After the Ottomans
The US first became involved in the middle east at the end of World War I and the death of the Ottoman Empire. The entry in to what was a european war was also the death of the short lived isolationism, the sinking of a few ships, an inflammatory telegram, and disruption of trade were enough for Americans to justify sending 2 million soldiers 116,000 would be killed. The US wanted to exert greater influence in the region, as soon as the war was over envoys were sent to see what could be done. But America had not been the main force in the region and it was ultimately the British who took control the Ottoman’s vast holdings including land that would become the Iraq, Palestine, Trans-Jordan, Syria and Lebanon. Britain had entered into a secret agreement with France with Russia’s consent to divide the plunder into areas under their direct control and areas where they would be given primary influence. Even after the plan was revealed by the Bolsheviks to the great embarrassment of the British, and the outrage of arabs they just did it anyways. Similar to what had been done to Africa, borders were drawn without regard to who would the residents would be and fundamental instability was sown. Most notably British support for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. Though Palestine was officially international territory, they had the most direct power in the region.
After the Colonialists
American involvement would be more limited until the end of WWII and the subsequent cold war with the Soviet Union, It was becoming too expensive for Britain and France to maintain control and along with most other colonies they withdrew from the region leaving a space, to be coveted and competed over. Oil was becoming increasingly critical, it was well known to be one of the richest places on the planet. From the very beginning oil had driven the land grab after WWI with the British looking to supply their huge navy. It would only become more important, especially to Americans. It would be Oil that would cement the need to keep on good terms with the major oil producers, the best way to do that was to make sure their governments were friendly.Not everybody has the same amount of oil. Most of it is found on the gulf, some countries like Egypt have practically none others were friendly enough when money was involved and the last group were volatile and still rich in oil. Who would need to be cosied up and who would need to be compelled to obey became clear early on.
Mohammed Mossadeq was the prime minister of Iran from 1951-1953, the democratically elected prime minister of Iran. He succeeded politically with a progressive social policies and land reforms, one which would bring him into conflict with the United states was his desire to nationalize the Iranian Oil industry. Iranian oil had been under the control of what would become British Petroleum since 1913, M15 asked the CIA to lead a coup and it was successfully carried out. The man that replaced him, the shah, was eager to enjoy the good life. He kept the oil flowing, and kept the people subdued with a secret police force. taken on their own the changes he tried to institute, aside from a desire for his own absolute power, not all that bad, except that they flew in the face of Islamic beliefs. In 1979 Ayatollah Khamenei, launched a cultural revolution. The Shah was deposed, the oil industry nationalized and 53 Americans held hostage at the embassy til 1980. Which looked like it would largely okay, Iraq used lingering political instability in Iran to take the oil rich province of Khuzestan, in a war which would kill a couple million people. In the Iran-Iraq War America was officially neutral, nevertheless the Iraqi received intelligence from American aircraft. With Reagan in the White House fears of Iran, ran ever higher and eventually leading to Iran-Contra. Regardless of what has been done in Iran the fallout has always been people dying, whether it was those killed in the overthrow of the president, the comparatively few American servicemen in our brief military attempt to recover the hostages (couldn’t fully commit for fear of the Russians), or the millions in the Iran-Iraq war and its aftermath. At the beginning of the 1950’s Iran was on a path which would bring prosperity to the region. It required sacrifices from Britain, and possibly from the US, ones which we were not willing to make. The attempts to make things better have only made them worse, the only feeling that Americans can have is shame. Shame that the government, nominally of the people, was permitted to invade another nation who was if anything becoming closer to American political ideals. It is a betrayal of the fundamental values of the nation, and only brought about a worse situation for everyone involved.
Our hatred of Iraq did not extend to Kuwait, and two years after the Iraq-Iran war had ended, neither side having gained anything, they pulled a similar move trying to take another oil-rich province from Kuwait. Iraq had become infamous for the wide spread of use of Chemical weapons, against Iranian soldiers and Iraqi Kurds. Nothing was done. Here however, there was a threat to the largely cooperative Saudi Arabian oil fields which would become easy targets if Iran won. After a few months of air strikes, and a 100 hour ground campaign the war was over. This wouldn’t seem so clean to those who were buried alive in combat by the Coalition or tortured when taken prisoner by the Iraqis, but war is war. As the smoke literally cleared, the last Kuwaiti oil well fire being extinguished in 10 months after it started, the economic sanctions by the UN brought widespread poverty, which mostly hit ordinary Iraqis with perhaps as much as 1 million children dying. In 2003 America went in again on what turned out to be facetious reports of WMD’s. It’s hardly surprising that in trying to reform one of the most corrupt governments on earth without the overall support or commitment of the American people would take a long time 7 years later the mission was still not accomplished. Iraq was not Iran, Saddam had maintained power from 1979-2003. Before him it had been a Ahmed Hassan al-Bakr who was leading Iraq on a promising path, after the successful nationalizing the oil industry which was completely turned around by Saddam. America’s military intervention the first time, made the second time hopeless. The men that are now to be relied upon to keep sectarian conflict under control and move Iraq to something successful have been suffering under economic sanctions that meant that they grew up malnourished and uneducated. Military intervention in the case of Kuwait’s invasion is perhaps justifiable, the issue here was that trying to hit Saddam where it hurts only brought suffering on innocents. This was well known but they continued up until the second invasion. Causing the suffering of the innocent because the guilty couldn’t be reached was cowardly and merely brought about future violence.
In 1979 fearing that a pro-communist leader would be ousted, the Soviets invaded Afghanistan. Following the method of the times, the United States started to fund ani-soviet insurgents. Known as the Mujahideen, they were committed to removing the invaders after 9 years of fighting they won. Those who got funding and training to fight the communists, famously included the same people who would later lead the terrorist attacks in 9/11. It was networks developed by these men that would later allow Al Qaeda to function. This also brought about the rise of the Taliban who would use their religious beliefs to violate human rights, destroy a world heritage site, and continue a reign of terror that continues today, despite a war that’s been going on since 2001.
The focus of this has been on some of the more infamous American interactions with the Middle East. The problem is that the region itself has inherent instability that make trying to change anything even when it is well-intentioned, which it often hasn’t been, means that you’re more likely to make it worse. For those in the Middle East, for Americans, for everyone else. It’s far from solely America’s fault, but many problems can be traced directly back to American intervetion. There is now a burgeoning movement for greater democrary and personal freedom across that Islamic world, the best thing to do, is to stay out of it. The people who will understand it, if there are any at all who do are those who have been living under the systems that most would like to see changed. The best way for America to have a positive influence on these people is to set a good example, the American way of life is seductive and has been for generations. It has allowed this country to attract some of the brightest minds, the greatest talents, and the common man. The argument could be made that some countries are now doing a better job at being Americans but nonetheless, America is currently the world’s only superpower. Using the military is tempting, an awful lot is spent on it. But bullets can’t accomplish what movies and refrigerators can. Conservatives in those communities will continue to try to hold them back convinced that the best way to maintain their cultural identity is to fight against the most obvious alternative. But when the obvious alternative includes frozen pizzas and infomercials, they don’t have much of a chance. Leaving things alone, and allowing these people to adopt what could be called western values, without losing their own is their own path to find. They have not asked for our oversight and providing it will only make it worse. There will be inevitable suffering, there is no way to do this that will not cause suffering. Not to ignore economic interests we oil is depended on, there aren’t easier answers here but the only solution is to get off it as quickly as possible. Unfortunately utopia remains beyond the horizon.