US Oblivious to Unintended Consequences of Foreign Policy

Since World War II, the impulse of the American foreign policy elite has been to intervene in trouble spots abroad and apparently let God sort out the consequences. The ill effects of such interventions are usually plain to see — if nothing else, after the episodes are over — but the arrogance of the elite seems to prevent learning anything from them.

For example, the failed interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq did not prevent the U.S.-led intervention in Libya and are not dissuading the United States from meddling in the internal affairs of Syria. Iraq and Libya, fractured societies that were held together only by the iron hand of dictatorship, are both likely on the path to civil war among armed ethno-sectarian or tribal groups now that the United States has removed the despots (Afghanistan is likely on the same road once the United States withdraws most of its forces).

In Libya, the arrogance and duplicity of the elite go hand in hand. This confluence is best demonstrated by quoting the mainstream spokesman for the interventionist elite: Thomas Friedman. Friedman explains why Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, in partnership with China, was going to veto any United Nations resolution that in any way smacked of regime change in Syria.

Putin was very helpful at the United Nations in not blocking the no-fly zone over Libya, but he feels burned by it — that we went from protecting civilians to toppling his ally and arms customer, Muammar el-Qaddafi. It’s true. But what an ally! What a thing to regret! And, now, the more Putin throws his support behind the murderous Bashar al-Assad in Syria, the more he looks like a person buying a round trip ticket on the Titanic….

Instead of appreciating Putin’s help in “saving” Libyan civilians, Friedman criticizes him essentially for guarding against being duped again by another disingenuous U.S. attempt to get rid of an unfriendly ruler under the guise of saving civilians. Expecting to deceive people or governments and then have them dutifully line up to again get kicked in the seat of the pants shows chutzpah beyond belief.

That the United States cares more about getting rid of Assad than about saving Syrian civilians is made obvious by the veiled U.S. invitation to other countries to supply Syrian opposition forces with weapons in the wake of the Russian and Chinese veto in the United Nations. One anonymous administration official was quoted in The New York Times as saying, “There is a growing danger that if the slaughter which Assad has been engaging in continues, others might step forward to aid the opposition.” (Similarly, during the Iraq-Iran War in the 1980s, the U.S. intervened by maintaining the ostensible neutrality of an arms embargo on both warring parties but secretly encouraged U.S. friends and allies to sell arms to Saddam Hussein.) Looking the other way while U.S. friends fuel a civil war or a regional proxy war in Syria will surely kill more Syrian civilians than it will save.

Bringing down the unfriendly Syrian regime would be a severe blow to the Iranian government, the current U.S. nemesis in the Middle East. The threat from even an Iran with a few nuclear weapons, like the alleged importance to U.S. security of Syria, has been vastly overblown. Despite periodic bluster, Iranian foreign policy has heretofore been fairly pragmatic, and facing the prospect of incineration by the most potent nuclear force in the world — the thousands of warheads in the U.S. arsenal —  or Israel’s modern atomic stockpile of hundreds of warheads, one would expect that even a nuclear Iran would be encouraged to continue such pragmatism.

Yet Israel and the United States keep threatening Iran militarily, as well as assassinating Iranian nuclear officials, blowing up missile facilities, creating computer worms to sabotage Iran’s nuclear program, and waging economic warfare against the regime — all in the likely vain attempt to stop Iran from going nuclear. Yet James R. Clapper Jr., the director of national intelligence, concluded in congressional testimony that Iran’s alleged plot to assassinate the Saudi ambassador to the United States on U.S. soil shows that some Iranian officials — probably including Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei — have changed their calculus and are now more willing to conduct an attack in the United States in response to real or perceived U.S. actions that threaten the regime.

Thus, all of this U.S. belligerence to attempt to prevent the likely inevitable — a nuclear Iran that is a manageable threat anyway — could very well lead to blowback terror attacks in the United States. This seems like a negative tradeoff.

In conclusion, by disingenuously or surreptitiously trying to eliminate unfriendly regimes that pose only a very limited threat to U.S. security, the U.S. appears dishonest and hypocritical, impairs international cooperation to legitimately condemn brutal human rights violations, and endangers its own citizens.

Author: Ivan Eland

Ivan Eland is a senior fellow at the Independent Institute and author of Recarving Rushmore: Ranking the Presidents on Peace, Prosperity, and Liberty.