The US and the Arab World
The Middle East is in a state of disorder that is worse than it was in the 1950s during the Suez War, which fashioned the current Arab state system. The current disorder resulted from long-brewing problems that undercut the authoritarian negotiation by which the Arab states have maintained the support and control of their societies. An intervention by the US and international community brought widespread displeasure that consequently exploded in 2010. In 2014, President Obama reviewed the America’s foreign policy toward the Middle East by committing the country to fight against extremism in the Arab world. However, one of the reasons why the US mission to combat terrorism in Iraq failed was because the US lacked vision in its attempt to accomplish the goals. Uncertainty is developing as to whether the coalition military obligation is adequate to attain the goals that President Obama has outlined, which include humiliating, defeating, and demolishing the movement that incorporates Iraq and Syria.
US policy toward Iraq, Syria, and ISIS
Despite Americans’ weariness in solving the Middle East conflicts through military option and peace deals, the US is not relenting in solving the current issue in the region. The US foreign policy incorporates consolidation, protection, and extension of the liberal international order, which it established after World War II (Rose, 2015). However, the pressure has continued to accumulate, both internally and regionally, resulting from the emergence of a terrorist network, which keeps on changing its tactics to attain its goals. The US government’s policy in Iraq has been to establish and maintain a unified country, and strive to develop a political structure that is capable of resolving disputes in the country. According to a testimony by McGurk (2013), intensive diplomatic engagement has enabled the central government and the Iraqi Kurdistan Region (IKR) to come to agreement on matters concerning federalism, which include revenue sharing, power balancing, and security arrangements, among others.
The US government has faced numerous challenges in its quest for peace amid emerging circumstances. To avert the re-emergence of the dreadful al-Qaeda group, the US government has embarked on the policy of mobilizing security forces to fight the network. Two years after the last batch of soldiers left Iraq, the US government has reversed the America’s foreign policy by committing the country to fight the new extremism in Iraq and Syria. According to Blanchard and Humud (2015), the US government has vowed to “degrade and ultimately destroy” what is dubbed as ISIS organization through increasingly minimizing geographic and political space, human support, as well as financial resources accessible to it (p. 22). To achieve this strategy, the US government has planned to partner with numerous European countries, as well as some Arab countries, to offer military support to both Iraq and Syria. In addition, the effort to limit the flow of foreign fighters has been established, though the strategy is yet to bear fruits.
The US government has emphasized that establishing a united Iraq would require a sustained production of oil, which would in turn ensure export of oil and oil products. The US policy has focused on an achievable goal, which would see the country establish a pipeline to transport oil to as far as the Mediterranean regions (McGurk, 2013). Investing in the country’s natural resources could assist Iraq to re-establish itself and compete with other oil producers and exporter in the world. In particular, the US has been interested in hydrocarbon in Iraq, and this could ensure a steady supply of hydrocarbon in the US, which would also generate high revenues for Iraq.
Promotion of regional integration has helped in reducing regional tension and internal instability in Iraq. When Barack Obama took office in 2008, he promised to bring an end to war in Iraq and Afghanistan, in addition to strengthening the US relations with Russia (Schwenninger, 2015). However, the Obama administration has grudgingly found itself pursuing a new warfare against the ISIS. This has prompted the US government to come up with new policy to deal with the new challenge. In Iraq, the Obama administration has underlined the need to offer support to multi-sectarian forces, which are under the central government, in an attempt to preserve Iraq’s political as well as territorial unity. The US foreign policy has emphasized on safeguarding the US strategic interests within the Iraq borders. In addition, the US has already dispatched military advisers to Iraq to offer support to the demoralized Iraqi army.
The Iraq’s situation is an extension of what is happening in Syria; hence, the US is taking both situations seriously by establishing a policy that would offer a solution to both countries. In this connection, the US government is negotiating on ending the conflict by proposing the removal of President Bashar al-Assad while maintaining the current institutions and security structures that constitute the Syrian state (Blanchard & Humud, 2015). Seeking a stable partition seems to be an appropriate policy for Syria, since the Islamic states’ supporters are seeking refuge in Syria. The US effort to train and arm Syrian opposition forces seems to be taking its shape, but its effect is likely to be felt after a year or two years.
