Oppression, Intervention, Sanctions – US Policy in the Middle East

In recent months, the interests of the United States in the Middle East have been very apparent. We have seen an increase in US-Saudi relations, US-led coalition strikes in Syria, reinforcing of the US ties with Israel, and the civil war in Syria rages on. Much of this is very complex and requires a nuance to truly understand, a nuance that is lacking in the US media. The missing nuance is the underlying motives of US intervention in the Middle East. The main underlying interests are the securing of US business interests, the need of the US to constantly counter Russia, and the US’ insistence on not allowing dissident regimes in areas where it feels it de facto controls. Needless to say, US policy towards the Middle East is aggressive in many ways. This has led to the people of the Middle East reacting in resistance to US encroachment on the sovereignty of nations. Some in the US, while cognizant of the depravity of US policy, have blamed it solely on Donald Trump in an effort to deflect the warmongering from their political party. It must be said that much of the aggressive policies started long before Trump, with the first Bush administration up through Obama. The Trump administration has been especially aggressive but, no more than any of his predecessors.

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict has always been an issue the US has been heavily involved in. Since the arguably illegal formation of the State of Israel on Palestinian land, there has been heavy fighting between native Palestinians and Israelis. The US has consistently supported the Israelis due to Israel’s want to help secure US political and economic interests in the region. The US support has stayed even when Israel has violated international law, established apartheid-esque methods of containing the Palestinians, and violated basic human rights. Oftentimes, the US has aided in these crimes with material and economic support for the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF). The unwavering support of the US was shown in December 2017 when the Americans decided to change the location of the embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. To many in the US and Israeli government this is a victory but to the Palestinians, this a further curtailing of any hope for Palestinian national independence. In fact, as I write this, the US embassy in the Israeli “capital” of Jerusalem has just opened. The people of Palestine, specifically those in Gaza, protested this by marching to the border peacefully. This resulted in the deaths of 54 Palestinians at the hands of IDF soldiers. Despite this, the United States continues to support the State of Israel in the conflict. This disregard for human rights is all too commonplace in US Middle East policy and US foreign policy in general, as will become evident.

Another conflict the US has intervened in is the civil war and Syria. The Syrian Civil War is, needless to say, complicated and who supports who is sometimes complicated. To put it simply: The US and their allies support the Free Syrian Army or the opposition to Assad. The US has also extended limited to the Kurds and the Syrian Democratic Forces, another opposition group to Assad, although that line has changed in recent months. The Russians and their allies, along with the Chinese, have supported the Assad government in Damascus. For a majority of the war, the factions were united in their fight against ISIS and other radical Islamist groups in the region. Assad’s Syrian Arab Army and the Kurdish People’s Defence Battalions have been some of the most effective fighting forces against ISIS. The Free Syrian Army, on the other hand, has been involved in supporting ISIS and other Islamist. In fact, the Al-Qaeda group Al-Nusra Front had been involved in the Syrian opposition until its dissolution. This indirect support of Al-Qaeda by the US is no recent fluke. One of the core tenets of US foreign policy has been “the enemy of my enemy is my friend” since the Cold War. This was used to counter the socialist countries of the world during the Cold War (i.e. support for South Vietnam, the Mujahadeen, Pinochet, Khmer Rouge, and various others). The policy has led to the US being a supporter of some very brutal regimes and groups with the only intention being the securing of economic interests or countering a perceived threat from a foreign power. Most of the time this threat is merely perceived. In the case of Syria, the US has consistently worked to undermine the efforts and base of the Assad government. They have done this by backing the FSA and making it official policy to pursue regime change in Damascus, contrary to international opinion.

A similar situation occurred in Iraq and Afghanistan in the early 2000s with Saddam Hussein but, the main difference was that the US had the support of the majority of Western powers. Another similarity that can be drawn between the Syrian situation and Iraq is the US claims of weapons of mass destruction (WMDs). One of the main justifications used by the Second Bush Administration was that Saddam Hussein was developing WMDs in Iraq and they had very little evidence of this. Independent commissions, albeit after the invasion, determined that there were probably no WMDs but, Hussein had been in the process of moving towards development of them. In Syria, we have had allegations of the Assad government using chemical weapons in the civil war. These claims also come with little evidence. While it is true that Syria has chemical weapons produced in the 1970s and 1980s to deter Israeli aggression, there is little evidence that they have ever been used by the Syrian Arab Army. One of the facts that point to this is that the generals of the SAA have repeatedly stated their lack of tactical viability. Also with the most recent attack in Ghouta, an independent UN commission determined no evidence of a chemical attack in the area. That being said, there has definitely been chemical weapons use in the war and there is a theory to explain it. The FSA has been known to have seized old Syrian chemical weapons facilities and has admitted to preparing them for combat. Also, ISIS has captured some of these facilities. While there is no direct evidence ISIS or the FSA have used them, as previously mentioned, there is no evidence that Assad has either. Despite this, the US still continues to pursue antagonistic policies in the conflict that only serve to prolong it.

Moving further east, we come to the situation of US policy towards Iran. Iran has been an antagonist in the US foreign narrative since the Iranian Revolution deposed the Shah in 1979. US policy in Iran before 1978 had been one of control. The US overthrew the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh. Mossadegh was overthrown due to the nationalisation of the Iranian oil industry during his government. In place of Mossadegh, the US placed Mohammad Reza Shah in power. The government of the Shah was corrupt, authoritarian, and to many Iranians, a Western puppet. It was these traits that caused Iranian clerics and some radicals to call for a revolution to depose the Shah. This revolution was spearheaded by Ayatollah Khomeini who declared himself Supreme Leader of Iran. While it cannot be said that Iran after the revolution is any better than under the Shah, the effects of US foreign policy on the Iranian people have been great. The US has pursued a series of sanctions on Iran that have been devastating to much of the Iranian economy. Recently, President Obama agreed to lift the sanctions on Iran if the Iranians agreed to halt their nuclear weapons programme. The Iranians agreed. This plan, called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, was signed by Iran and US allies assuring the lifting of sanctions and independent observation of Iran’s nuclear programme. Most evidence points to the Iranians following the deal but, the US has recently left the deal. This is due to President Trump doubting the actual value of the deal to the US and whether or not the Iranians are following it. Another part that persuaded the US to leave the deal is the alleged evidence gathered by Israeli intelligence that the Iranians have been deliberately breaking the deal and continuing nuclear weapon development. This “evidence” is unverified and even much of the intelligence community has doubted its validity. Again, despite the ramifications and evidence, the US continues to pursue aggressive policies in Iran and the Middle East.

Often in the US and Western media, there is always a question of why are things so unstable in the Middle East? Well, the answer to that is US foreign policy. The US has consistently sought to destabilise the region for their own interests. Much of the American population also wonders why these people burn American flags and scream Death to America. The narrative fed by the schools and media is that these people hate American freedoms and values. This is simply not true. The reason Palestinians burn US flags is that we have consistently supported Israel who oppresses and kills them. The reason Syrians burn US flags is that the US has undermined the efforts of the Assad government to fight ISIS. The reason Iranians burn US flags is due to the crippling economic sanctions and constant threats of war they get. Maybe if we stopped intervening and destabilising countries, they would not burn the flag. Not that that is a bad thing.

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