Thousands of American troops already occupy Afghanistan, and perhaps hundreds of thousands more are poised to attack Iraq. The justification given for these military invasions is that both nations support terrorism, and thus pose a risk to the United States. Yet when we step back and examine the region as a whole, its obvious that these two impoverished countries, neither of which has any real military, pose very little threat to American national security when compared to other Middle Eastern nations. The decision to attack them, while treating some of regions worst regimes as "allies," is just the latest example of the deadly hypocrisy of our foreign policy in the Middle East.
Consider Saudi Arabia, which more than any other nation was responsible for the September 11th attacks. Even with the proven connection between the Saudis and al-Qaeda, even with new reports of Saudi charities funneling money to terrorist groups, the administration still insists on calling them "a good partner" in the war on terror. Yet the nation that gave us most of the 9/11 murderers, whose citizens often support virulent Islamic terrorists, should hardly be called a friend.
The same is true of Pakistan, where General Musharraf seized power by force in a 1999 coup. The Clinton administration quickly accepted his new leadership as legitimate, to the dismay of India and many Muslim Pakistanis. Since 9/11, we have showered Pakistan with millions in foreign aid, ostensibly in exchange for Musharrafs allegiance against al-Qaeda. Yet has our new ally rewarded our support? Hardly, as the Pakistanis almost certainly harbored bin Laden in the months following 9/11. In fact, more members of al-Qaeda probably live within Pakistan than any other country today. Furthermore, North Korea recently announced its new nuclear capability, developed with technology sold to them by the Pakistanis. Yet somehow we remain friends with Pakistan, while Hussein, who has no connection to bin Laden and no friends in the Islamic fundamentalist world, is made a scapegoat.
The tired assertion that America "supports democracy" in the Middle East is increasingly transparent. It was false 50 years ago, when we supported and funded the hated Shah of Iran to prevent nationalization of Iranian oil, and its false today when we back an unelected military dictator in Pakistan- just to name two examples. If honest popular elections were held throughout the Middle East tomorrow, the people in most countries would elect religious fundamentalist leaders hostile to the United States. Cliché or not, the Arab Street really doesnt like America, so we should stop the charade about democracy and start pursuing a coherent foreign policy that serves Americas long-term interests.
A coherent foreign policy is based on the understanding that America is best served by not interfering in the deadly conflicts that define the Middle East. Yes, we need Middle Eastern oil, but we can reduce our need by exploring domestic sources. We should rid ourselves of the notion that we are at the mercy of the oil-producing countries- as the worlds largest oil consumer, their wealth depends on our business. We can and should remove our troops from the region quickly, before any more American lives are lost. We should stop the endless game of playing faction against faction, and recognize that buying allies doesnt work. We should curtail the heavy militarization of the area by ending our disastrous foreign aid payments. We should stop propping up dictators and putting band-aids on festering problems. We should understand that our political and military involvement in the region creates far more problems than it solves. All Americans will benefit, both in terms of their safety and their pocketbooks, if we pursue a coherent, neutral foreign policy of non-interventionism, free trade, and self-determination in the Middle East.