A Festival of Lies: A History Of Failed American Middle East Policy
THE historian Victor Davis Hanson recently wrote a brutally clear-eyed piece in The National Review, looking back at America’s different approaches to Iraq, Iran, Libya, Syria, Egypt, Pakistan and Afghanistan and how, sadly, none of them could be said to have worked yet.
“Let us review the various American policy options for the Middle East over the last few decades,” Hanson wrote. “Military assistance or punitive intervention without follow-up mostly failed. The verdict on far more costly nation-building is still out. Trying to help popular insurgents topple unpopular dictators does not guarantee anything better. Propping up dictators with military aid is both odious and counterproductive. Keeping clear of maniacal regimes leads to either nuclear acquisition or genocide — or 16 acres of rubble in Manhattan. What have we learned? Tribalism, oil, and Islamic fundamentalism are a bad mix that leaves Americans sick and tired of the Middle East — both when they get in it and when they try to stay out of it.”
And that is why it’s time to rethink everything we’re doing out there. What the Middle East needs most from America today are modern schools and hard truths, and we haven’t found a way to offer either. Because Hanson is right: What ails the Middle East today truly is a toxic mix of tribalism, Shiite-Sunni sectarianism, fundamentalism and oil — oil that constantly tempts us to intervene or to prop up dictators.
This cocktail erodes all the requirements of a forward-looking society — which are institutions that deliver decent government, consensual politics that provide for rotations in power, women’s rights and an ethic of pluralism that protects minorities and allows for modern education. The United Nations Arab Human Development Report published in 2002 by some brave Arab social scientists also said something similar: What ails the Arab world is a deficit of freedom, a deficit of modern education and a deficit of women’s empowerment.
So helping to overcome those deficits should be what U.S. policy is about, yet we seem unable to sustain that. Look at Egypt: More than half of its women and a quarter of its men can’t read. The young Egyptians who drove the revolution are desperate for the educational tools and freedom to succeed in the modern world. Our response should have been to shift our aid money from military equipment to building science-and-technology high schools and community colleges across Egypt.
Yet, instead, a year later, we’re in the crazy situation of paying $5 million in bail to an Egyptian junta to get U.S. democracy workers out of jail there, while likely certifying that this junta is liberalizing and merits another $1.3 billion in arms aid. We’re going to give $1.3 billion more in guns to a country whose only predators are illiteracy and poverty.
In Afghanistan, I laugh out loud whenever I hear Obama administration officials explaining that we just need to train more Afghan soldiers to fight and then we can leave. Is there anything funnier? Afghan men need to be trained to fight? They defeated the British and the Soviets!