December 6, 2023

The Middle East mosaic



Today’s Events in Historical Perspective

America’s Longest-Running Column, Founded 1932

By Douglas Cohn and Eleanor Clift

WASHINGTON – There’s so much we don’t know about what happens behind the scenes in the White House that it seems unfair or at least premature to heap criticism on President Obama for appearing as though he is not fully engaged in the problems swirling around him. We didn’t know about the mission to capture and kill Osama bin Laden until after it happened, and we only learned about the failed effort to rescue journalist James Foley after he had been killed.

What else don’t we know? For a long time, some assumed he might be doing more in Syria than it appeared on the surface. Then again, maybe he made the right call staying out of the conflict fearing that any arms and weaponry might end up in the hands of the worst of the worst now that ISIS, the self-proclaimed Islamic state, has popped up in Syria.

Russian President Putin is saying “I told you so,” now that ISIS has emerged as the dominant player in the opposition to Syrian President Assad. Meanwhile, Obama has said Assad must go and ISIS must be defeated, two apparently conflicting objectives. The whole Arab Spring was a Trojan horse in Putin’s mind, distracting the West with fantasies of democracy while Islamic extremists plotted their takeover.

To the extent the U.S. backed the ousting of Middle East dictators and didn’t replace them with any meaningful governance, the U.S. does bear some blame for the chaos we see. The Obama administration was not going to get bogged down in nation-building after a dozen years of war in Afghanistan and Iraq failed to build stable and inclusive governments in either place.

With the benefit of hindsight, the Bush administration should have done a much better job in Iraq. In Libya, which was liberated from Gaddafi’s rule on Obama’s watch, the administration didn’t even try to build anything, instead walking away as the country descended into chaos. The Libya intervention looked for a time like a success, military action taken with allies and with no casualties, and the Libyan people freed from the yoke of a cruel dictator.

A poll of ordinary Libyans today might find something quite different. A country ruled by roving bands of militias is not anybody’s success story.

Nowhere is the rapidly changing Middle East more evident than in the role Qatar played in gaining the release of American Journalist Peter Theo Curtis. One of the smallest countries in the world and one of the wealthiest, Qatar is a primary supporter of Hamas, which governs Gaza. Western analysts also believe it bankrolls ISIS, although Qatar’s Foreign Minister said in a statement distributed to reporters that his government is “repelled by their views, their violent methods and their ambitions.”

Qatar could be the key to defeating ISIS assuming that is where this terrorist offshoot of Al-Qaeda is getting its primary funding. It’s tricky when considering Qatar’s financial reach. The Qatari state owns the flagship department store in London, Harrods, as well as a number of luxury hotels around the world. Qatar also bankrolls Al Jazeera, a network with both English and Arabic channels that aims to rival CNN and the BBC in its international coverage.

Obama is pushing back hard against ISIS and Qatar is a key piece in the mosaic of the Middle East as are Kurdistan, Turkey, Iraq, Iran, Syria, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Israel, the PLO, Hamas, and Jordan. Aligning with one or a few affects all the others. Should Qatar be penalized? ISIS in Syria attacked? Iranian help against ISIS encouraged? Kurds allowed to create their own nation? So before joining the chorus condemning Obama for lack of action, think of the complexity. Push any one part of this mosaic, and consequences emerge in other parts, none of them pretty. We need only remember that the U.S. armed the Mujahedeen in their war to oust the Soviets from Afghanistan only to have a portion of them morph into al-Qaeda which then spawned today’s brutal ISIS faction. After all, the last outsider to succeed in Afghanistan was Alexander the Great.

Twitter @WMerryGoRound

© 2014 U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.

Distributed by U.S. News Syndicate, Inc.



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