The United States Involvement in The Middle-East: Minimizing the terrorist threats and stabilizing the Middle-East

  • Written by:

R. G. Eliah
Following the tragic events of the terrorist attacks against the United States on September 11, 2001 by al-Qaeda and after more than a decade of US involvement in two wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the American people are somewhat still divided on whether the US reaction to these attacks and the way it was implemented is justified taking into account the recent events and turmoil in the Middle=East. No doubt, there are many reasons for Americans to be skeptical when it comes to intervening in the Middle-East and stabilizing the region.

In order to decompose the status quo in the Middle –East and secure desirable results, the following questions come to mind: Should the current and future administrations adopt a grand aggressive strategy (The Big Bang) to minimize terror threats against the West and stabilize the Middle-East, or should they play a passive role (Wait and See), or something in between (Adjustable Selective Engagement)? And what are the best available options for the United States and other western democracies to deal with current crisis in the Middle –East?

To tackle these important and critical issues, one should look in depth and analyze the situation by relying on five pillars: First, and the most important pillar is, the issue of weapons of mass destruction in the Middle-East, second, the terrorist groups in the Middle-East, third, the authoritarian regimes in the Middle-East, fourth, the tensions and struggle for power between Sunnis and Shiites. And finally, the Arab-Israeli conflict and its overspreading effect in the region and the world.

While, Adjustable selective engagement approach is highly desirable and will lead to policy alteration and attainable success which will eventually have a spillover effect in the Middle-East, the big bang approach is highly unlikely to achieve the desirable objectives in a region where almost everything is interrelated and the events are so dicey and fluid. Moreover, the risks associated with the adjustable selective engagement approach are very low and the methods used can be very effective in securing desirable changes in terms of wining the argument and people’s hearts and minds in the Middle –East, where the big bang approach could lead to big mistakes which will have a ripple effect in the region and become increasingly difficult to manage. It is important to mention that any change toward stabilizing the Middle-East should be viewed as a product of the people in the region (Tunisia and Egypt), not a product imposed by The West (Iraq and Libya).

The first pillar focuses on some Middle-Eastern countries acquiring weapons of mass destruction like Syria and Iran. In this regard, the United States and some of its allies drew a red line and made it clear that they will respond and not stand idly by in the face of such aspirations. So far, the process of removing and destroying Syria’s chemical weapons has been carried out successfully. By the same token, the international sanctions against
Iran coupled with the (P5+1) negotiations to restrain Iran’s nuclear program still continue, and they got a long way to go before reaching the final agreement. Iran is considered one of the major players in the region and is different from Syria. The “carrot and stick” approach might succeed with Iran compared with all other available options. Iranian leaders are faced with a choice between two options, either to halt the enrichment of Uranium for the sake of preserving their territorial gains and regional power through regional alliance with Shiite regimes and proxy militaries such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen’s Houthis, Ismaili Shiites in Bahrain and Hezbollah in Lebanon, or choosing the second option of enrichment of Uranium to weapon grade, and suffer the consequences of defying the international community including the main Sunni powers in the region like Turkey, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. Iranian leaders have trouble comparing and weighing these two options, because both of them will not solve Iran’s main problem which is the economy, On the one hand, stepping up financial and military support for Shiite powers in the region is a heavy burden on Iran’s economy taking into account the recent sharp falls in oil prices. On the other hand, pursuing nuclear program will ultimately increase the international pressure and call for more sanctions against Iran. Moreover, both of these two scenarios will deepen domestic problems and strengthen the position of the internal opposition forces in Iran.

The second pillar is how to degrade and destroy the terrorist groups like, ISIL, al-Qaeda, Khorasan, AQAP, and others, which most of them are Sunni Muslims groups. These groups will always find a reason to attack the Arab and Muslim stable moderate regimes and the West, such as, continuous Israeli occupation of Palestine, Iraq and Afghanistan wars, Pakistan-occupied Kashmir by India, mocking Prophet Muhammad, the support of some Arab dictators by the West, the removal of some Arab dictators by the West, and so on. The most appropriate and effective option to deal with such threat is by pursuing a “winged Bull” approach (fast, intelligence, and force) through a coalition with other countries. For example, financial and military assistance to some moderate regimes such as Jordan, military training for those who are willing to fight against the terrorists groups like the Syrian Moderate opposition group and the Kurds and Christians in Syria and Iraq, the continuation of Western and non-Western air strikes against terrorists targets and leaders, intelligence information gathering, military advisory support, provide humanitarian support and protection for Christian and other minorities, adopting new economic, cultural, political, and social policies in Europe that minimize terrorists recruitment and maximize assimilation. Such steps will yield good results especially when these terrorists groups are starting to fight each other in Syria, Yemen, and elsewhere, or when they are confronted by Islamic moderate groups or Shiite groups in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen, and that is what is happening right now.

