Photo: Lynsey Addario
Photo: Syrian Crisis/Wordpress
Since the Arab Spring in early 2011 the United States has seemed to be petrified by the state of the Middle East. With Barack Obama's foreign policy most resembling of Wilson at his most timid, and republicans hawkish towards any Muslim presents yet ready to block any executive operation, it's easy to lose track of what our interests in the area are exactly, and more importantly why there is instability in the region in the first place. In this article we will attempt to fill you in on the reason for the current unrest, after which we will look to examine current proposals from both sides of the chamber as to resolution and curbing of the violence. However unresolvable the current issues are in the status quo of American Hegemony and Supra-National governments, it is still necessary to examine solutions, even from a bipartisan view.
Let's begin in 1979, two conflicts erupt in the Middle East, a Russian invasion of Afghanistan and a sectarian war between Iraq and Iran. The United States, in a bid to gain revenge against a post revolution Iran, begins discreetly funding the Iraqi military. On the other side of Iran a second struggle was brewing, also fanned by The United States. In order to curb soviet expansionism, the CIA in partnership with Israel and Pakistan funded and armed Mujahideen groups in Afghanistan. Both of these conflicts play a key role in today’s unrest. The arming of the Mujaheeds in Afghanistan, though a success in stopping soviet aggression died with the USSR just ten years later, and Afghanistan was once again abandoned to its backwardness. However in the wake of the CIA pull out, numerous individuals were left with guerilla armies, training, weapons, and virtually no stable government. This is key, as numerous wars between fiefdoms spurred widespread discontent within greater afghanistan, a few groups claiming America and the west as the true enemy of Afghanistan, and fundamentalist Islam as their rallying point. Once such group being Al Qaeda. In Iraq, the protracted war left Saddam Hussein’s Baathist party nearly bankrupt. In lieu of this, they invaded Kuwait as a bid for the region's most potent resource, oil. America was able to stop the war quickly, but our foreign policy doctrine stopped us from removing Hussein from power in 1991, as then Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney quipped, “there are far worse elements in the middle east than Mr. Hussein”. He is being proven correct today.
In 2001 and 2003 the United States invaded Afghanistan and Iraq respectively, in a seemingly vain attempt to “democratize the region, eliminate threats to national security, and rectify previous errors of military judgement”. The second and third points seem to have been accomplished in response to the attacks on September the 11th. The first however, seems to have stalled. In 2011 the world witnessed the Arab spring, at first seemingly a symbol of American democratic culture finally infiltrating some of the world's most despotic governments, most of the revolutions we’re at first violently quelled, and have since spun into bloody civil wars, most notably in Syria. Since then the middle east has become an even more nuanced and multifaceted issue. What do we do with the refugees? Do we depose Assad? Do we intervene militarily? If so, how? How do we support and who do we lend it too? Whole books have been written and are being written on solutions to these individual problems, and if I had the time I’d commit to it, but here we will simply seek to inform you on both parties viewpoints on what we have deemed the two most contentious issues, those being: Military Intervention, The refugee crisis.
Syrian President Basharr Al-Assad
Photo: AFP via Getty Images
Remember Al Qaeda, from Afghanistan, and how Dick Cheney seemingly harmlessly said that Saddam Hussein was the least of our worries in Iraq? Well, after Saddam was removed from power in the early stages of the Iraq war, the democratic government failed to fill the power void left over. In short, they ran the government well enough, but without the powers of intimidation presented by the big man himself, the rural areas of the country quickly became infested with groups totally averse to American presence, one such being Al Qaeda. Fast forward to the Arab spring, hundreds of Syrian groups begin to turn to arms against Bashir Assad’s regime. Under-funded and less than well armed, they turn to the international community for help, but the US doctrine of troop removal in Iraq prohibits any direct support, and popular opinion is against it. As a result many groups turned to fanaticism, even going as far as to proclaim themselves as independent countries. A splinter group of Al Qaeda in particular grows extremely violent, and in late 2014 and early 2015, they take over huge swaths of Iraq, Syria, and the Levant. They are the Islamic State. The standing republican view is of offensive action in the region characterized by heavy bombing, some even suggesting the use of Russia as an ally. The benefits of such a campaign include that there would be no boots on the ground, drawbacks including increased civilian casualties. Democrats argue for either the funding of groups combating the hostile regimes and even an isolationist policy. Issues with this are the growing threat of international terror and the fact that most groups have or have had ties with fanatic groups before ISIS, with the exception of the Kurds. That said, the Kurds are considered terrorists by Turkey, though they are exclusively looking to establish a state and not engage in active war with any sovereign nation minus Syria under Assad. A funding of the Kurds would invariably damage relations with Turkey.
Since the Civil wars beginning almost 4 years ago, thousands of people have been displaced from Syria and surrounding territory, according to the UNHCR, as of today March 25th, the Syrian crisis has created 4,899,123 refugees. These are currently in camps surrounding ISIS territory in either Turkey, Jordan, or Lebanon. Many more undocumented refugees are entering Europe through unconventional methods, most notably makeshift rafts. These methods prove dangerous, refugees are often met with poor weather, capsize, and drowning. With many eurozone countries already in economic straits, the so called “Invasion of the Schengen Zone” has created a malignant rise in extreme right wing parties. With that, a large contingent of refugees are shifting their view to the western hemisphere in an attempt to escape violence and ill treatment. Their reception in the United States has been met with mixed success, quotas on entry have relegated the amount of migrants in the US to 2,174 since 2012. The Obama administration has pledged to admit 100-250 thousand refugees by the end of the 2016 fiscal year, with laws passed having the minimum we will admit being 10,000. With attacks like the ones in Paris and Brussels very recent in republicans memory, frontrunners Trump and Cruz have each spearheaded very restrictive policies. Cruz advocating specifically to admit the 3% of christian refugees stateside, Trump even going as far as to say that Muslims without substantial documentation will be deported out of the country.
Neither side seems to have a nuanced solution to the refugee issue nor the issue of military aid, as the diplomatic stance of the US seems compromised, our options grow thin. Above all, it must be made clear that the conflict in the Middle east is by no means simple, and should never be “simplified”. As Senator Lindsay Graham spoke on the daily show while playing a game of pool, “The key to pool sharking is to shoot for the next shot, always look a pocket ahead”. Trevor Noah wryly replied, “if only we had that mentality 20 years ago…”.
Photo: Comedy Central