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Why Washington Clings to a Failed Middle East Strategy

By Gareth Porter | Lobe Log | January 31st, 2011

The death throes of the Mubarak regime in Egypt signal a new level of crisis for a U.S. Middle East strategy that has shown itself over and over again in recent years to be based on nothing more than the illusion of power.   The incipient loss of the U.S. client regime in Egypt is an obvious moment for a fundamental adjustment in that strategy.

But those moments have been coming with increasing regularity in recent years, and the U.S. national security bureaucracy has shown itself to be remarkably resistant to giving it up.  The troubled history of that strategy suggests that it is an expression of some powerful political forces at work in this society, as former NSC official Gary Sick hinted in a commentary on the crisis.

Ever since the Islamic Republic of Iran was established in 1979, every U.S. administration has operated on the assumption that the United States, with Israel and Egypt as key client states, occupies a power position in the Middle East that allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy of unrelenting pressure on all those “rogue” regimes and parties in the region which have resisted dominance by the U.S.-Israeli tandem:  Iran, Iraq, Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.

The Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq was only the most extreme expression of that broader strategic concept.  It assumed that the United States and Israel could establish a pro-Western regime in Iraq as the base from which it would press for the elimination of resistance from any of their remaining adversaries in the region.

But since that more aggressive version of the strategy was launched, the illusory nature of the regional dominance strategy has been laid bare in one country after another.

  • The U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq merely empowered Shi’a forces to form a regime whose geostrategic interests are far closer to Iran than to the United States.
  • The U.S.-encouraged Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 2006 only strengthened the position of Hezbollah as the largest, most popular and most disciplined political-military force in the country, leading ultimately the Hezbollah-backed government now being formed.
  • Israeli and U.S. threats to attack Iran, Hezbollah and Syria since 2006 brought an even more massive influx of rockets and missiles into Lebanon and Syria which now appears to deter Israeli aggressiveness toward its adversaries for the first time.
  • U.S.-Israeli efforts to create a client Palestinian entity and crush Hamas through the siege of Gaza has backfired, strengthening the Hamas claim to be the only viable Palestinian entity.
  • The U.S. insistence on demonstrating the effectiveness of its military power in Afghanistan  has only revealed the inability of the U.S. military to master the Afghan insurgency.

And now the Mubarak regime is in its final days.  As one talking head after another has  pointed out in recent days, it has been the linchpin of the U.S. strategy.  The main function of the U.S. client state relationship with Egypt was to allow Israel to avoid coming to terms with Palestinian demands.

The costs of the illusory quest for dominance in the Middle East have been incalculable. By continuing to support Israeli extremist refusal to seek a peaceful settlement, trying to prop up Arab authoritarian regimes that are friendly with Israel and seeking to project military power in the region through both airbases in the Gulf States and a semi-permanent bases in Iraq and Afghanistan, the strategy has assiduously built up long-term antagonism toward the United States and pushed many throughout the Islamic world to sympathize with Al Qaeda-style jihadism.   It has also fed Sunni-Shi’a tensions in the region and created a crisis over Iran’s nuclear program.

Although this is clearly the time to scrap that Middle East strategy, the nature of U.S. national security policy-making poses formidable obstacles to such an adjustment   Bureaucrats and bureaucracies always want to hold on to policies and programs that have given them power and prestige, even if those policies and programs have been costly failures.  Above all, in fact, they want to avoid having to admit the failure and the costs involved.  So they go on defending and pursuing strategies long after the costs and failure have become clear.

An historical parallel to the present strategy in the Middle East is the Cold War strategy in East Asia, including the policy of surrounding, isolating and pressuring the Communist Chinese regime.  As documented in my own history of the U.S. path to war in Vietnam, Perils of Dominance, the national security bureaucracy was so committed to that strategy that it resisted any alternative to war in South Vietnam in 1964-65, because it believed the loss of South Vietnam would mean the end of Cold War strategy, with its military alliances, client regimes and network of military bases surrounding China.   It was only during the Nixon administration that the White House wrested control of national security policy from the bureaucracy sufficiently to scrap that Cold War strategy in East Asia and reach an historic accommodation with China.