The third pillar is about dealing with authoritarian regimes in the region. All of the Arab dictators pretended and still pretend to be secular or moderate regimes in order to appear as modernizers and get support from The West. These Arab dictators who stayed in power for more than three decades used secularism as a facade while oppressing their people and violating human rights. There is a belief that Arab dictators were a factor for the rise of militant Islamists and hatred of the West. One of the outcomes after the collapse of the authoritarian regimes in the Arab World (The Arab Spring) is the rise of Islamist groups in the region. No thanks to the Arab dictators and a one party system, under which, all the real social, political, moderate religious, secular, democratic, and liberal parties or movements were considered a threat to national security and were either banned or destroyed. This is why the Islamist parties are gaining political leverage and become more organized than the other secular, moderate, or liberal groups if they exist.
The removal of some Arab dictators from power by a foreign military intervention did not yield the desirable results as it is the case in Iraq and Libya. Thus, adopting “The lesser of two evils” principle is considered a good alternative to grand intervention strategy or putting boots on the ground, especially when the two evils are fighting each other whether in Syria or in Yemen. In this respect, it appears to be the case that no certain side or group of this bloody fight will prevail in the short run but rather deteriorate in the long run. Needless to say, introducing new components, or inserting new elements into this fight could be helpful to maintain the balance and the distraction among the fighting groups. To be sure, time is not of the essence in this fight and the longer the fight, the better the chance for the silent moderate Muslim majority to get organized and control the events, particularly if they get some financial and humanitarian support from the West.

The fourth pillar is how to deal with the current conflict between Shiites and Sunnis. The vast majority of Muslims is Sunni and the vast majority of Shiites is concentrated mainly in Iraq and Iran. The most appropriate approach for the West is “no winner, no loser). In other words, not to pick sides in this conflict but to keep the balance among them and encourage governments in the Middle-East to be more inclusive. Many agree that the main reason that led ISIL to gain control over Sunnis areas in Iraq and Syria is due to the fact that Shiite governments in both countries with support from Iran have not been inclusive and continue to alienate the Sunnis and to dismiss them from power-sharing. The truth of the matter is that, the main Islamic powers in the region which are Turkey, Iran, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia, can play a significant role by taking some concrete steps to solve the Sunni-Shiite conflict and eventually eradicate all terrorists groups in the region with some help and encouragement from international community. Above all, these four Islamic countries should be reminded that they have a skin in the game.

The fifth pillar is the Arab-Israeli conflict and its overspreading effect on the region and the world. It is true that all the main powers in the region and the world prefer and support the “two- state solution”, a secure Israel and a democratic and peaceful Palestine. Nevertheless, The United States and the Western powers failed so far to achieve this goal. Having said that, the international effort led by the United States to establish a permanent and lasting peace between Israel and Palestine should continue. It is worth mentioning that some of the overspreading effects in the region and the world could have unintended consequences. For example, Israel is being criticized and questioned by many political leaders on the global level for the proportionality of Israel’s military response and the rising number of Palestinians civilian casualties, which, in turn, is giving the terrorist groups and the Jihadists an excuse to justify their attacks on Jews and non-Jews civilians in Europe and elsewhere. Furthermore, the rising number of Palestinian civilian casualties is weakening the position of some Arab leaders both domestically and regionally. Especially those leaders who have good relations with Israel like the Palestinian authority in the West Bank, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, and Qatar, and it is becoming increasingly difficult for them to have a leverage to influence the events and to force Hamas to accept the two-state solution. No doubt, the main factor that will force Hamas to accept a peaceful solution is the economy. In this respect, many Arab and Muslim countries like Qatar and Saudi Arabia who are close allies to the United States and the West and who financially support Hamas can still play a crucial role to force Hamas to reach an agreement with the Israelis.

All the five pillars mentioned above are interconnected and their effect to stabilize the Middle-East and minimize terrorists’ threats should not be under estimated. Thus, to deal with the these five pillars, the US and its close allies are more likely to succeed in their efforts, by abandoning a unilateral or narrow coalition intervention based on a rigid grand strategy, and adopting a flexible and adjustable selective engagement approach through a wide coalition with other countries (westerns, non-westerns, Arabs, and non-Arab Muslims). Grand strategy approach and selective engagement approach present two quite different images. Given the long history of the Middle East and lessons learned, the desirable and sustainable changes are first and foremost the responsibility of the people in the region. Hence, when the West endeavors to play a key role in bringing about desirable changes across the Middle East while marginalizing the role of the main actors in the region, the outcomes will be widely viewed as a product of the West, which, in turn, will not resonate quite well with people of the Middle East.