Andrew J. Bacevich: U.S. Must Resist Urge to Meddle in the Mideast

Roundup: Historians' Take

[Bacevich is the author of Washington Rules: America’s Path to Permanent War.]

The upheaval engulfing the Arab world presents the United States with two choices. Washington can either embrace change, stand on the sidelines, and accept whatever results. Or it can intervene, insert itself in the process, and try to shape the outcome. Advocating the latter would be to assume reserves of power, not to mention wisdom, at Washington’s disposal. At the moment, however, the U.S. possesses neither.

But history, too, argues for restraint. Consider what several decades of outside meddling in the Islamic world has accomplished. Out of the ruins of the Ottoman Empire after World War I came a new map of the vast region, designed not to promote the well-being of its inhabitants, but to satisfy European (chiefly British) interests. The Allies drew boundaries, created nation-states, and installed monarchs to ensure Western access to oil and control of the Suez Canal.

British success proved fleeting, however. The many tasks proved expensive, and in the wake of World War II, cash-strapped Britain devolved its responsibilities onto the U.S., which had grown hungry for global leadership. Although American aims differed little from Great Britain’s, the Cold War enabled Washington to camouflage its purposes. It portrayed Iran’s Mohammad Mossadegh as a communist dupe to justify his overthrow, depicted Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser as a puppet of the Kremlin rather than as an Arab nationalist, and endorsed Israel’s image of itself as a lonely bastion of democracy in a sea of Soviet-armed authoritarians.

By the end of the 20th century, Washington’s ambitions had ballooned rapidly. Yet the unintended consequences of America’s informal empire, which began as a trickle, rushed on as an unwelcome flood. Chief among them: the emergence in Iran of an Islamic Republic deeply hostile to the United States; Israeli insecurities finding expression in a penchant for an excessive reliance on force, recklessly and aggressively employed; the rise of widespread anti-Americanism throughout much of the Islamic world; and the incubation of radical Islamist organizations committed to expelling the U.S., purging the region of its corrupt local rulers, and unifying the umma....

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vaughn davis bornet - 3/4/2011

These are the big issues we are defining for our day. Funny--what happened to the old issues on the way to the Forum (you know, the "Forum," where the "umma" can be found after one fails to find it in the big Webster). Our caregiver says in the culture of India it implies "mother."

Meanwhile, the world of worry. It seems only yesterday that the growth of worldwide fascism was the Issue, as linked to Japanese militarism and their unity under the Emperor.

It seems only yesterday that the Third International (not the Second; not the Fourth) with the Red Soviet Union solidly behind its aggressive and conspiratorial ways was our worry.

Some of us thought (and still think) that big nuclear bombs delivered on target have been the problem since other Nations wised up after August, 1945.

It certainly seemed plausible to consider the 21st Century an age of the Chinese--in one way or another.

Is it, NOW, really all Islam, and the Middle East, and what the Saudis are going to do, and how (and if) we marry all that the Israelis want to gain for themselves out of This World?

I did in fact find this Bacevich article very intelligent and a good read and good for me to ponder.

Yet I wonder what in the Hell happened to the World that was worrying me only a tiny decade or so ago. Must I drop out of the fraternity that makes a habit of sweating "the Big Picture" at least one day a week?

The worst of it is that it all happened when I was watching! I remember, so clearly, the end of Mussolini, and Hitler, and the overorganized Japanese. I remember the death of Stalin; then the death of the Soviet System.

Meanwhile, my wife Beth and I sat in front of the radio PDT and heard the Atomic Age come into being. Ditto the Moon Landing on a motel TV when spending the summer of '69 at RAND.

I'm resigned. So be it. It's not the only game in town, but it seems at least somewhat plausible that what this up-to-date West Pointer and new Ph.D. here presents is "what's happening" down at the worry market.

Vaughn Davis Bornet Ashland, Oregon