Into the Abyss
By Stephen Tuttle | Sept. 28, 2019
We're sending troops to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). This is a response to Iran's shoot-down of an American surveillance drone and, more recently, their alleged attack on a Saudi oil refinery and depot.
The troops are an effort to establish balance and stability in the region and defend against an aggressive and adventuresome Iran.
More troops into the abyss. Sigh.
The Trump Administration, or more accurately, the president himself, has been fixated with Iran since before he was elected. It was part of his ongoing denigration of the previous administration and the agreement we had made with Iran: They agreed to stop enriching uranium to weapons-grade levels, and we agreed to lift sanctions and return their money that we'd been holding since the Iranian hostage-taking and revolution in the late 1970s. (The Iran government of the Shah had paid for significant amounts of military hardware. When the Shah was deposed, we did not deliver the weapons but kept the money.)
President Trump said it was a bad deal despite our intelligence community asserting that Iran was, in fact, abiding by the terms. The president canceled the agreement; the Iranians responded by exceeding the uranium enrichment levels they had previously agreed to; we responded with stricter economic sanctions; they responded by shooting down a drone; we responded with even more sanctions; they responded by destroying critical Saudi industry; we respond by sending troops.
It is all quite absurd.
The Saudis and Iranians are engaged in a proxy war against each other in Yemen. It's yet another sectarian squabble between rival factions of Islam, the same foolish reason the Saudi and Iranian governments don't like each other. We've chosen the Saudi side not because they're necessarily right but because they have a lot of oil and are our best military customer. We don't like Iran, we say, because they support and export terrorism. And they call us names.
One might reasonably ask why Saudi Arabia needs our protection. As the world's biggest customer of U.S. military equipment and weapons, they are bristling with state-of-the-art American war machines. They have literally purchased hundreds of billions of dollars worth. The tentative deal the Saudis made with Trump in June 2017 would give them another $350 billion worth of military toys over the next 10 years.
But for some reason, we run to their rescue.
That's been our bizarre strategy in the region for decades. We sell everybody weaponry, then believe we need to intercede when those weapons start being used.
There has never been real stability there — the historical record of warfare in what is now Iraq starts in about 2,500 BCE — but we've managed to make it worse.
Stability? We have troops in Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Turkey, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Turkmenistan, the United Arab Emerites, and have contributed to civil wars in both Syria and Yemen. We ousted governments in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the replacements have been mostly corrupt, incompetent, incapable, or some combination of all three. We helped get rid of He-Whose-Name-Cannot-Be-Spelled, in Libya, where there is now chaos.
According to the International Red Cross, the carnage in Syria has claimed 400,000 civilian lives, forced 5 million to move out of the country and internally displaced another 6 million. The conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the longest in our history, have claimed more than 440,000 lives, including 225,000 civilians. The war in Yemen, the newest of the wars, has already claimed 14,000 lives, including 7,000 civilians.
The better question here is why has yet another administration been scammed into believing the Saudis are our friends. Owned and run by one gigantic extended family, Saudi Arabia is still one of the most oppressive regimes in the world. There is no freedom we would recognize: no free speech, freedom of religion, freedom of press — nothing. And they blatantly murder critics.
Women, who were only recently allowed to vote for the first time (and only in some municipal elections), cannot drive, own property, own their own business, go out in public without a male chaperone, and they still are supposed to cover their entire bodies, except for their eyes and hands, when in public lest they become too tempting for the Saudi men.
More to the point, it's Saudi money that has funded madrassas (schools) that teach the most radical and intolerant form of Islam, Wahhabism. The 9/11 murderers, most of whom were Saudi nationals, were adherents. So is the leadership of most of today's terrorist groups.
None of that is very friendly.
The president is right to avoid military responses against Iran. But he's just the latest president to mistake Saudi money for friendship. They are a key source of the problems in the Middle East, and we continue to help them make things worse. The blood feuds will continue. We need not contribute to that bloodshed.