The present strategic crisis can only be resolved by a similar political decision to reach another historical accommodation – this time with the “resistance bloc” in the Middle East.  Despite the demonization of Iran and the rest of the “resistance bloc”, their interests on the primary issue of al Qaeda-like global terrorism have long been more aligned with the objective security interests of the United States than those of some regimes with which the United States has been allied (e.g., Saudi Arabia and Pakistan).

Scrapping the failed strategy in favor of an historic accommodation in the region would:

  • reduce the Sunni-Shi’a geopolitical tensions in the region by supporting a new Iran-Egypt relationship;
  • force Israel to reconsider its refusal to enter into real negotiations on a Palestinian settlement;
  • reduce the level of antagonism toward the United States in the Islamic world and
  • create a new opportunity for agreement  between the United States and Iran that could resolve the nuclear issue.

It will be far more difficult, however, for the United States to make this strategic adjustment than it was for Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger to secretly set in motion their accommodation with China.  Unconditional support for Israel, the search for client states and determination to project  military power into the Middle East, which are central to the failed strategy, have long reflected the interests of the two most powerful domestic U.S. political power blocs  bearing on national security policy:  the pro-Israel bloc and the militarist bloc.  Whereas Nixon and Kissinger were not immobilized by fealty to any such power bloc, both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress.

One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy.  And without a push for such a change from outside, we face the distinct possibility of a national security bureaucracy and White House continuing to deny the strategy’s utter failure and disastrous consequences.

January 31, 2011 - Posted by | Militarism, Timeless or most popular, Wars for Israel


  1. The evil forces of this hell has never been denied before. They know this is the end of them. I have a particular hatred for this regime, my husband died of agent orange cancers. I had to FIGHT VA for 11 years before GOD HIMSELF made them sign the DIC papers to admit he died because of WADING in agent orange chemicals.. the same, OR worse chemicals that has killed the Gulf and all fish/birds/people. AND will present world wide hunger because of the waters that rain over the world come from the oceans of the world. … and THAT my dear readers…. is a FACT!! Let me add also THIS fact. THIS IS NOT disasterous to GODS people. ONLY to the rebellious ‘angels’ in Rev 12. THEY HATE GOD! and always will… if YOU love God, you will NOT BE AFRAID!!


    Comment by Joyce/No lies | February 1, 2011

  2. The US engineered the 1979 regime change in Iran. The same year:

    ‘……In 1979, Netanyahu organized an anti-terrorism conference in Jerusalem,
    … Somehow, he managed to attract the
    likes of George Bush, George Shultz, and Richard Perle (President’s
    Reagan’s chief arms negotiator) to the meeting and was thrust briefly
    onto the world stage…’

    ‘allows it to pursue an aggressive strategy… by the U.S.-Israeli tandem’

    As planned in tandem in Jerusalem by Netanyahu and George H.W. Bush in 1979. The Shah was expendable then as Mubarak is in 2011.

    ‘both the pro-Israel and militarist power blocs now dominate both parties in the White House as well as in Congress’

    We must point out power bloc in the “private sector” too! Banking, Wall Street, and the print and electronic communication corporations too.

    ‘One looks in vain for a political force in this country that is free to press for fundamental change in Middle East strategy.’

    I see it online, I see it in the opinion polls, I see it in political activism, and I see it in the awakening disillusionment of Members of the US Armed Forces!

    And know it will be the mass comprehension that it was that men meeting in Jerusalem in 1979 that planned and executed the psyop of September 11, 2001; a mere update of Operation Northwoods proven by the standdown of the US Air Force at Andrews Air Force Base ten miles from the Pentagon.


    Comment by Bill Mitchell | February 1, 2011

  3. They have had quite the run on evility, that is for certain. Since they were thrown out of Heaven to do their evil mischief without any repercussions. Now is time to pay the pied piper, the GOD they tried to overcome in Heaven.. ludicrous, as ridiculous now, as it was then. Since when can the created overcome the CREATOR.. they are still slimy slugs, and will suffer 100 fold more than they administered it to the innocents.

    They truly will die of agony when they can’t take their stolen gold and possesions with them…


    Comment by Joyce/No lies | February 1, 2011

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