Wall Street Journal Peddles Foreign Policy Insanity

by | Jan 10, 2014

Why is it that the old saying regarding insanity and doing the same thing over and over while expecting different results is so rarely followed by the foreign policy establishment? Gerald Seib’s column in the Wall Street Journal this week does not touch upon the causes for the problems the United States faces in the Middle East. Rather than offering unique ideas, his column promises to repeat the mistakes of the past.

Figures such as Congressman Walter B. Jones hailing from North Carolina and Columnist George Will have, to varying degrees, reversed their opinions of the Middle East wars. Gerald Seib seems to have enough stick-to-itiveness to continue the banter for more incursions in the region. He began his recent WSJ article US Needs A Role in the New Mideast with a bang by ignoring the causes (they always do) for the current upheaval and how our own actions have folded the United States into a territorial and religious war:

It’s becoming clear the Arab Spring didn’t merely shake up the ossified power structure of the Middle East. It launched a total transformation of the region—one that has reduced American influence and ultimately will compel the U.S. to rethink its stake in an area that for half a century was assumed to be central to its global interests.

There must have been a word limit. Mr. Seib did not mention nor allude to the possibility that our military incursions involvement destabilized the already shaky governments in power or exacerbated the old regional tensions.

The ouster of the tyrannical leaders in the Middle East was the result of a confluence of streams that reached their apogee when US trained militias, youth movements, Islamists, secularists, and student groups worked independently and in tandem to remove their oppressive leadership. Mr. Seib argues that this was a positive movement:

In theory, all this should represent good news for the U.S. The ouster of Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Moammar Gadhafi, and the threat to the rule of Bashar al-Assad in Syria represent the weakening of what had been for many years a kind of axis of Arab anti-Americanism.

Mr. Seib unintentionally makes an interesting point regarding the US government’s schizophrenic foreign policy toward the Middle East. While on the one hand he is correct to the extent that those regimes were a hotbed of anti-Americanism. Furthermore, the lives of an already oppressed group of people throughout the Middle East have only gotten worse. However, the duality of the government’s approach to the Middle East is to simultaneously prop up these rulers with military, political, and economic aid while encouraging their removal through other policies. Mr. Seib’s policy prescriptions ultimately want the reader to support this diamagnetic world view.

Moving on to Iran, Mr. Seib bristles at the possibility of peaceful relations with Iran. Rather than fear the “collapse of the Arab power structure [which] has opened the door for expanded influence by Iran “ we should recognize the similar interests between the United States and Iran. For starters, there are economic opportunities for American companies who would benefit from an opening to Iran.

Finally, Mr. Seib takes one last stab at falsifying frenzy for supporting American action in the Middle East. He correctly reminds us that with the fall of the old guard new tensions arose which heretofore had been suppressed by strong rulers and a deliberate military establishment:

[The Arab Spring] shook loose underlying tensions between Sunni and Shiite Muslims. Saddam Hussein in Iraq and the Assad family’s regime in Syria helped keep these tensions in check for everybody. No more. Increasingly, Saudi Arabia is bankrolling the region’s Sunni factions and Iran is giving aid to the Shiite ones, creating an unhealthy kind of broad sectarian proxy struggle.

On the one hand orthodoxy, interpretations of sacred texts, and familial schisms along the lines of the Hatfields and McCoys has ravaged the Sunni and Shiite for centuries. However, in the modern era, the introduction of foreign influences from various state actors complicated these tensions. These foreign state actors played out their own interests through the various regional groups. The result was to create greater tension between these groups. According to Mr. Seib, the “proper” response to the increased Saudi bankrolling of the Sunni and Iranian support for Shiite is American military involvement. Never mind that the US has already been deeply involved and working with all these groups. The colloquial definition of insanity fits neatly in this paradigm.

No article on foreign intervention would be complete if it did not call persons suspicious of foreign militarism ignorant. When Mr. Seib brought up the opposing side’s point of view on foreign interventions – a straw man complete with his missing brain – he counseled against reducing the military involvement:

Unfortunately, that’s shortsighted. The U.S. has a deep interest in the health of a global economy that still depends on Middle East oil. The dangers of Islamic extremism actually are on the rise rather than the decline. And now there is the real danger of a destabilizing regional nuclear arms race in coming decades set off by Iran.

Let’s set aside that this is a mercantilist proposition to secure resources for private businesses, and address the bigger issue. Mr. Seib cannot articulate why the US military is needed to ensure the health of a global economy. I doubt he can.