On September 30, 2015, a three-star Russian general walked into the US embassy in Baghdad, said “airstrikes [in Syria] start in one hour,” then walked out.
The general’s brusk manner was an affront to Washington and in many ways exemplified the extent to which the US had failed yet again in its efforts to promote stability following a popular uprising against an autocratic regime in the Mid-East.
To be sure, America’s Mid-East foreign policy has been, generally speaking, a disaster. The US overtly supports Wahhabism via Washington’s close ties with the Saudis and covertly supports the very same Salafist orthodoxy espoused by ISIS via military aid to Sunni rebels battling for control of Syria.
Further, interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya, and Syria have not only failed to foster stability and instill democratic values, these forays into the politics of Arab nations have in fact served to create failed states beset with sectarian violence and death.
So those are the caveats. And they should be taken very seriously. However, we should be careful to avoid making the argument that due to the way things have turned out, the dictators and brutal regimes that once ruled these countries with an iron fist should have been left in place. That logic is clearly dubious. Imagine you have a decent job that pays enough for you to maintain a comfortable lifestyle. The only problem is, your boss beats you when you make a mistake and belittles you every chance he gets. Eventually he graduates to making passes at your wife. You quit. Then, despite Janet Yellen’s assurances that the jobs market is robust, you fail to find employment. Your wife then leaves you and you end up homeless drinking cheap vodka and begging for change. Were you therefore wrong to quit? Obviously not.
It’s with all of that in mind that I present the following commentary from The Economist, followed by a great graphic that chronicles the sad history of the Arab Spring.
For decades Arab opinion-makers have ascribed a host of regional ills to the West. But the morass left by America’s spectacularly inept occupation of Iraq, along with the West’s ineffectual response to the Arab spring, have convinced all but a conspiracy-addled fringe that there is not much substance to talk of Western omnipotence, American hegemony or even a Zionist conspiracy. At the same time many Arabs have also seen, not for the first time but perhaps now more clearly than ever, how weak the links between Arab states actually are, despite decades of slogans proclaiming Arab unity. And they have seen how weak the states themselves are, and more sadly how weak many of their own societies are.