Drumm: U.S. must rethink its Middle Eastern policy

Jack Drumm, Columnist

Two weeks ago, in an ancient Afghan city near the border with Tajikistan, the United States military bombed a Doctors Without Borders hospital. The profoundly tragic incident in Kunduz speaks to a larger failure of American foreign policy in the Middle East. In the past, our country has justified military intervention with the hope of installing American-style political and economic systems abroad. These policies fail to achieve their goals and end up adversely impacting the welfare of the civilians whom we supposedly try to help. The justification for American military force in the Middle East — and around the world, for that matter — should be the presence of an outstanding, imminent national security threat and/or a humanitarian emergency.

What does success in the Middle East look like? How do we exit a war? These are the central questions of American involvement in the Middle East, which has embroiled this nation in numerous conflicts since 9/11. Libya is a failed state, half of Syria is governed by ISIS, and the Taliban still operates forcefully in Afghanistan. Yet, it is very possible for the U.S. to affect real change by increasing foreign aid to these impoverished countries and using the resources of the American military to aid in remedying humanitarian crises.

It cannot be the duty of the United States to impose its political and economic models upon other countries. Effective governance and an economy that gives opportunity to all are not products of Western intervention; they are institutions these nations must prop up themselves. That being said, the U.S. does have the moral obligation to ameliorate the suffering of those less fortunate if we can. And we can.

Two cases of conflict — Yemen and Syria — demonstrate a contradiction in American foreign policy toward the Middle East. In Yemen, a U.S.-backed Saudi campaign against Houthi rebels has resulted in widespread penury and desperation. The Saudi bombing campaign and blockade has generated a humanitarian cataclysm, with some Yemeni having to wait days for food, and the U.S., which provides essential resources to the Saudis like weapons and refueling, is complicit in this crisis. Some journalists have even gone so far as to suggest the U.S. is guilty of war crimes. The entanglement of the U.S. in this conflict has done nothing but deteriorate the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and has not realized its goals of changing power in Sana’a.

By contrast, in Syria, the U.S. has wisely avoided military intervention in a conflict with a plethora of actors scrambling for influence, including Bashar al-Assad, ISIS, Russia, Hezbollah, Iran and Turkey. It is no secret that the horrors of war are a daily norm for the Syrian people; food and shelter have become the most valuable currency in Syria. Barney Frank, a former Massachusetts representative, argues that no action the U.S. could take in Syria would actually end up doing any good, which I agree with. The situation in Syria is so wildly complicated that the only good the U.S. could effectuate is providing humanitarian assistance. Fortunately, the United Nations and its World Food Programme, which is largely funded by the United States, has combatted the starvation and tumult of the Syrian people. These are the humanitarian policies that the United States needs to expand in Syria and adopt in other Middle Eastern countries.

The question then becomes: What should be the red line for American intervention? From the overwhelming amount of evidence on American-Middle Eastern relations the past 14 years, we can see that never-ending war isn’t a viable solution. For too long, government officials have promoted policies that attempt to cultivate an environment friendly to U.S. political and economic interests. It is no big secret that corporations who manufacture war materiel have a very large incentive to keep demand for their products high; President Eisenhower left office warning the public of their influence. The American people cannot let our nation fall into another prolonged war that seeks influence in a region that simply does not want it. The human suffering is far too high.

We can execute smart, time-limited operations to protect national security. We can intervene to save lives, distribute food, or house refugees. The U.S. did this back in August 2014, when U.S. and Kurdish forces saved the lives of tens of thousands of Yazidis on a besieged mountain in northwestern Iraq.

It is true, as President Bill Clinton said in 1996, that sometimes America is the difference between freedom and repression. Let that credo be this nation’s guiding light, but let us never forget that freedom is not endless war.

Jack Drumm is a Weinberg freshman. He can be contacted at [email protected]. If you would like to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].

The views expressed in this piece do not necessarily reflect the views of all staff members of The Daily Northwestern.