American policy toward the Middle East has been traditionally split between the Stabilizers and the Radicals.
The Stabilizers were old foreign policy hands in the State Department, the Pentagon or the CIA, sometimes tied in with the oil industry. They advocated maintaining stability in the Middle East by putting American support behind "our friends", the dictators. The US would supply them with weapons and military backing in case they were ever invaded or overthrown, and in exchange we would have reliable access to oil. From the Eisenhower interventions to the Gulf War, the United States protected Arab Muslim tyrannies in order to maintain stability in the region.
Until the Carter Administration, the Stabilizers held sway over foreign policy. With Carter though, the Radicals had their first taste of power. Following the doctrine of the Radicals, the Carter Administration helped bring Islamists to power in Iran, and began providing aid to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan. Its Green Belt strategy was focused on creating an alliance of Islamists to ally with the US against the Soviet Union. The real result was the same one you get when you try to breed poisonous snakes in order to get a bear off your land. You might succeed in getting rid of the bear, but now you'll have a whole other problem on your hands. That's exactly what happened with the US and the Islamists.
Neither the Stabilizers nor the Radicals were utilizing new ideas in their approach to the Middle East. The Stabilizers were echoing the British Empire's attempts to maintain control of the region through puppet sheikdoms and princedoms. The problem was that it hadn't worked too well for the British, who found themselves entangled in internal Arab and Muslim conflicts and coups. Like the British had before them, United States diplomats and oil company executives would cultivate a tyrant or two, only to discover that they were also completely untrustworthy. The House of Saud wound up seizing the same oil companies, and reversing the power relationship by doling out the oil on their terms, and using the money to begin the Islamization of the United States and Europe, while bribing half the foreign policy establishment to do it.
The Radicals meanwhile were fueled by left-wing anti-Americanism, which translated into a foreign policy of "America is Always Wrong" and "Radical Terrorists are Always Right". Their claims that backing Marxist and Islamist terrorists would lead to freedom and candyland proved to be wrong every time, yet did nothing to prevent them from enabling the horrors of the Mullahs in Iran or the PLO in Israel. True to the same ideological heritage that had turned Russia red with blood, yet insisted that things were going swimmingly-- they were never capable of acknowledging a mistake.
With the Carter Administration, the Radicals increasingly began winning the argument, and the Stabilizers moved to accommodate them. Portions of the Radical agenda were incorporated into that of the Stabilizers. This was easily enough done, since the Stabilizers had never cared too much about who was in power, so long as there was no chaos or unrest. That was why the Eisenhower Administration had backed Nasser over its former allies in England and France. It was why Bush Sr could casually dismiss massacres by the Kuwaitis in the aftermath of the invasion. These were just means of imposing stability.
But the Radicals made very little headway after the Mullahs took over Iran. They could do little to shift US foreign policy away from the old line Arab regimes in Egypt and Saudi Arabia-- who had strong backing from the Stabilizers. Occasional nods toward democracy would come from the White House or Capitol Hill, and were immediately ignored. But they did find one weak spot. Israel.
The Stabilizers had inherited the old British antipathy toward Israel. They viewed it as a country that should never have existed, but had now become a necessary evil. The Stabilizers had commitments to the House of Saud, and to the Kuwaiti Royals, but they had none toward Israel. They had been forced to support Israel as leverage against Soviet backed Arab regimes in Egypt and Syria. But the Camp David Accords had drawn Egypt onto the American side of the board, and the end of the Cold War made many of the old red and white maps seem irrelevant. Which meant that in their eyes, and that of their Muslim overlords, Israel was becoming a nuisance.
To the Radicals, Israel was something much worse. It was Western. It was a colony. It was an alien entity in what should have been a pure Arab-Muslim region. And if their obsession with Israel seemed downright Nazi-like at times, it was because they shared an obsession with making a part of the world Judenrein, not for practical reasons, but for ideological ones. If the Stabilizers had imbibed the Saudi contempt for Jews, the Radicals drank of a deeper and uglier well. If the Nazis had viewed Jews as genetically tainted, the Communists and the Left viewed Jews as politically tainted, contaminated by religion and seperatism. The Nazis had wanted to solve a genetic problem by wiping out the carriers of those genes. The Left wanted to solve a political problem by wiping out Jewish identity.