The Obama administration has taken the policy of non-intervention in Syrian for the America’s pragmatic interests. Having a clear policy is Syria is quite complicated, as the US government has been compelled to fight both fronts: the current regime and the militants. However, diplomatic talks concluded that there was a need to support the Syrian opposition, which can contribute in convincing other Syrians to reject the Assad regime. In addition, the Syrian opposition has the opportunity to find the best alternative to Assad’s dictatorial rule, which, unfortunately, has the support of Russia, Hezbollah, and Iran. Such support has created a dilemma for the US government, since Hezbollah and Iran are the strongest adversaries of Israel (Katz, 2013). Pragmatism has made the US counter both internal political constraints and international situation simultaneously.
Why the US Went To War with Iraq in 2003
When Iraq attacked Kuwait in 1990, the US-led coalition retaliated by attacking Iraq. However, Saddam regime managed to suppress the uprising groups and arranged for their exit from Iraq. The US government planned to liberate Iraq from Saddam Hussein’s tyrannical rule, which was hazardous to peace in the Arab world. After the 9/11 terrorist attacks that occurred on the American soil in 2001, the Bush administration tried to connect the attack with the allegations that Iraq could be hiding weapons of mass destruction (WMD), in addition to supporting al-Qaeda, the terrorist group that claimed the responsibility for the attacks. To clear the allegations, the UN Security Council ordered Iraq to allow inspectors to assess its weapons, and failure to honor Resolution 1441 would amount to war (Cruz, 2012). Saddam regime chose to ignore the UN resolution, which prompted the US to accelerate its strategy to oust Saddam.
The US, in collaboration with the UK, had already planned the invasion, even when other European countries made a request for an extension to enable Iraq to comply with the UN resolution. The apparent motive for the attack was to eradicate terrorist and their practices, which were a threat to the livelihoods of the Middle East people. Terror threats were also a threat to the region’s economy, as there was not equitable distribution of resources, particularly from oil.
The Second Iraq War dented the US image on the globe due to its shocking consequences. The US’s motive for attacking Iraq in 2003 was both short-term and long-term. According to Halabi (2009), the short-term motive included destroying Saddam’s regime the capacity to manufacture WMD, in addition to demolishing any link between Saddam’s government and al-Qaeda. The Bush administration managed to convince Americans that Iraq was a threat to the US interests due to harboring WMD. Apart from having WMD, Iraq was also believed to be connected to the 2001 terrorist attack (Sherden, 2011). Saddam Hussein was perceived by the US as a brutal dictator, who was a threat to peace in his country as well as the entire Middle East.
The long-term goal that triggered the US to attack Iraq was to establish democracy in the Arab country and to restore the country’s popularity as a key exporter of oil. The US government was certain that launching democracy in Iraq would enhance the restoration of Iraq as a consistent exporter of oil, which would consequently counterbalance Iran (Halabi, 2009). The Bush administration was convinced that if Iraq managed to embrace democracy, it would enhance the inception and growth of democracy throughout the Arab world. Oil became an issue because the revenue from oil implied that Saddam had steady financial resources to create instability in the region, and would become difficult to oust him through the internal opposition.
The media incited the mention of WMD in Iraq, but both houses unanimously agreed that Saddam should be removed from power. Saddam had repeatedly ignored the call by the UN to offer a proof that he neither stocks WMD nor harbor nuclear weapons program. His stubbornness could have captured the attention of the US Congress, prompting to pass a right that justified his removal. If Bush did not have the support of the Congress, perhaps the US could have restrained from attacking Iraq.
