Bush's Mideast Mess
by Leon Hadar
When future historians start to discuss the first decade of the
21st century and the dramatic events that unfolded in that era,
starting with the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York and
Washington, they would probably try to draw the outlines of the
counterfactual what-if scenarios and to contrast them with what-really-happened.
They may suggest that 9/11 had provided Americans with a glimpse
of Hell-on-Earth, of what could happen when the tensions between
the West and the Islamic world degenerated into a bloody global
confrontation. But they may also propose that a mix of the right
policies, including effective security measures and creative diplomatic
efforts, could have ensured that the goal of Osama bin Laden to
create the conditions for a War of Civilizations would not have
But as we know now, US foreign policy was hijacked after 9/11 by
a bunch of American ideologues who exploited the attacks on the
World Trade Center and the Pentagon in order to advance a US-led
messianic crusade to remake the Middle East – in the most devastating
way, as far as US national interests and the Western presence in
the Middle East are concerned.
In retrospect, the United States and the European Union, backed
by Russia, China and the rest of the international community could
have tried to ensure that the goals of the invasion of Afghanistan
would have been accomplished through the capture of Osama and the
rest of the Al-Qaeda leadership and that would have been followed
by pursuing a common strategy aimed against the radical Muslim terrorist
networks in Europe, Southeast Asia and elsewhere while working together
with the pro-Western governments in the Middle East.
They could have also tried to manage in an imaginative way some
of the explosive policy issues that have helped to ignite anti-American
sentiment in the Muslim world, including the tensions with Iraq
and Iran, the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, and the rise of political
That is not to argue that there would have been easy and quick
solutions to these and related issues. But there is a difference
between trying to treat a headache by banging your head on the wall
and by taking a rest and an aspirin.
The Bush administration, led by a powerful group of neoconservative
policy makers and their allies in the think tanks, media and even
the biosphere, ended up placing the hunt for Osama on Washington's
backburner and instead launched a unilateral invasion of Iraq. The
stated aim became its "liberation" from the rule of Saddam
Hussein and of turning it into a shining model of freedom and democracy
for the greater Middle East. The decision produced a fissure in
the transatlantic relationship, ignited anti-American hostility
in the Middle East and other parts of the world, and weakened the
The Americans exacerbated the situation by giving a green light
to Israel to destroy the infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority
and by refusing to move towards rapprochement with Iran, with which
Washington shared common interests in post-Taliban Afghanistan and
in post-Saddam Iraq.
At the same time, the neocon Democracy Project helped bring to
power a coalition of Shi'ite clerics with ties to Iran in Baghdad
and helped elect the radical Islamist Hamas in Palestine.
Putting all of these historic developments into context, one can
conclude that the post-9/11 US policies were nothing short of a
revolutionary attempt to weaken the very fragile foundations of
the political status quo in the Middle East – without coming up
with a viable and sustainable strategy aimed at replacing them in
a way that would help protect long-term American and Western interests:
the US destroyed Iraq's military power, the only counterbalance
to that of Iran, without making an effort to co-opt Iran into the
It got rid of an Arab-Sunni dictator who had kept the lid on the
ethnic and religious powder-keg of Iraq and helped create the conditions
for a bloody civil war there without deploying the necessary military
troops to deal with such an outcome.
In the process, the US strengthened the power of the Shi'ites in
the Middle East who threaten the Arab-Sunni regimes there, and empowered
Kurdish nationalism, which has alarmed Turkey and Iran.
At the same time, US policies that helped radicalize the Palestinians
also enabled the election of the Palestinian offshoot of the radical
Muslim Brotherhood, ensuring that the Palestinian-Israeli peace
process would not be revived any time soon and providing a sense
of political momentum to Muslim Brotherhood groups in Egypt and
other parts of the Middle East.
Add to all of that the growing anti-Western emotions among Muslims
worldwide, as demonstrated in the recent "cartoons war,"
Iran's drive to achieve nuclear military capability, and the continuing
domestic challenges faced by the pro-American regimes in Saudi Arabia,
Egypt and Pakistan, and it becomes quite obvious that no one could
now press the rewind button and restore the status quo ante.
anything, the powerful forces that have been unleashed by the US
could not be stopped and could intertwine with other global developments
including Sino-American competition over energy and rising economic
nationalism in the West.
Not unlike the aftermath of WW I, which brought about the collapse
of great empires, including that of the Ottomans in the Middle East,
the dramatic changes we are witnessing now will probably help produce
much instability in the coming years.
Hadar [send him mail] is
Washington correspondent for the Business
Times of Singapore and the author of Sandstorm:
Policy Failure in the Middle East (Palgrave Macmillan). Visit
© 2006 Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. All rights reserved. Reprinted
with permission of the author.