Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Unstable Regimes

Reexamination of our Cold War relationships with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan is long overdue. Counterbalances to Marxist and Soviet-backed regimes are out of date and our alliances with those nations no longer serve a rational purpose in many ways.

Our nation’s opposition to Iran and a practical desire to fight terrorism have drawn us into supporting unstable nations that are vulnerable to collapse. Pakistan is a mess of a country (locked in a feud with India from birth – like Jacob and Esau grappling in the womb) that is beset by institutional, infrastructural, and political failures. Pakistan faces overwhelming challenges in its future. Only about 60% of the population is literate and millions of children are not enrolled in school. What kind of future do those children have in our modern world if they are not receiving any substantial education? Of course, if a nation cannot guarantee security for its people it cannot begin to educate them either. If the United States supports the nation of Pakistan, it should come with severe pressure to reform the country. But they are an important source of information and a sometime friend in the War on Terror. Bordering Afghanistan is also a mark in their favor as we pursue a never-ending conflict in that nation. Our nation has decided to support Pakistan in pursuit of immediate interests without thought for the longterm consequences of supporting that tortured country in the way we currently do.

Saudi Arabia is another tricky nation with whom we should be more enemy than friend. During the Cold War it made a lot of sense for the United States to support the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a bulwark against Soviet-backed states in the region. Since the region is so integral to the oil economy it was a key part of American Cold War strategy to not allow the Soviet Union to dominate that area. After the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War the United States has lost its reason to be in a strong alliance with Saudi Arabia.

The Kingdom is a repressive absolute monarchy. Homosexuality, women’s rights, and political opposition are forbidden. Besides their socially and politically regressive policies, which are anathema to the liberal west, they are the wellspring of the radical Muslim theology that inflames terrorists around the world.¬†Wahabism, as the totalitarian version of Islam is generally known, is funded, supported, and globally disseminated by the government of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia supports this idea because it is anti-democracy and therefore bolsters the authority of the government of Saudi Arabia. In a bid to strengthen their own existence in their own country, the government of Saudi Arabia exports an idea that helps to radicalize young Muslims all over the world. For this reason alone we should not support Saudi Arabia. If the national security of the country is truly threatened chiefly by terrorism, then one of our chief allies outside of the English-speaking nations of the world is one of our greatest enemies.

Donald Trump’s emerging policy of strengthening an anti-Iranian alliance muddies the clear water through which we should see Saudi Arabia. Since those two nations are the key rivals in the Middle East over politics and oil, the United States has chosen the side of Saudi Arabia. A house divided against itself cannot stand, and the United States cannot ally with and fight the same nations at the same time.

An entire re-imagining of who our allies are and why, what we give them, and what we should demand of them in return for support is necessary. The careening foreign policy of the United States since the beginning of the new millennium has not brought any stability to the government’s positions in the Muslim world and elsewhere.

After 9/11 the United States under the George W. Bush Administration invaded Afghanistan and then Iraq. Because of the invasion of Afghanistan, and the lack of clear and achievable goals there, the US was forced to try to work closely with Pakistan, another nation that is beset by terrorism that it spawned itself. By invading Iraq and overthrowing the bulwark against Iranian hegemony in the Euphrates Valley, the United States invited greater power and adventurism on the part of the Iranian government. Lacking the manpower and will to fight Iran as well as the other two wars the government was involved in, we settled for supporting an anti-Iranian alliance and got involved with sectarian politics. Along with these actions a security apparatus, focused on fighting terrorism, was founded in the United States and significant tenets of US foreign policy were based around this apparatus. Then, in a jerking reversal, the Obama administration tried to disengage from the region directly and withdraw from the ugly alliances and wars which it found itself in. In a series of half-measures the United States bumbled away from the messes we made while changing nothing significantly in the security apparatus, in our system of alliances, or in the facts on the ground in the contested nations. Now, in another stunning reversal, the Trump administration is pursuing a doggedly anti-Iranian strategy, for which the conditions would not exist if it were not for the invasion of Iraq. The US has therefore, entangled itself with nations with whom it has few common interests, allowed avowed enemies to gain power, and then doubled-down on those entanglements to fight the enemies whom we allowed to become powerful. Containment this is not.

Why Obama should be more like Ronald Reagan

Initiative is a paramount theme in the operational philosophy of warfare. The ability of an actor to impose their will on their opponent, to choose a time and place of conflict and place pressure on an opponent’s weakness is a valuable strategic advantage. The United States, while avoiding wasteful and costly foreign entanglements, has ceded strategic initiative in a variety of global affairs, but particularly in Iraq and Syria.

In the midst of America’s steep decline in its ability to project power globally at the end of the 1970’s, Ronald Reagan started a “crusade” against the Soviet Union. Confronting the “Evil Empire” directly with increased military spending (preying of their weak economy) and fighting proxy wars against them helped to destroy the Soviet system. There were, as there always are, unintended consequences and blowback that came to the fore only after the loftier goal had been achieved. Notably, and regrettably, the funding and supplying of radical Islamists would come to haunt the United States. There was also the diminished respect for many peoples of the world after the United States supported oppressive dictatorships in the name of anti-Communism and the dangerously increased tensions with the Soviet Union that could have led to a nuclear war. The aggressiveness and assertiveness, paid for with deficit spending, gave the United States the strategic initiative and allowed for American-advantaged negotiations to take place between the superpowers.

The disaster in Syria and Iraq is the result of many historical failures and murderous groups attempting to hold or seize power. It is also a vortex dragging in major world powers with the pull of the global disasters of social collapse and terrorism fears. In addition to the global problems, there are complex regional rivalries that have combined to make the countries (perhaps former countries) of Iraq and Syria bloody battlegrounds for proxy wars.

Many pundits have argued aggressively for US intervention or applauded the Obama Administration for its restraint in not fighting unwinnable wars. In many ways the President is an impossible bind when confronting the disasters in the Middle East. For the US, the prospect of a complete power vacuum in Iraq and Syria is untenable while at the same time reacting in a mild, or very targeted manner is not effective in the long term.

Admitting the fact that there is already a humanitarian disaster, and that the United States has partnered with dubious, and indeed, criminal, allies – the US has little to lose by facing its geo-strategic enemies with greater force and resolve. Bombing the Assad regime directly in Syria and arming our chosen militias with greater technical abilities would send a strong message to Russia and deter the Putin regime from greater aggression or, if it were strongly opposed, would spread Russia’s military thin. In a broader view it would allow the United States to dictate terms of peace and influence the rivalries between Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia.

The enemies of the United States are emboldened, but weak. A strong show of force and resolve would likely strengthen the United State’s ability to conduct diplomatic enterprises effectively. The value of initiative is known, the disaster in the Middle East is already manifest, and long term consequences are unknowable for the greater part. It behooves the United States to control what it can, and for the Obama Administration to act more like the Reagan Administration.