The U.S. Intelligence Community’s Annual Threat Assessment devotes much space to China, Russia, North Korea and Iran, as our main adversaries on the world stage. Along with continued aggression, it warns of stealth attacks via social media to interfere in our elections, gain access to Americans’ personal information and manipulate our political discourse in their favor – as with Trumpian Republicans favoring Russia’s bloody invasion of Ukraine.
These warnings are well-founded.
But, one ungrounded phrase in the report casts doubt on the “intelligence” within the intelligence community: “Iran will continue to threaten U.S. interests as it tries to erode U.S. influence in the Middle East….”
What U.S. influence in the Middle East?
The majority of the people in the Middle East despise us for our unwavering support of Israel and our continued meddling in their countries’ internal affairs.
On Iran, the Assessment notes, “The Iranian regime sees itself as locked in an existential struggle with the United States.”
Well, when our CIA joined forces with British intelligence in 1953 to overthrow Iran’s elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh and prop up the Shah for another 26 years, an open mind might understand Iranian mistrust of our intentions.
This does not mean the Iranian government is any less misogynistic, oppressive or brutal. But, it does mean that we should not expect to influence that government.
How is our influence in Afghanistan looking these days? The situation there for women is even worse than in Iran.
The U.S. currently has about 2,500 military personnel in Iraq and another 900 in Syria. At the end of last year, J.P. Lawrence of Stars and Stripes reported: “The U.S. military and partner forces launched hundreds of operations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in 2022, Central Command said Thursday, as attacks by the militants grew more brazen at the outset of the year.”
There was no Islamic State until our own brazen attack on Iraq in 2003. Putin’s lies about the necessity to invade Ukraine have counterparts in the lies promulgated by the Younger Bush’s administration about Iraq.
There were no weapons of mass destruction. There was no interface between Saddam Hussein and the (primarily Saudi Arabian) suicide terrorists who attacked us in 2001. We led our allies into Iraq, overthrew its government and destroyed the country’s infrastructure. This inspired Islamist extremists to rise up against alien invaders (us), attack and eventually conquer about a third of Syria and 40 percent of Iraq in 2014.
And though ISIS lost its last territorial holdings in 2019, its armed insurgents still roam those countries, inflicting terror and death upon the populace.
Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) remarked in March:
“20 years later, the Iraq War remains the biggest foreign policy disaster of our generation, one that took thousands of American lives and hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives.
“Have we fully learned the lessons from this failed war of aggression, or are we doomed to repeat it?”
The Senate seems to have learned the lesson. Last week, a bipartisan vote repealed the Iraqi War Act. Its fate in the House is unsure.
Syria has been embroiled in a civil war since 2011.
The political mess there is best explained by the Council on Foreign Relations, which estimates 400,000 deaths from the conflict:
“What began as protests against President Assad’s regime in 2011 quickly escalated into a full-scale war between the Syrian government—backed by Russia and Iran—and anti-government rebel groups—backed by the United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and others in the region. Three campaigns drive the conflict: coalition efforts to defeat the Islamic State, violence between the Syrian government and opposition forces, and military operations against Syrian Kurds by Turkish forces.”
Our military mission in both countries is primarily anti-ISIS. But, our lack of influence in the conflict is exemplified by our Turkish NATO allies attacking our anti-ISIS Kurdish allies and a Syrian stalemate where our overall objective is vague at best.
No one listens to us in the Middle East.
Not even our allies.
In 2018, Jamal Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and columnist for the Washington Post was tortured, murdered and butchered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Istanbul because of his outspoken opposition to Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s increasingly repressive regime.
Five scapegoats were later convicted of the murder, but it had been approved by the Saudi ruler. There were no sanctions under Donald Trump, whose son-in-law, Jared Kushner, received a $2 billion investment from a fund headed by the crown prince shortly after Trump left office.
President Biden’s administration said the prince’s official standing should provide immunity in a civil suit filed by Khashoggi’s fiancé. Biden then visited with the murderous prince during a Middle Eastern trip.
And, just recently the Saudis announced a half-million barrel a day cut in oil production, the ABC Good Morning America streamer reading how that will hurt the Federal Reserve’s anti-inflation efforts but “boost Russia.” Great pals.
Such developments led the Hindustan Times to comment earlier this month: “Saudi crown prince snubs Biden for America’s enemies; embraces old foes of Washington.”
Similarly, there were no repercussions when a solider of our other great Middle Eastern ally, Israel, shot Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh in the head while she was covering an Israeli raid on a West Bank refugee camp.
Another Palestinian journalist, Shatha Hanaysha told CNN about the last minutes of the 51-year-old Palestinian-American:
“We stood in front of the Israeli military vehicles for about five to ten minutes before we made moves to ensure they saw us. And this is a habit of ours as journalists, we move as a group and we stand in front of them so they know we are journalists, and then we start moving.”
Our government joined the Israelis in trying to cover up the incident. No sanctions. Not even the wishy-washy worthless words our officials spew after the latest deadly Israeli invasions of West Bank camps or forced displacements of Palestinians from their homes.
And now we have the spectacle of full scale Israeli attacks on Muslims in their mosques celebrating Ramadan. They are showing us what they think of our “two state solution.”
We are great allies to have. Do anything you choose. Just say you are our friends; we will send you money and support.
Influence in the Middle East? Our enemies hate us and our friends ignore our alleged principles. Our only influence comes from our military personnel consigned to hopeless, no-win, no-planned situations.
And, as a counter to our ineffectiveness, China moved in and negotiated renewed relations between the Saudis and Iranians.
(Gary Edmondson is chair of the Stephens County Democratic Party.)