Nations, like people, should learn from their mistakes. But apparently, they don’t, as the US policy in West Asia well illustrates. The US attacked Iraq and forced a regime change there because Saddam Hussein was supposedly pursuing a threatening weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme and supporting international terrorism. Removing the Iraqi dictator was also seen as opening the doors to democracy in the region.
US presented to the UN with fierce conviction “irrefutable proof” of Iraq’s WMD programme obtained from intelligence sources, an accusation it couldn’t substantiate even after years of investigation. US intervention bequeathed a monstrous legacy of terrorism to Iraq when none existed before. Splintered Iraq has not benefited from the gift of democracy either.
The September 11 attacks provoked the US to take military action against Afghanistan to oust al Qaeda leaders and the Taliban government sheltering them. The US goal to annihilate the al Qaeda leadership, eliminate terrorism, promote democracy and human rights in Afghanistan has largely failed as the al Qaeda leaders fled to Pakistan, a US ally, where al Qaeda-linked networks are still harboured, besides operationally spreading in the Arabian peninsula and Africa. US/NATO troops have not succeeded in scotching terrorism within Afghanistan despite the drone attacks. The democracy project has been abandoned.
Worse, the US is seeking a dialogue with the same obscurantist Taliban, which it had evicted earlier so that it could withdraw in relatively good order, and that with the assistance of the very power — Pakistan — that has kept alive the Taliban menace in Aghanistan.
The so-called Arab Spring caught the US by surprise, forcing it to abandon the highly unpopular Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and be on the right side of the upsurge for democracy street.
The US endorsed the electoral success of the Muslim Brotherhood, seeing in it the desired combination of Islam and western-style democracy. With the Egyptian military overthrowing president Mohammed Morsi, the US, compromising with principles, has condoned the action as a step to safeguard democracy. For the present, US ambivalence has made it unpopular with all sides.
After the Tunisian and Egyptian dictators fell, the temptation to oust another entrenched dictator — Gaddafi — in Libya was irresistible, and, so, a civil war was engineered from outside, between Benghazi and Tripoli, leading to direct US-backed western intervention to successfully achieve that objective. The US/West stretched the relevant UN Security Council resolution on Libya beyond its scope to bring about regime change militarily, unmindful of the resultant gaping trust deficit within the P5 between its western and non-western members, which now blocks any consensus on Syria.
US military intervention in Iraq, Libya or Afghanistan has not advanced democracy in any of these countries. Nor have these countries adopted western values. On the contrary, extremist Islam has gained greater hold on the ground, with Salafists entrenching themselves in Libya and Egypt, the Taliban resurgence in Afghanistan and Shia-Sunni clashes plaguing Iraq.
This is the inevitable consequence of encouraging conservative Islamic regimes in Qatar and Saudi Arabia to intervene in political developments in the region. Terrorism is ravaging Iraq and Libya and wounding Afghanistan. The US ambassador was assassinated in Libya. As for securing the future, the US has vacated Iraq because of lack of agreement on the status of US forces to be permanently stationed there. Relations between the US and president Hamid Karzai are tense and an Iraq-like end to US presence there is reflected in president Barack Obama’s zero option. Libya seems lawless.
In this context, the US is repeating in Syria all the mistakes made elsewhere in the region, with similar consequences. The Syrian dictator is the last one remaining to be removed. The US/West have used the suppression of peaceful demonstrators by the Syrian regime initially as an excuse to promote civil war conditions in the country by supporting the rebels. With mounting casualties and human suffering, they have openly called for intervention and regime change.
Their conduct in the Libyan case is preventing a consensus in the Security Council, as Russia and China are convinced that the US/West want president Bashar al-Assad’s ouster, not a negotiated settlement between warring sides.
The US says it has evidence that the Syrian regime has used chemical weapons against the civilian population, crossing the red line laid down by president Obama. The Russians qualify these charges as “utter nonsense” and the evidence of use shared by the US with them as “completely unconvincing”.
The US is ready to act alone if UN approval is lacking, reminding us of its earlier unilateralism. Turkey, Qatar and Saudi Arabia have been mobilised to support the Syrian rebels with arms and finances. The Salafists and Sunni zealots are on the rampage in Syria under western watch, fuelling further the Shia-Sunni, Saudi Arabia-Iran strife. The conflict in Syria has implications for Israeli security, which is the fulcrum around which US policy in West Asia revolves.
As the French say, the more things change, the more they are the same.