The sixth part of the series ‘The Perilous Triangle,’ about Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, was actually two lectures. The second lecture was given by former CIA station chief Haviland Smith, who was stationed in Beirut, Berlin, Prague and Tehran, among other places.
Destabalising Factors in the Middle East
Our national interest is ONLY stability in the Middle East, and nothing beyond that.
The Middle East is a wildly complicated region:
- Kurds: No nation for 3,000 years; they’re all over the Middle East, in six countries permanently
- Shia/Sunni split, dating from the 7th century, a very real ecclesiastical argument
- Persian/Arab conflict, hegemony issues dating from the 6th century
- conflict over power in the Gulf region – Now that US has removed Iraq as competitor, and is trying to remove the Taliban, Iran has hegemony. U.S. viewed as contemporary Crusaders (11th-13th century), Christians coming to convert and conquer Muslims – the invasion of Iraq fits into this as does the re-invasion of Afghanistan.
- national borders have been imposed by imperial powers for selfish reasons, so there is no inherent internal stability
- our own regime change operations conducted by CIA: none have helped. 1952 Mosadek operation in Iran set the stage for many problems now.
- worldwide quest for oil is complication now with China, India, Russia as clients
- U.S. Palestinian policy: Muslim perception is that we are unjustly pro-Israel. A big problem.
- U.S. ruled by exceptionalism – we think our political system is best and feel compelled to share it. In the words of Gen. Bill Odom, we are “inadvertent imperialists.”
We are lousy at exporting democracy:
- We have insufficient money and economic base
- we are an ADD nation in 2-6-year cycles
- we are not consistent with our principles
- we have an all-volunteer army that is wildly over-extended (the National Guard in Afghanistan?! The National Guard was designed to go to Selma, AL, not Afghanistan)
The export of democracy is our cross. The CIA in the 1960s talked about trying to establish a democratic state in the Middle East; the last places they thought would be democratised were Iraq and Afghanistan.
It won’t work because it needs organic underpinnings.
Republicans understood that nation-building was not workable or desirable — until Bush and 9/11/2001.
We have supported corrupt and repressive regimes. Counter-terrorism is legitimate, but Iraq was specious. The way to confront terrorism is through military force, we think, but this transforms terrorism into counter-insurgency, with the population turned against us.
“Counter-insurgencies are not good things for ADHD nations to get involved in.”
KEY: We need to keep moderate Muslims on our side. Traditionally, Muslims have been moderate and supported us. Now we are forcing moderate Muslims to choose between Al Qaeda and the invading Western army. Two evils.
This is a major problem for us and will be as long as we see a military response as legitimate against terrorism.
Our Possible Legitimate Interests in the Middle East
Oil: fungible, basis of all wealth in the Middle East. The internal stability of countries is depending on pumping and selling it.
Nation-Building: Nation-building does not take where the raw materials are not sufficient to support it, and yet we persist.
Military Power: Killing Muslims does not go unnoticed. Problem for us.
Israel: Since 1947. We have not done Israel any favours by being so one-sided there. We have supported them so they don’t have to pay any attention to niceties and diplomacy. That’s not good for our national interest. (E.g., they want us to bomb Iran — they see it as imperative, but it would be bad for us.)
Stability: We have created instability. With Hussein gone, Iraq’s devils have gone wild, put in motion everything a dictatorship held in check. When we leave, it will get worse. Our policies threaten stability.
Commercial and diplomatic interests: Our economy and political leverage
Terrorism: It’s fed by our policies in the Middle East. If Smith had been Osama bin Laden, he would have played the Bush Admin. the way it acted on its own! The Bush Admin. policies created the greatest recruiting an fund-raising tool in the Middle East for terrorists. It’s self-defeating to fight terrorists with military power.
Nuclear Proliferation: Pakistan. No one will give up the bomb so long as we present militarily. Disarmament is in our national interest – it’s the only route for the world to go.
Who Is Our Real Enemy?
Our policies in the Middle East are self-defeating, causing more problems than they solve. Kneejerk military response to terrorism causes insurgency.
“No one in this country who makes policy reads history.”
Policy decisions are not made on the basis of reality abroad. They are made to serve the election cycle and serve the administration in power. ADHD. We have no structure conducive to long-range anything. We can’t run foreign policy this way.
We are our own worst enemy, victims of optimism and hubris. How can we compensate for that in our foreign policy?
>> Asked about the Obama Admin. policy toward Iran:
Israel is desperately pushing the U.S. to attack Iran. The public ambivalence from U.S. government officials about this is very unsettling. It would be a disaster if we do attack, for us and for others. He would like greater clarity in the Obama Admin. Seems to be an outwardly indecisive administration, which is unsettling and problematic.
>> Should we support Saudi Arabia and its regime?
Yes. He believes in the existence of popularly supported regimes. It’s dangerous to create a power vacuum, as we did in Iraq. Then the organised people step in. Saudi Arabia now is totally different from S.A. in the 1960s and it’s continuing to transform.
>> CIA’s advice about invading Iraq?
In the run-up to the invasion, CIA analysts (Dir. Intell.) put our cautionary info, said that a military invasion of Iraq was not a good idea because of analytical reasons and special intelligence in the field. Bush set up a department to “re-look” at these reports and ended up discounting all intelligence reports as being irrelevant. CIA and State Depts. both advised against invading Iraq. Cheney made 7 trips to the CIA to tell analysts that they were wrong. The spineless director told the agents they would have to change what they said if they wanted to be “relevant to the White House.”
>> Would it be a disaster if the U.S. left Afghanistan lock, stock and barrel?
If we don’t leave Afghanistan tomorrow and instead leave in 15 yrs, it will face the same situation then as now. He doesn’t see any prospect for success there. Afghanistan will end up with a weak central government and strong tribal governance no matter when we go because it’s at its most stable with that form of governance.