Why American Middle East Policy Has Failed
Jeremiah D. Folia, Foreign Policy Contributor
Opinion -- Institution – an established custom, moral or political belief – is something that takes several generations to alter. A major flaw in American foreign policy is the assumption that by restructuring the government – by simply making it democratic – the people will change. This is not true because one cannot change their moral structure or their culture in a short time span. It takes at minimum a generation. The Middle Eastern institution supports a strong authoritarian form of government.
From Iraq to Iran to Afghanistan, the United States’ involvement in the Middle East has resulted in terror, misfortune, and terrible loss in American lives. The reason why the United States foreign policy in Middle Eastern countries has been plagued with calamity the last fifty years is that the American government is focused on immediate gains. They have tried to re-establish and then immediately pull out of each of the failed Middle Eastern nations, not allowing any time for institutional change. Because of the nearsightedness of the United States government – their rush into foreign nations and rush out of them – the foreign people vie for the authoritarian power they believe will rebuild their now fallen nation.
“Rapid change will result in social and political turmoil since the informal constraints and underlying ideological perceptions simply will not change all at once. But therein lies the dilemma. Slow change will be sabotaged by existing bureaucracies and interest groups so that the reforms will be distorted, dissipated, and dissolved.” –Douglass North, Transaction Costs, Institutions, and Economic Performance (p. 27)
Demanding immediate institutional change is what causes the revolutionary resurrection of totalitarian regimes. Ismail Royer, a former fighter and Islamist sympathizer in the Bosnian War and the fight over Kashmir, Pakistan lived with many terrorists in his life until he was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the wars. Now advocating against Islamist movements with the Center for Islam and Religious Freedom, Royer explained how institutional change must take place in order to end terrorism. In the Iraq war, America entered, removed the corrupt government, and quickly began nation building. The movement was too quick for the people to accept – many of the Iraqi citizens despised the work of the United States. They did not fully understand what was happening. Before any institutional change could take place, before they could even grasp what the United States had done for them, then-President Barack Obama ended involvement in the nation, leaving a new insecure government without a trained defense force. When the Islamic State formed in the nation, they satisfied the authoritarian hunger of the Iraqi people. The United States’ involvement in the nation removed one corrupt power only for another to take hold because they entered and left the nation too hastily. If the American government had not ended Saddam Hussein’s rule, the Islamic State would not have taken hold. In order to “spread democracy” as many politicians plea, it takes generations of national involvement, and the establishment of free trade, to change local institutions and remodel the nation.
When institutional change does not take place, but a foreign nation enters another to terminate terrorists – a plan the United States is currently executing in Afghanistan – the children indoctrinated with Islamist rhetoric rise with passion to fight not only for their faith but for vengeance against the Americans that killed their (terrorist) family. Terrorism is a recurring cycle when institutional change does not take place. The United States cannot end Islamist ideologies by simply entering a nation, rebuilding, and leaving nor even by targeted airstrikes against terrorists – to make change they would have to establish control (more than containment) over the nation, and remain established for generations. American Presidents are limited to a maximum of eight years in office. As President Obama ended President Bush’s mission in Iraq after less than fifteen years, future Presidents cannot get involved in “spreading democracy” since the next president can simply end the mission, multiplying terrorists and establishing a new tyrannical rule. Since institutional change takes years and dedication, the only way to successfully constrain terrorism in other nations would be by the action of congress – a generation-long mission (minimum) establishing a government, defense, and industry to trade; this could not be halted by cycling Presidents. The cheapest way to end terrorism is to do what Royer, a former terrorist, proposes and “do not get involved in middle eastern conflicts.” Simply enhance trade with the governments and the people, it is proposed, will learn what prosperity is and desire a less oppressive society. The people will question the Islamist propaganda. Royer advises the United States to utilize this laissez-faire strategy in future middle-east engagements.
Islamists are taught that Americans are the hated enemy. The one thing that Royer exclaimed everyone should do individually is to talk with Muslims. If Americans can dispel the Islamist propaganda, institutional change can begin to take place. Killing terrorists does not terminate their ideology – the ideology lives on through their children and friends. Simply changing a government does not work either. In order to end terrorism this institutional change must take place in aspiring Islamists both at home and abroad.
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