Short Vision

In an April 8 commentary on remaking the Middle East played on public radio’s “Marketplace”, Tom Donnelly of the American Enterprise Institute stated that the U.S. can no longer look the other way, and that we must take an active role in the shape of governments in the region. His view of history seems rather short, however, because we’ve been heavily involved — mostly for the worse — in reshaping the Middle East for over fifty years. The U.S. installed the Shah of Iran in the 1950s and supported a repressive reign there that led directly to the rise of the religious theocracy of Ayatollah Khomeini a quarter century ago. The U.S. supported Saddam Hussein through the his war with Iran and the gassing of Kurdish villages, virtually up to the time he invaded Kuwait nearly fifteen years ago. And the U.S. supplied arms and money to religious fighters in Afghanistan throughout the 1980s to thwart the Soviet occupation, paving the way for the Taliban’s takeover of that country in 1996 and the subsequent establishment of terrorist training camps where Osama bin Laden orchestrated the destruction of the World Trade Center. In each case, the U.S. “plan” neglected to take into account the needs of the local population, fostering actual torture, war, and civil unrest in the name of supposed regional stability. I, too, believe Iraq, Iran, and Afghanistan would be better off with some form of secular democratic government. But if they’re undertaken as our previous Middle East ventures have been — which perhaps Donnelly could read up on before his next opinion piece — without any real regard for the supposed beneficiaries, the results are likely to be just as unsatisfactory in the long run.