The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

The Independent Voice of Southern Methodist University Since 1915

The Daily Campus

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Making a mess in the Middle East

Jennifer King

Contributing Writer

[email protected]

A decade after the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, not only has the United States lost much of its credibility, but hardly anyone in the Middle East or international community is deeply concerned by U.S. threats. America’s relationship with various Middle Eastern countries, particularly regional allies, is also the weakest it has been in over half a century. This growing sentiment demonstrates the U.S. is losing its influence. Changing circumstances necessitate a more relaxed position focused on neutrality and peace encouragement, rather than continued intrusion and inciting sectarianism.

What created this shift? The already volatile region witnessed problems intensify as a result of U.S. involvement. An example of this is seen in the years since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, in which more than half of Iraqi Christians have fled to escape inflamed sectarian violence. They are caught in the conflict between Sunnis and Shiites as being identified with America. While the tension between the different Islamist sects has existed for more than 1,000 years, U.S. intervention has only fanned the flames.

Syria, the most recent involvement of the U.S., exhibits how a conflict between government and anti-government forces become an extreme sectarian issue as a result of interference. The inability to guide events in the desired direction — short of Iraq-style invasion — only made matters worse. Beginning in 2011, President Barack Obama pledged his support of the Syrian opposition to oust President Bashar al-Assad, encouraging tensions. In response, Assad intensified the brewing civil war, solicited support from allies, and ignored Obama’s intervention bluffs. As a result, many Syrians have suffered gruesome deaths at the hand of al-Assad, who has suffered no repercussions. Today, the Syrian situation echoes Shiite-Sunni violence observed in the Iraq War. Both share a common trait: the United States.

What does this reveal about America’s declining position? Earlier invasions were designed to remove political adversaries and solidify America’s role, not further sectarianism in Iraq or reduce authority in Syria. The major reason for this deteriorating reputation is the United States losing friends as a consequence of interference. The Middle East is undergoing significant change, noticeable in the drastically different leadership makeup. Dictators are gone, but so, too are many sympathizers. It seems that only the monarchs remain.

These kings have witnessed U.S. intervention in the region for years. Today, many blame the U.S. for agitating the fragile region. A Shiite was placed in power in Iraq, but the U.S. acquiesced with Mubarak’s removal. A blind eye is turned to how Israel treats Palestinians, but disenfranchised Syrian rebels are encouraged. Now, the U.S. is attempting to develop a partnership with the most disliked nation in the region, Iran — after Israel, of course.

Along with the kings, the once devoted Israelis are increasingly frustrated with the U.S. and often ignore the Obama administration. Turkey, the reliable NATO partner, is angered by the inconsistent handling of Syria. If the U.S. ceases its monetary support of Egypt, for example, the Saudis and gulf countries have billions of dollars to offer instead, reducing the weight U.S. aid once held. Dwindling alliances seem to require a new local partner to support U.S. presence in the region. A recent hype idealizes a renewed U.S.-Iranian relationship. However, such a partnership will only create additional strain on remaining friendships with Israel and Saudi Arabia and further incite regional tensions. This union will only alienate the U.S. more and aggravate the entire Middle East.

Due to the decreasing influence of the U.S.; continuing to meddle in the affairs of Middle Eastern countries fails to produce results aligned with interests and angers the remaining weak alliances. There is also no doubt that uninvited U.S. involvement exacerbates conflict. To salvage the image of the U.S., the focus must instead be on facilitating peace agreements rather than making threats or vehemently supporting one side. The U.S. must favor neutrality in order to prevent arousing even more hostile sectarianism. Fanning the flames has been a hallmark of regional foreign policy, especially in the last decade, but it is now time to switch gears toward reducing sectarian violence to avoid additional fragmentation that is detrimental to everyone involved. Continuing on the current path will only create additional headaches, sparking yet another reason for countries to hate one another and America. Currently, the future trajectory of the United States in the Middle East is not promising, but a change in role would be a significant stride toward restoring a damaged reputation without making a bigger mess.

King is a senior majoring in political science.

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