Tough Times for Iraqi Kurdistan, and for U.S. Middle East Policies
Military disasters can spread rapidly in and around Syria and Iraq. Battlegrounds feed radical ideologies, from Bolshevism in Russia after World War I, Communism in Eastern Europe after World War II, and Maoism in China after the Japanese occupation, World War II, and nationalist civil war.
Devastation from years of civil war in Syria and decades of war in Iraq offer fertile ground for the radial ideology of ISIS. With help from some of Saddam Hussein’s former military officers, plus apparent U.S. training and arming of insurgents who were supposed to attack Assad in Syria, ISIS is winning battles and spreading rapidly.
While U.S. policy apparently provided training for insurgents who later joined ISIS, U.S. policy has refused to provide assistance to the Iraqi Kurdish military, and, more, has undercut the Kurdish economy by blocking international sales of Kurdish oil.
Here is story from August 4, 2014 Wall Street Journal editorial:
Washington had planned to equip the peshmerga directly as recently as 2010, but it deferred to Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, a Shiite who has pursued the disastrous strategy of starving the non-Shiite parts of Iraq. Since President Obama withdrew all U.S. forces in 2011, the U.S. has provided more than $1 billion a year in military aid and sold $10 billion in hardware to Baghdad. But the Kurds have seen little of it. The Baghdad government has also denied the Kurds their share of oil revenues, so the Kurds have sought to export oil themselves, which the U.S. has also tried to block.
|As George Washington looks on…|
There are plenty of critics of U.S. policies to arm and train insurgents around the world in the hopes they will fight the right people, because past experience suggests they often turn to fight the wrong people, including the U.S.
U.S. journalists and government officials earlier supported such “democratic reformers” as Mao Zedong in China and Fidel Castro in Cuba. Here is an example on naive journalist Edgar Snow on Mao in China:
His 1944 book, People On Our Side, emphasized their role in the fight against fascism. In a speech, he described Mao and the Communist Chinese as a progressive force who desired a democratic, free China. Writing for The Nation, Snow stated that the Chinese Communists “happen to have renounced, years ago now, any intention of establishing communism [in China] in the near future.” After the war, Snow retreated from this view of the Chinese communists as a democratic movement. (Source)
And, here is review of how the New York Times journalist Herbert Matthews “invented” Castro, and established him in the minds of NYT readers as a force for democratic reform in Cuba.
These and many other past interventionist misadventures overseas lend support for George Washington and other founders being deeply skeptical of U.S. alliances and military operations in other countries, even in support of pro-freedom movements (which have often turned out not to be so pro-freedom).
John Quincy Adams 1821 4th of July speech addressed U.S. foreign policy, and praise the U.S. record of not interfering over fifty years in the internal affairs of other countries. Here is an excerpt from that speech (included in a draft Economics of U.S./Middle East Foreign Policy study guide, page 4, pdf):
Wherever the standard of freedom and independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will [America’s] heart, her benedictions and her prayers be. But she goes not abroad in search of monsters to destroy. She is the well-wisher to the freedom and independence of all. She is the champion and vindicator only of her own. …
[The United States] will recommend the general cause, by the countenance of her voice, and the benignant sympathy of her example. She well knows that by once enlisting under other banners than her own, were they even the banners of foreign independence, she would involve herself, beyond the power of extrication, in all the wars of interest and intrigue, of individual avarice, envy, and ambition, which assume the colors and usurp the standard of freedom. The fundamental maxims of her policy would insensibly change from liberty to force. The frontlet upon her brows would no longer beam with the ineffable splendor of freedom and independence; but in its stead would soon be substituted an imperial diadem, flashing in false and tarnished lustre the murky radiance of dominion and power. She might become the dictatress of the world: she would be no longer the ruler of her own spirit.
From President John Quincy- Adams’ 1821 July 4th Address.
Adam’s fear of power and U.S. policy shifting from liberty to force reads like Galadriel refusing to accept the Ring of Power from Frodo in the Lord of the Rings.
No easy answers for continued U.S. involvement in Iraqi and Iraqi Kurdistan, but U.S. State Department should at least not block sales of Iraqi Kurdistan oil exports. (As discussed in WSJ editorial above, and near the end of previous post here.)
It is worth noting, as we recount failed foreign interventions, that past foreign intervention opportunities not pursued could have made the world a better place. The U.S. refused to support Hungary, for example, after the Hungarian uprising in 1956. Could U.S. pressure after WWII have prevented fifty years of communist dictatorships across Central and Eastern Europe?
The State Department discusses U.S. diplomatic and military involvement in the Middle East, and gives background to the decision made not to support Kurdish leaders who said they could pull down the oppressive Ba’athists regime in Iraqi with U.S. support. A successful intervention in the 1970s might have saved vast Kurdish, Iraqi, Iranian, and U.S. bloodshed over the decades since:
Notwithstanding their distaste for the Ba’athists, U.S. officials saw little need to aid the Kurds. Since 1969, the Nixon administration had received pleas for help from Iraqi Kurdish leader Mullah Mustafa Barzani for his uprising against the Ba’athist government. U.S. officials rejected the overtures on grounds that Washington would not interfere in the internal affairs of other countries, and that an independent Kurdish state was not a U.S. goal. Officials also felt that, regardless of Kurdish complaints of inadequate aid, the Kurds could get the help they required from the Iranians and the Israelis. (14, 15, 22, 47) Both countries had long supported Barzani in an effort to destabilize their enemy in Baghdad. Throughout 1971, despite Barzani’s insistence that the Ba’athists could be toppled only by a Kurdish-led insurrection, the United States maintained its refusal to assist. (47, 48) (Source)