Analysis & Opinions - Agence Global

More American guns and troops: the last thing the Middle East needs

| May 26, 2019

BEIRUT — The last thing the Middle East needs is another $8 billion of American armaments in the hands of Arab autocrats, and thousands of additional American troops here, which Donald Trump has decided to send us as he ratchets up the U.S.’s exaggerated and mostly hysterical confrontation with Iran. Such decisions by the Trump administration in recent weeks, combined with supporting roles by autocratic Middle Eastern governments, are central reasons for why our region continues to spin incoherently in its maelstrom of turbulence, destruction, violence, state collapse and massive human suffering.

Foreign military engagements and posturing in the Middle East during the past five decades or so have usually led to catastrophic consequences. These include destroyed cities, ruined states, long-running dictatorial regimes, rampant corruption that comes with billions of dollars of arms spending, money siphoned away from basic human needs and developmental priorities, and — as the UAE-Saudi-UK-US war in Yemen shows — the proclivity to use the weapons systems you accumulate, often in criminal ways.

Also, in Arab states that only stay alive thanks to U.S. and other foreign arms providers and funders, governments tend to pay more attention to the wishes of the foreign powers than to the rights and aspirations of their own people. The 2010-11 Arab uprisings were a major signal that most citizens would no longer accept that, as are the current uprisings in Algeria and Sudan.

Militarism is at the heart of aggressive policies that foreign powers use across the Middle East. These include arms sales, prolonged wars, isolated attacks, sanctions, troop build-ups, creating fantasy coalitions of like-minded states to confront an imagined enemy, and inventing fake local militias that you dream up, initiate, equip, train, feed, sustain, and then designate as your “allies” in a noble mission to repel evil and fight the battles that keep America safe — or, in the case of this White House with some of its wacko quarters, battles that immensely please the Lord.

The United States has been the main culprit in this legacy of knee-jerk militarism in recent decades, though this sickness now includes most major foreign and regional powers. Russia, Turkey, Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, Israel, the U.K., and the United Arab Emirates all directly participate in military action inside Arab countries. Other less militarily powerful Arab states in recent years, like Egypt, Qatar, Jordan, and Sudan, have offered military support for groups fighting in Arab lands (like rebels or governments in Syria and Libya), while major non-state powers like Hezbollah also engage in warfare in neighboring lands.

Hundreds of smaller groups now spring up in many Arab countries to get the support from abroad that allows them to buy some snazzy uniforms, join the battle, make some money, hire some unemployed young men, get the world’s attention, and perhaps get invited to a peace negotiation in London, Paris, Sochi, Doha, Muscat, or Amman. Militarism and militias are the growth industry of this decade across the Middle East.

Here are the four main consequences of foreign powers pouring money and guns into the hands of Arab autocrats whose citizens have no meaningful political rights and cannot hold power accountable: 1) steady physical destruction of numerous and ever larger swaths of Arab societies due to war, 2) mass pauperization and marginalization of a large majority of Arab nationals (65-75% of whom are now poor and vulnerable), 3) the expansion of political extremism alongside the birth and growth of terrorist and other violent groups that are often a natural offshoot of military groups, and 4) mass frustration, humiliation, and helplessness among a majority of ordinary citizens who do not know where to turn to survive, let alone live a normal life, and whose desperation inevitably fosters more political extremism and violence, and ultimately the fragmentation or even collapse of some countries.

About half the 22 Arab countries today are in dire straits. Half a dozen of them have collapsed into all-out civil wars and open warfare that attracts regional and foreign fighters at will (Syria, Iraq, Somalia, Yemen, Libya, and parts of Sudan, Palestine, Sinai, and the frontiers between the Maghreb and the Sahel regions). Another half dozen or so states have so badly mismanaged their national development and state-building opportunities that they are deeply in debt and insolvent, and must rely on the financial handouts — and accompanying political orders — of any autocratic regime that offers to help keep them afloat, whether that lifeline comes from within the region or from abroad.

What does the United States expect to achieve by sending us more troops and guns, after 25 years of direct warfare in the Global War on Terror, whose failures and unintended consequences are so obvious now? The U.S. military and its political masters in Washington are still floundering in pockets of Syria, and trying to figure out how to exit the mess they created in Iraq. And Al Qaeda and “Islamic State” today regroup, expand, and reconfigure their criminal actions, while tens of thousands of their trained fighters scatter to more lands around the Asian-African continents than ever before.

More ironic, the alleged threats from Iran’s expanding regional contacts that Washington says it wants to counter mostly represent Iranian opportunistic strategic ties with assorted parties in the region — ties that usually occur in the wake of disruptive and failed foreign militarism by the U.S., Israel and other foreign powers that opens the door to Iran’s engagement with assorted Arabs.

So Donald Trump is sending us a few thousand more American troops and $8 billion more arms this week to do what, exactly?

Rami G. Khouri is senior public policy fellow and adjunct professor of journalism at the American University of Beirut, and a senior fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School’s Middle East Initiative. He can be followed @ramikhouri

Copyright ©2019 Rami G. Khouri — distributed by Agence Global

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation: Khouri, Rami.“More American guns and troops: the last thing the Middle East needs.” Agence Global, May 26, 2019.