The vicious cycle of America’s blunders in the Middle East

The vicious cycle of America’s blunders in the Middle East
The doctrine of “shock and awe” has time and again proved a useful tool for American policy-makers, whether within the United States or abroad. In 2003, the then US president, George W. Bush, unleashed the vicious military interpretation of “shock and awe” on Iraq, bombing Baghdad to smithereens, and paving the way for the American military to take the Iraqi capital in 20-days-time. The rest, as the saying goes, is history. Years of tumult followed the fateful spring of 2003, resulting from the engineered collapse of the Iraqi state’s institutions, its armed forces above all, and the tremors of that shock are wreaking havoc across the Middle East even today. The war in Iraq, and the wars that ensued since, many of which are the direct result of subsequent failed American intervention, and as some might argue in some cases its lack of intervention, created one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history.

The countries affected the most by conflicts in which the US played a major role are Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya, and Somalia. Millions of people across the region had to flee their homes due to bombings, fighting and indiscriminate killings. But beyond direct threats to life, millions of young people had their dreams of a decent future shattered by wars and instability.

Much of the Middle East, save for the Gulf states, has become an economic backwater. Unemployment is rampant, infrastructures lay in ruins, small businesses collapsed, inflation is spiralling, and foreign investment is absent. Not to mention the devastating effects of international sanctions on most of these countries. Starting a family, or pursuing a career following higher education, let alone building an entrepreneurial business, are next to impossible. Millions of young men and women seek to immigrate as soon as possible, hoping for a better future. Last, but not least, many ethnic and religious minorities in the region found themselves without any protection as the state collapsed in many of the aforementioned countries, and are now faced with grave dangers from intolerant and vicious extremist groups.

Millions of Iraqis, Syrians, Yemenis, Sudanese, Libyans and Somalis sought safety, liberty and the pursuit of economic prosperity outside their countries, and thousands had immigrated in various ways to the US — until one of the world’s most notorious populists found himself in command of the strongest country on earth.

US President Donald Trump also employed the doctrine of “shock and awe”, this time politically, to bring immediate gratification to his electoral base, by signing a series of ill-conceived and poorly-planned executive orders. In his first week of government by fiat, Trump banned the citizens of the aforementioned six countries, in addition to Iran, from entering the US. The ban, although interpretations are still confused, extended to green card holders and even dual nationals. All refugees were banned from entering the US for 90 days, while Syrian refugees were barred indefinitely.

Many, if not most of those barred from entering or re-entering the US are direct victims of America’s blunders in the region. They are people who sought refuge in the world’s strongest nation, a nation that claims to be a beacon for hope, freedom and human rights. They are young men and women who worked hard and got accepted at American universities and have great dreams about their future. They are also bread earners who wanted to improve their economic condition by working hard to thrive in the world’s largest economy. And then comes one man, who, with the stroke of a pen, extinguishes all these hopes and dreams, in order to pretend that he is hard at work and that he has clear workable plans, which are, judging by the current confusion, neither clear nor workable.

The outpouring of condemnation to these orders, whether from the political class in the US or the American people, has been overwhelming. Protests are breaking out in airports and lawyers are volunteering time and effort to help those affected. However, this will not reverse the fact that the executive branch in the US, commanded by Trump, seems relentless in continuing such policies.

This recent executive order is not a “Muslim ban”, it is a mere gimmick by an expert populist for purely electoral purposes. It is also a huge blunder that will have negative ramifications. This ban targeted the most vulnerable countries in the Middle East, almost all are failed states, who were the victims of America’s many blunders in the region.

Many people will suffer as a result, families will be broken up, many will lose their jobs and students will be denied the chance to continue their education. More than that, since the countries targeted are Muslim-majority countries, even though they don’t rank in the top-five most populous Muslim countries, they will nonetheless present the Trump administration as an enemy of the Muslim World, especially given the inflammatory rhetoric of his campaign and his closest aids. Worst of all, if he fulfils his pledge to exclude Christians and other minorities from the ban, that would only fan the flames of sectarian hatred in the region.

Sixteen years after the tragedy of 9/11, for millions in the Middle East, life has become unfortunately tied to the vicious cycle of American blunders, whether foreign or domestic. What is even more alarming is the fact that we are only two weeks into a four (possibly eight)-year Trump administration.

Fadi Esber (Gulf News)

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