The Middle East with it’s seemingly eternal strife can appear complex. There are different nations, ethnic groups, political and religious organizations vying with each other for power. Sometimes it’s a good idea to sit back and view the big picture.
Traditionally the US and it’s allies have supported Sunni nations like Saudi Arabia and Jordan. The US was also allied with liberal nations like Lebanon and Iran. Yes, Iran was a liberal nation before the 1978 Iranian Revolution (Business Insider).
Since the late 70’s the United States has pulled some really stupid moves. The first was our support of the Ayatollah Khomeini‘s return from exile in France. With the belief he was a peaceful spiritual leader the United States advocated his return to help quell Islamist discontent. That didn’t work out so well. The Iranian Revolution left him and his extremist Shi’ites in power.
After the Ayatollah consolidated control of Iran he began a campaign of supporting terrorist groups, particularly anti Israeli ones. Hezbollah, Hamas, Houthi rebels are all financed and supplied with weapons from Iran. Rocket attacks aimed at Israeli settlements and cities are common as are attacks against Saudi Arabia.
In 1980, Iraq invaded Iran. Saddam Hussein supposedly didn’t want Shia extremism to expand into his nation. Hussein and his Ba’ath Party were Sunnis ruling a nation that was 65% Shi’ite. The war lasted until 1988, ending with a UN sponsored peace agreement. (Related Post)
In 1990, Saddam’s Iraq invaded Kuwait. Why he thought the US wouldn’t interfere is questionable. Iraq has long laid claim to the small nation. Kuwait had supported Iraq in their war with Iran. Saddam had asked them to forgive the $65 billion debt he owed from the war effort but Kuwait declined. The US and several allies sent troops to Saudi Arabia, fearing Iraq might try to take control of the oil fields on the border. Then, in 1991, the allies pushed the Iraqi forces out of Kuwait. Many wanted to invade Iraq but then president George Bush Sr and the allied nations declined. The Iraqi forces, especially the air force, had been been routed and a no fly zone was set up along with economic sanctions against Iraq.
The second stupid US move was in 2003. The United States and several NATO nations were deployed in Afghanistan. They were helping to prop up the newly formed democratic government after the defeat of the Taliban. Instead of focusing on Afghanistan, George Bush Jr and his staff decided to invade Iraq with 195,000 troops. The end result was a democratically elected Shia controlled government and ISIS, a Sunni terrorist group consisting largely of disaffected Iraqi soldiers and officers. It would be nice if the nation, long polarized along religious and ethnic lines, were more egalitarian in their thought process – but you had to see this coming. The other annoying thing; those US troops would have been more useful to the mission in Afghanistan.
By viewing the big picture we can see how the US made some serious mistakes in the Middle East that worked against our interests and allies in the region. Along with the dismal failure of the Arab Spring that held the hope of a more liberal future it’s as if the will of the gods, garnished with some US stupidity, that extremism will persist in the region. The extremism continues to press Israel and Saudi Arabia.