Aside from “stop terrorism” and “destroy the Islamic State,” world leaders are charging into battle against globalized terrorism without a strategic vision or any well-defined objectives. The inconsistent nature of US foreign policy has often been blamed for causing untold damage throughout the International Community. Epitomizing this very criticism, George W. Bush’s Iraq War suffered due to a lack of well-defined objectives and overall vision for the future of Iraq. The same can be said about the Bush Administration’s national security policies, which lead the US to torture suspected terrorists and violate the civil liberties of our own citizens.
In the wake of the Paris Terrorist Attacks, European leaders are about to follow in the footsteps of the Bush Administration. Unlike the Bush Administration’s invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq where nation-building was an assumption, however, Western leaders have failed to even recognize what role they might play in engineering long-term regional stability. “Region-building” will assuredly be part of the fight to defeat the Islamic State and emerging terrorist threats. As little has improved for the Peoples of the Middle East since the Arab Spring Revolutions began, the International Community must calibrate its strategy to address proper governance in the Middle East.
Unfortunately, fiscal constraints, massive budgetary issues, and economic uncertainty limit what the International Community can do for the Middle East. Material and financial support will be extremely limited, so writing massive checks is not an option while doing so will only subsidize the corruption and undermining policies of those in power. Considering the relatively small nations of Iraq and Afghanistan cost the US over $4 trillion, the entirety of the International Community does not have enough resources to adequately sustain the status quo in the region nor can Middle Eastern powers fulfill the needs of their populations if they continue to be so dependent on government spending and outside interests.
Furthermore, the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Paris Terrorist Attacks happened, because the US and France failed to address the threat of globalized terrorism, which is true for all the other terrorist attacks that have happened throughout the world. Factoring in the Great Recession, climate change, political dysfunction, the Arab Spring Revolutions, the Ukraine Crisis, the South China Sea Crisis, and so many other global issues, it is clear that an ongoing series of global crises have arisen, because governments failed to recognize and address critical faults in public policies. These crises are the consequences of failed governance and leadership over decades. No longer able to compensate for bad policies, the world has been experiencing a catastrophic recalibration of neglected interests.
With that in mind, the Arab Spring Revolutions are often blamed for the widespread instability and violence seen in the Middle East today, but it was the unwillingness of Middle Eastern governments to relinquish power and address the unmet interests of their Peoples that invited the current troubles. Political pressure in the Middle East had been building for years thanks to unresponsive and oppressive governance. The Arab Spring Revolutions erupted in 2011, because the Peoples of the Middle East were so neglected and angry that they were finally forced to defend themselves.
The Middle East is defined by great oil wealth and vast spans of impoverished communities, which are characterized by cultural differences that are accentuated by lagging civil and economic development. Instead of addressing the interests of the many Peoples across the region, those in power and those who control the region’s wealth have neglected the interests of their fellow compatriots. Unfortunately, this means instability will be the rule for some time. Beyond bombing the Islamic State, the role of foreign powers in the Middle East is, therefore, to help improve governance in the region. This means confronting current leaders on their failures. It also means developing coequal economic partnerships while the majority of assistance from the outside must come in the form of civil and political development.
With Europe’s complex history of colonialism and America’s support of authoritarian regimes in mind, the West has not been honest in how it has engaged the Muslim world. Going forward, the International Community must be far more direct and sincere when engaging the Middle Eastern Peoples. This means the West must stop trying to shape the destiny of the region for our convenience. Democracy, economic development, and social values cannot be neglected nor forced upon the Peoples of the Middle East for our interests. In short, the West must help empower the Peoples of the Middle East to properly govern themselves.
Unfortunately, a major cost of propping up non-democratic governments has been a lack of trust and weak development among the populations of this region. While it is one thing to cooperate with whatever ruling body governs a territory, it is quite another for us to forget our values and get in bed with oppressive, abusive leaders as we did in the Middle East. Outsiders may pressure the Peoples of these lands to consider different perspectives of other individuals, but social evolution cannot be substituted with sermons from the West. The Peoples of the Middle East must be empowered to properly govern themselves.
This does not, of course, preclude world leaders from openly criticizing the behavior of regional leaders, who ignore the interests of their populations, or reinforcing our principles, especially when global interests are endangered. Lending our expertise to help the development of the political institutions required to self-govern, as well as offering leaders advice on how to cope with the cultural and social changes needed for the Peoples of emerging democracies to define the role of government and participate in governance, is also necessary.
In many respects, the Obama Administration’s limited intervention against the Islamic State and greater reliance on domestic partners is the type of intervention that should have been undertaken by George W. Bush Administration following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Instead of using American might to impose regime change and nation-building in order to “create” allies, the US is returning to a foreign policy mission based on “making the world safe for democracy.” If Middle Eastern governments are ever going to address and properly balance the interests of their Peoples, if the threat of globalized terrorism is ever going to be contained, the US needs to help strengthen the International Community it built to foster stability, peace, and freedom for all.
Finally, our addiction to crude might be easing and the need for intervention will not always outweigh the high cost of war, but fully disengaging from the Middle East will never be a viable option. As the region struggle through this phase of transition, which might last for quite some time and be characterized by periods of failed, as well as successful, attempts at democracy, dealing with governments we might, or might not, find favorable to achieve what common goals we can muster is essential to global stability. A failure to successfully engage all nations of the region on some front will translate into a total lack of influence as well as a far greater disadvantage in global affairs as other global powers, such as China, will engage these leaders. We must, however, shift away from high cost policies that create dangerous long-term liabilities.
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