By Daniel Metz, Blogger for Middle Eastern and North African Affairs
Leveling contradictory examples of isolationist, pragmatic and Machiavellian policy choices, the new president appears to be leaping down the same path of support for brutal authoritarian regimes and to be supporting vicious insurgent movements in favor of a “quick fix” in the Middle East. Clearly failing to hide his reverence for the autocratic institutions of oppressed nations, President Trump is pursuing an unsustainable, counterproductive and outright dangerous policy that, according to all logic, will produce tangible benefits for neither the American people nor the average citizens of literally any other country.
Some try to reason with the dictator sympathy; They claim pragmatism in choosing to overlook brutal internal policies in exchange for trivial, egotistical gestures or a wink and a nod to the fight against terrorism, but the idea that supporting authoritarian regimes produces anything more than brief stability is ludicrous.
Take the example of Saddam Hussein: a vicious dictator who in 1988 used chemical weapons against the Iraqi Kurds in Halabja, initiated major conflicts in the region, and oppressed his people in inconceivable ways. We tend to think of Hussein in the context of the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent “dethroning” of the Arab dictator, but a typically overlooked anecdote in the Saddam-America love story was Reagan’s program, in which America collaborated with Saddam’s regime throughout much of the ruthless Iran-Iraq War.
Americans shared key battlefield intelligence with Iraq and permitted the sale of American-made arms to Baghdad to subvert the growing regional influence of Iran. American officials had full knowledge that Saddam was using our intelligence to turn chemical weapons against both his own people and the Iranian civilian population. These claims are sobering slaps to the face, especially when considering the moral and ethical sacrifices Americans made just so that Hussein could turn around and instigate the Gulf War in the 1990s and prove to be the lynchpin in the second Bush administration’s revisionist policies.
One could look to Shah Reza Pahlavi of Iran as another appropriate example: an oppressive dictator who America propped up after Anglo-American support for a military coup aided in the overthrow of a democratically elected, although slightly socialist, Iranian government. We all know how well that policy worked out in the long run.
Another elevated example could be that ragtag group of mujahideen – the foreign jihadists fighting alongside the rebellion against the Soviet Union after it invaded Afghanistan in 1979. At the risk of stepping into the realm of conspiracy theories, it needs to be made clear that America did not directly cooperate with these extremists. However, following a policy initiated by Jimmy Carter and perpetuated by Ronald Reagan, anywhere from $500 to 600 million was smuggled to these groups via Pakistani’s intelligence service.
Beyond simple cash investments, the CIA helped to set up camps to train these rebels in the art of such skills as bomb-making and urban, guerilla warfare. This is the stage where Osama bin Laden established the inner circle of his soon-to-be violent extremist group al-Qaeda and where he was joined by al-Qaeda’s current leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Experts debate whether the CIA had any direct contact with mujahideen leaders, future al-Qaeda members or directly operated the training camps, but even at the most conservative estimates, one of the world’s largest and most feared terrorist networks grew out of America’s support for a rebel faction in a foreign war.
It’s always easy to retrospectively point fingers and judge the results of former administrations’ policy mishaps, but the threat of regional crisis relevant to several policy decisions facing the current president is not something to be taken lightly.
Trump’s senseless praise of Egypt’s autocratic dictator has made headlines lately, particularly highlighted by his unnecessary celebration of an authoritarian leader’s suppression of various democratic institutions. Almost paradoxically, Trump is praising the leader of a nation that has imprisoned at least seven American citizens for protesting or operating NGOs.
Following Egypt’s July 2013 military coup and Obama’s decision to sever military and economic aid to Cairo, hundreds of millions of dollars of aid transfers resumed. Justifications for this continued support and aid almost solely focus on the fight against terrorism – illogical reasoning considering the willingness of Egypt’s leader to brutally oppress his people rather than work to manage the growing influence of the Islamic State, particularly in the Sinai region.
A brief stroll down to the Arabian Peninsula takes us to a growing conflict toward which Trump has already shown an inclination of aggression: the civil war in Yemen. With U.S.-backed Saudis conducting air strikes on Iran-backed Houthi rebels throughout the country, the victims are the mass civilian casualties and the burgeoning influence of al-Qaeda’s Yemen affiliate. Rather than pushing forward with any ideals of negotiated peace, America has essentially joined a proxy war with Iran.
America needs to take a step back from the growing pile of self-inflicting crises in the Middle East, sever military aid to authoritarian regimes while increasing humanitarian aid to those adversely affected nations. It must also cease the financial or tactical support of insurgent or rebel groups in armed conflicts throughout the Middle East.
These reprehensible Machiavellian tactics should have no place in modern American foreign policy. In assuming the role of the dominant state in a hierarchical world system, we accept the implication that our nation and its leaders should make decisions that set precedents and standards for the rest of the world to follow rather than exploit the weak for the profit of the rich.
This does not mean that American exceptionalism is the key to world peace, but when its leader is unwilling to use his country’s influence to resolve any conflict other than his own internal fabrications, is America truly exceptional?
Daniel Metz is a senior at Indiana University, where he studies Journalism, Central Eurasian Studies, and Political Science.
Allen, Craig; Burgess, Joe; et. al. “How the U.S. Became More Involved in the War in Yemen.” The New York Times. 15 October 2016. Web.
“Al Qaeda.” Mapping Militant Organizations. Stanford University. Web.
Chadwick, Alex; Shuster, Mike. “U.S Links to Saddam During Iran-Iraq War.” National Public Radio. 22 September 2005. Web.
Wikstronm, Cajsa. “Trump urged to mention Egypt prisoners as he meets Sisi.” Al Jazeera. 3 April 2017. Web.