Between You and Me
In it, Kaplan defends US policy in the Middle East as a relevant policy that protected US interests while achieving both peace and stability. He suggests that the only alternative to such a policy, which has relied on democracy and human rights discourse to forward its policy goals, would have been to overthrow all regimes that did not conform to American values, or cut off diplomatic ties with all value offenders—both impractical and unrealistic. Thus, America’s preference for a 60-year-old policy that until now buys off Arab monarchs and secular dictatorships in exchange for access to oil and a secure Israel.
Kaplan writes: “A basic rule of foreign policy pragmatism is that you must work with the material at hand: because it is dangerous and costly to replace regimes thousands of miles away from home when they do not correspond to your values or liking.”
Pragmatic foreign policy is also a foreign policy that changes with the times, not one that entrenches them. US policy in the Middle East has premised on intervention, a key provision of the Eisenhower Doctrine, which is hardly accepting what is “at hand.’
Decades of US intervention, based on a largely unchanged policy, has had a severely negative impact on the US-Mideast relationship, and therefore, on American interests in the region. If it had been working with what was “at hand,” then the CIA would not have orchestrated a coup against the democratically elected Iranian government of Mohammed Mosaddegh; it would not have collaborated with the Ba’ath Party (yes, Saddam Hussein) to overthrow the government of Abdel Karim Qasim; it would have not invaded Iraq in 2003 to overthrow Hussein, and it would not have supplied weapons to the despised Mohammed Dahlan, who was to remove the democratically elected government of Hamas from power in Palestine.
Indeed, the US has manipulated, lied, blackmailed, cheated and murdered its way into the Middle East at the expense of a more informed and reliable foreign policy.
Furthermore, contrary to what Kaplan claims to be a stable and peaceful region, have a look at the following (incomprehensive) list of events:
1956: Suez Crisis 1990: Iraq invasion of Kuwait
1967: Arab-Israeli war 1991: First Gulf War
1973: Yom Kippur war 2000: Second Palestinian Intifada
1975: Lebanese Civil war 2001: US invasion of Afghanistan
1979: Iranian Revolution 2003: Second Gulf War
1979: Soviet war in Afghanistan 2006: Israel war against Hezbollah
1981: Iraq invasion of Iran 2008: Israel war against Gaza
1987: First Palestinian Intifada
This is in addition to numerous coups, battles, a 60-plus year occupation of Palestine, two major oil crises and the rise of global jihadism quite often directed against the US and its allies.
At the same time, a region undergoing constant change presents policymakers with many opportunities to constitute a policy that would not just protect US interests but also help to create an environment more conducive to representative government in the Middle East, which I and many others feel is a long-term interest.
US President Jimmy Carter once gave a speech at Notre Dame University outlining America’s commitment to a human rights-based foreign policy. I think it’s high time to revisit this.