Consequences of Iraq Invasion
The US experience in Iraq can be termed as clay that fails to mold into potter’s own design. Although the attack proceeded effortlessly, the war created a hot political climate that sharpened the differences between the locals and the US government concerning democracy. It turned out that Saddam Hussein did not intend to use WMD or attack Israel as it was alleged. In the US, Americans criticized the Bush administration due to the manner they handled the attack. The US lost thousands of soldiers while the surviving soldiers suffered from depression, anxiety, and various disabilities.
The US failure to offer security to Iraqis compelled each sect to establish its own militia. Most Iraqis sought protection through mobilizing sectarian and ethnic militias for defensive purpose (Flibbert, 2013). Prior to the US invasion of Iraq, terrorist groups such as Al – Qaeda and ISIS were not there. The war led to emergence of the ISIS, which was an unintended consequence. Since March 2011, the ISIS crisis has made more than 4.1 million Syrians flee into the neighboring countries to become refugees while more than 7.5 million others have become internally displaced persons (Blanchard, Humud & Nikitin, 2015).
The US government struggled to reestablish a viable national state that could reconcile national community. Balancing the power between ethnic groups that compete for power has never been a simple undertaking. American authority only managed to bring stability in Iraq in 2007 when it established a decentralized form of government after striking a deal with armed groups in Iraq (Flibbert, 2013). However, this deal was not a long-term arrangement since the Iraqi government was not ready to restructure the fragile state.
The struggle in Iraq seems not to end due to hegemony of single ethnic group since the reign of Saddam Hussein. Today, the Sunnis believe that the US invasion reduced their influence on national issues (Hussain & Kashif, 2015). According to Sherden (2011), the Bush administration contributed to the violent extremism in Islamic states because the administration refused to negotiate with the adversary, which prompted the terrorist groups to become more lethal and to secure better arms.
After the Iraq invasion, Iran and North Korea become the remnants of evil, and have even dared the US to attack them. Iran has emerged as unpredictable and risky country in the Arab region, as it harbors nuclear ambitions, in addition to having significant influence toward Shi’ites Muslims, who are the majority in Iraq (Sherden, 2011). In addition, the attack on Iraq was perceived by its neighbor as a religious attack, where Americans were targeting Muslims. Saudi Arabia claimed that American view on religious freedom was incompatible with Islamic view and the war on terrorism was targeting the Muslims (Halabi, 2009).
How the US is Addressing ISIS
The ISIS power would not be this strong today if the US government had opted not to collaborate with the Sunni allies, who include Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey (Schwenninger, 2015). These allies were used to convey weapons to Sunni rebels who are in Syria. When the US government chose to support the rebels with weapons and fighters, it assisted in establishing perpetual war that results in financial strain and moral decay.
The US strategy option revolves around limiting the conflict within the affected region in Iraq and Syria while ensuring that the vulnerable population is protected from attack. Attacking from the air has offered a better strategy as the US force is capable of controlling the region while at a distance. A report by the US Senate indicated that the US airstrikes are assisting Kurdish Peshmerga forces as well as Iraqi Security Forces to minimize ISIS impetus (“Testimony on U.S. Policy,” 2014). The Obama administration has reiterated that it does not necessarily require approval from the Congress in order to expand airstrikes in Syria, as legal authority agreements signed in 2001 and 2002 are sufficient to authorize attacks. The US is supplying arms to Arab and Kurdish combatants based in northern Syria, who have managed to capture a territory from ISIS group.
The US government has endeavored to safeguard its interests in the Arab world by using its military forces to support the ISIS rebels. Syrian officials, backed by Russia and Iran, have accepted to join the US in the fight against ISIS as long as they are allowed to take the lead against Sunni Islamist extremism (Blanchard, Humud & Nikitin, 2015). However, the US government is reluctant to partner with Asad, since Asad government has lost its legitimacy in Syria. The Obama administration is seeking to coerce Asad to agree or offer his military force to safeguard Syrian civilians.
