Four decades of fruitless U.S. military involvement in the Middle East

Andrew Bacevich writes: When it comes to Egypt, the U.S. has little leverage and therefore no real options. That’s according to the prevailing wisdom, at least.

Yet this analysis — endlessly reiterated in mainstream commentary — is misleading. The absence of leverage does not preclude options. It certainly does not require the Obama administration to debase itself by pretending that the military overthrow of a freely elected government is not a coup or by accepting the Egyptian army’s slaughter of civilians with no more than a tsk-tsk. The administration may choose to do these things, but not because circumstances oblige it to do so.

Identifying our options in Egypt requires examining U.S. policy in a broader context, since the events unfolding in that country are emblematic of a much larger failure.

It may help to recall how the United States forged its perverse relationship with the Egyptian army in the first place. That relationship dates from the 1978 Camp David accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter. Rather than receiving a commission, the broker in this case ended up on the hook, promising to compensate the contracting parties for doing what each had agreed to do. From that day to the present, the United States has annually funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to Egypt and Israel. Rather than furthering the cause of mutual understanding — funding education programs or cultural exchanges, for example — most of that money has gone to the purchase of advanced weaponry.

What are we to make of this arrangement? Writing in the New York Times, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt recently noted that “in the four decades before Camp David, Israel and Egypt fought several major wars; in the nearly four decades since, none.”

True enough, and a welcome development. Yet no less true, if much less welcome, is this: In the four decades before Camp David, the U.S. had managed to steer clear of war in the Middle East; in the nearly four decades since, U.S. involvement in hostilities throughout the region has become routine, with little to show as a result. [Continue reading…]

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3 thoughts on “Four decades of fruitless U.S. military involvement in the Middle East

  1. Alan Richards

    Excellent! His final paragraph says it all.

    Perhaps it might help if we came to understand that the conflict in Egypt between Sisi and the Muslim Brothers is actually a fight between two “Islamist” factions, one backed by Saudi Arabia (Sisi & Co.) and another one, the Muslim Brothers. Those who talk about “secularism” should note that Sisi’s wife wears the niqab (full veil including of face) and that the Salafist Nour party at first supported Sisi’s coup. There is no reason for America to support either faction of Islamist in Egypt. Our activities in the region have, as Prof. Bacevich cogently argues, created little but havoc for at least a generation.

  2. Paul Woodward

    The fact that the Saudis are backing Sisi should make it clear that religion and ideology are nothing more than veneers applied to obscure power politics. The Saudi rulers oppose popular rule in any form and fear the rise of the Muslim Brotherhood anywhere in the region, lest its influence spread to Saudi Arabia itself. The alliance between the royals and the generals is one of pure convenience as each protect their own interests.

  3. Alan Richards

    The alliance is certainly one of convenience. It may be more than that, since, I would have thought you would agree, ideas also matter in politics. Does ideology NEVER matter? This is a consistent position, but I am not at all sure that it is consistent with human behavior. Your comment makes me wonder whether you have ever actually lived in the region, as I did? If you did, do you REALLY think that their conception of the world, of reality, of ethics, and so on, has NO impact on their actions? Really?

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