Our intent was to foster democracy and the rule-of-law. But the last thing the Saudis and the Gulf sheikhdoms want is a democratic, rule-of-law Syria with women’s rights and religious freedom. The Saudis want to make Syria a poorman’s Saudi Arabia. So, inevitably, the arms supplies didn’t go to pro-democracy fighters, but to Islamist factions and al-Qaeda allies. The result was to dramatically strengthen fanatics who initially had been bit-players in the uprising. Our policy was one of the dumbest in our history.
- In Egypt, we trusted Muslim hard-liners to keep their word about building a lawful democracy. When they forced through a “plug-in-sharia-when-ready” constitution, our response was … nothing. The billions in U.S. aid continued without interruption.
- In Russia, the administration’s trust in its famous “re-set” was viewed by strongman Vladimir Putin as a green light to rig elections, stage show trials of his opponents, imprison protesters, and support our enemies with arms, technology and diplomacy.
- In Iraq, we continued to pretend that a religious-partisan strongman was a democratic leader uniting the country. Meanwhile, Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki embraced Iran, allowed arms and activists to flow to regime supporters in Syria, shut out American business interests, and tried to deny the Kurds fundamental geographic and political rights.
- In Pakistan, we continued to pay billions in tribute money to a militarized state that actively promotes the killing of U.S. troops in Afghanistan – while continuing to shield anti-U.S. terrorists. As cowardly as we are unimaginative, we pretend that the Pakistanis are ever on the verge of reforming themselves. They laugh and cash the checks.
Nor, to be fair, is this a sin committed only by the current administration. The Bush administration trusted every Middle-Eastern con-man who could shout “Democracy!” while shoving his hand so deep in our pockets it tickled our ankles.
Of course, the correct remedy for our gullibility isn’t to rush to the other extreme of paranoia. The correct stance in foreign relations and security matters is to maintain a healthy skepticism. Other governments and factions will act in their own perceived self-interest. And their interests will not always match our interests. That elementary realization is the starting point.
2012 was a tragic year of missed opportunities. After a decade of trying to do too much abroad, we swung the pendulum to doing far too little. Timidity should not be mistaken for moderation. Foreign-policy problems are like cavities: They rarely get better on their own. It’s essential to go to the strategic dentist as soon as you feel the pain.
Watch: Will post-Assad Syria be plagued by Islamist fanatics? Will Libya? Will democracy disappear again in Egypt? In Russia? Will Pakistan continue to support terror with our funding?
Crisis Watch Bottom Line: Trust is for your spouse, not for diplomacy.
Ralph Peters writes regularly for “Armchair General” and is the author of the new Civil War novel “Hell or Richmond.”
Originally published in the May 2013 issue of Armchair General.