The US Congress is calling for different tactics of military intervention to shield civilians in their villages or to abate the power of the extremist groups. The US government has taken the Syrian rebels to its training pipeline to assist them in gaining tactics to fight their enemies and safeguard their homes (Blanchard, Humud & Nikitin, 2015). The financial support has already been passed through the Consolidated Appropriations Act in 2014, which outlined the need to expand nonlethal assistance to Syria by utilizing the Economic Support Fund (ECF). The Obama administration has also played a prime role in organizing international summits to combat militants in Islamic state.
What the US Should Do
The damage that the US created for itself through its foreign policy is not only visible through political instability, but also by crowding out other essential foreign policy goals. The US intervention in Iraq and Syria has weakened the country’s long-term position in the globe, in addition to demoralizing vital national priorities. However, the US government has conceded that it is facing challenges in handling ISIS crisis. Defeating ISIS requires a strong military force on the ground to safeguard the region from any form of uprising. The US, in conjunction with NATO, is still weighing the best policy option to solve the power struggle in the Islamic states.
The US’s core strategy should be to limit ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) from expanding their territory and causing atrocities in the new regions. Despite having strong military force on the ground, the US is facing a challenge of convincing the rebels to volunteer to fight ISIS. The US is bound to lose the ISIL battle if it does not recognize the need to permit the rebel fighters to organize themselves against the ISIS group. The next step should be to organize diplomatic talks with other Islamic states, particularly Iran, to plead with the Iraqi government to embrace a more inclusive form of government.
Success against ISIS will only be attained if the US will embark on organizing a strong ground component that can match the air strikes since ISIS cannot be eliminated through air campaign alone. The US president should not overlook the option of sending more ground-combat forces to assist the Iraqi security forces and the Syrian Army. The Syrian rebels are reluctant to leave the battlefields for training because they place more risk to their villages, which are vulnerable to attack from enemies. The US Senate has underlined the need for support from both Iraq and Syria, which include Shi’ites, Kurds, as well as religious minorities (“Testimony on U.S. Policy”, 2014). This implies that the US should train the Kurdish peshmerga forces, which would safeguard Iraqi Kurdistan against attack from ISIS. A strong ground component should also include the Syrian rebels.
In essence, President Obama has emphasized that the Islamic state can be defeated if Sunni Muslim states agree to lead the fight. If the Sunni tribes that reside in Iraq and Syria persist in rallying their support to ISIS, then the war against Islamic state is far from over. Consequently, the US can help in establishing diplomatic negotiations to oust President Assad from his dictatorial rule. This can be solved when the Congress allows the Obama administration to negotiate with Russia concerning Russia’s support to Asad government. The US should also put in place strategy for nation building and avoid a repetition of what happened in Iraq after invasion in 2003. This should include allowing the Sunnis to have their freedom, in addition to promising the Kurds that they will not be harassed after the war.
The US has endeavored to enhance its interests in the Arab world through its foreign policy. Negotiating for peace and political stability in Islamic states has not been a simple undertaking, as the region has not been satisfied by how the US government has been handling social, political, and economic issues. Islamic state group has become a menace to tranquility in Iraq, Syria, as well as the neighboring countries, such as Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Iran, and the Gulf. While the US is deeply convinced that the ISIS is a threat to the US interests in Arab world to validate a military reaction, the ISIS is just a symptom of what triggered breakdown in the region. The US need to understand that the extremism in the Arab world is a product of wrong decisions that were made several decades ago, hence, solving deep-rooted problems requires sufficient negations. The US should understand that minimizing extremism from ISIS and establishing democratic regime might take years rather than months.
Blanchard, C.M., & Humud, C. E. (2015, Dec. 8). The Islamic State and U.S. Policy. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on 12 Feb. 2016 from https://fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/R43612.pdf
Blanchard, C.M., Humud, C. E., & Nikitin, M. B. D. (2015, Oct. 9). Armed Conflict in Syria: Overview and U.S. Response. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved on 12 Feb. 2016 from https://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/mideast/RL33487.pdf
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