Destabilization of the Middle East

Fighting since 1991 provides evidence that you cannot bomb your way to stability or to peace. (, file)

By Ron Forthofer

Ongoing fighting in Iraq, Libya, Syria and Yemen have devastated these nations and they may not survive as unitary states. The effects have been horrific for the populations of all four countries. There have also been lesser impacts for nations in Africa and Europe. For example, extremist Wahhabi Islamic groups are now operating in several African nations. Huge numbers of refugees fleeing from the incredible violence have sought asylum in Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey and Europe. Extremists have recently attacked civilians in Turkey, Lebanon, France, Tunisia, Mali and other African nations. ISIS has taken credit for bombing a Russian passenger flight returning from Egypt killing all on board.

How did this horrendous situation come about? Was it an unintended consequence of a major war crime, the 2003 US-led attack on Iraq? Did the Arab Spring turn into the Arab Winter? Did someone plan this or did it just happen?

Although not widely known, in 1996 US neo-con supporters of Israel, including a number of people who would hold key positions in the next Bush administration, prepared a report for Binyamin Netanyahu. The report, ‘A Clean Break: A New Strategy for Securing the Realm’, laid out a major shift for Israel from the idea of trading land for peace. One of its proposals said: “Work closely with Turkey and Jordan to contain, destabilize, and roll-back some of its most dangerous threats…” Netanyahu rejected the proposal.

The neo-cons then formed a think tank, the Project for the New American Century. In September 2000, PNAC proposed Rebuilding America’s Defenses (RAD). This plan called for an aggressive and unilateral military approach to expand US control and for the prevention of any other nation(s) from being able to challenge the US. RAD also discussed the need for regime change. “American military preeminence will continue to rest in significant part on the ability to maintain sufficient land forces to achieve political goals such as removing a dangerous and hostile regime when necessary.”

After the appalling criminal attacks on 9/11, it appears as if the Bush administration adopted some of the ideas in RAD. According to General Wesley Clark, the Pentagon had Iraq in its sights immediately after 9/11. Clark added that a few weeks later that he was told of a plan to take out seven nations (Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran) over five years.

After the military attack against Afghanistan, the US led an unwarranted and illegal attack on Iraq in 2003. The attack and fighting devastated Iraq, killed an estimated 700,000 Iraqis, and Iraq became a failed state. During its invasion of Iraq, the US implemented policies based on religious affiliation. This US strategy, along with the discriminatory policies and violent attacks by the Shiite-led Iraqi government against the Iraqi Sunnis, played a major role in the eventual creation of ISIS.

The US failure to speedily crush the opposition in Iraq also demonstrated that US leaders had grossly overestimated US power. Thus further military attacks were delayed although covert non-military efforts continued.

The Arab Spring raised hopes for democracy. It also created opportunities for the West to use the cover of protecting human rights to oust leaders not sufficiently subservient. For example, Libya was the next nation attacked under this human rights cover. After the killing of Moammar Qaddafi, Libya, despite holding elections in 2012 and 2014, has become a failed state with local militias and different extremist Islamic groups vying for power.

Syria presents a more complicated human rights story. For several years Qatar, Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Israel along with the US and other Western nations have wanted the ouster of Bashar Assad, the Syrian leader. In response to Assad’s use of lethal force, these countries quickly supported and then changed the composition of the opposition. The moderate opposition soon was mostly replaced by extremist Islamic groups including ISIS. Russia, Iran and Hezbollah supported the Assad government. Both sides, especially Assad forces, have committed terrible war crimes. An estimated 400,000 Syrians have been killed and millions displaced. Syria is likely another failed state.

Do these events just happen or are we witnessing the implementation of the neo-cons’ plans, opportunistic interventions, or of a combination of interests? It’s hard to say with certainty. Regardless, several of the countries targeted by the neo-cons have been devastated. Israel’s fighting with Hezbollah in Lebanon in 2006 weakened another of these targeted nations.

In addition to the devastation of the Arab states named above, Israel has caused devastation in Gaza with its major attacks in 2006, 2008, 2012 and 2014. These attacks are in addition to the illegal and barbaric siege of Gaza by Israel and Egypt that has lasted since 2007 when Hamas pre-empted a US and British-backed coup by Fatah forces in Gaza. The 48-year Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and the Syrian Golan Heights stokes more Arab anger against Israel and its Western backers.

Although the Western world no longer pays much attention to things of the last century, many still remember the destruction and devastation of events in the 1990s. For example, a key event was the US-led attack on Iraq in 1991 that returned Iraq to a “pre-industrial” state. For over a decade after the 1991 attack, the US and Britain cruelly maintained the UN siege on Iraq that caused incredible suffering and an estimated excess 500,000 deaths of Iraqi children. In response to a question about the sanctions and the deaths of these children, Madeleine Albright, then US Ambassador to the UN, said: “we think the price is worth it.”

The Western world and Israel have played a major role in the destabilization of the Middle East. They have inflicted incredible suffering with impunity. No Western or Israeli leaders have been put in the dock for their war crimes. Western nations and Israel have not paid any reparations for the destruction caused by their war crimes. The leaders of the Western world and Israel also have shown a lack of remorse for the deaths they have caused. In addition, there is little outrage expressed by the so-called civilized nations about Western and Israeli war crimes.

The Islamic extremists have also played a part in creating chaos. If your goal is destabilization, ISIS and al-Qaeda and their terrifying violence are made to order for that task. We shouldn’t be surprised that the Islamic extremists are employing horrific violence in response to the horrific violence of the US, other Western nations and Israel. Violence simply begets more violence.

The fighting since 1991 provides evidence that you cannot bomb your way to stability or to peace. If the US, other Western nations and Israel truly desire stability in the Middle East, as a first step they must work with Russia, Iran, Hezbollah, Bashar Assad, Syrian society and others to reach a fair settlement of the Syrian civil war.

– Ron Forthofer, Ph.D. is a retired professor of biostatistics and an activist with the Rocky Mountain Peace and Justice Center, Boulder, CO. He contributed this article to

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