Israel was the intersection of the left's hatred for the reactionary Western Civilization and the even more reactionary notion of a Jewish identity. Much like Archie Bunker asked Sammy Davis Jr, why if he was already black, did he also want to become Jewish-- the idea of a Jewish state modeled on modern Western states triggered two obsessive streams of hatred from the Left. On the one hand there was H.G. Wells and George Bernard Shaw screeching that Jews had better give up being Jews, or go rot in Palestine, and on the other hand there was every leftist critic of Western imperialism crying out against US foreign policy in the Middle East. The results were and are almost unfathomably ugly-- as people's deepest prejudices merging with self-righteous political fanaticism tend to be.
The Stabilizers were more than willing to give Israel to the Radicals, so long as the House of Saud and the Mubarak clan and every tinpot tyrant was allowed to do whatever they wanted. And so there was finally a point of agreement between the Stabilizers and the Radicals. But into this pastoral scene, came a third party with another proposal. The Neo-Conservatives.
The Neo-Conservatives represented a break with both the Stabilizers and the Radicals. They were opposed to the status quo in the existing Muslim regimes, like the Radicals. But they were also opposed to the pet terrorists that the Radicals wanted to replace them with. What they wanted to do was to dredge the swamp, reform and democratize the region. The Neo-Conservatives were naive about the realities of the Middle East and the resources such plans required-- but for the first time a group with significant influence on foreign policy had managed to articulate something resembling a moral policy for the Middle East.
The Stabilizers and the Radicals both reacted about the way you would expect when after 9/11, Neo-Conservative ideas about America's relationship to the Middle East gained a great deal of influence. The Stabilizers reflected the panic of their Saudi masters at the prospect of bringing democracy to the region. The Radicals rejected the idea that the Muslim world needed to become civilized, instead they just wanted the Islamists to take over. The one thing both the Stabilizers and the Radicals agreed on was that the Neo-Conservatives were the devil. Which of course they were. After all unlike them the Neo-Conservatives had a proposal that didn't involve America groveling to one bunch of thugs or another.
Of course no foreign policy that was even loosely pro-American could survive for very long. The Bush Administration was undermined from the inside. The reconstruction of Iraq was painstakingly sabotaged within the military, the State Department and the intelligence community, until it dissolved into a proxy war between Baathists and Sadrists, with Al Queda bomb throwers adding spice to the sauce. The old hands like Rumsfeld, Bolton and Cheney were sent packing. Condoleeza Rice took control of foreign policy and turned it back into exactly what it had been under George Bush Sr. Appeasement. Any worries by Arab tyrants were put to rest. Roasting Israel became the top priority. The Stabilizers were back in charge. But not for long.
Obama's ascension marked the return of the Radicals to power. Outreach to the Muslim world was now the top priority. Covert contacts with Hamas and the Taliban were quietly opened. Israel was now truly enemy number one. But so was America. Iran's post-election riots were met with the same shrug that the left had used on pro-Democracy protesters in the USSR. The Arab dictators began growing nervous, as the Obama Administration took a hands off approach to Iran. And Obama's outreach had failed to win any new allies, but only alienated existing allies. Which was inevitable as Radicals are never very good at alliances, especially those that required them to think along the lines of national interest.
Where do we stand today? We've seen the three basic approaches, that of the Stabilizers, the Radicals and the Neo-Conservatives-- and all are fundamentally flawed. The Stabilizers support tyrants who covertly make war on the United States. The Radicals support terrorists who openly make war on the United States. What is even more absurd is that there is really not that much distance between the tyrants and the terrorists, since the tyrants fund the terrorists to increase their own power and popularity, and the terrorists aspire to become tyrants in the name of Islam. And both sides are laughing at the Stabilizers and the Radicals for selling out their country.
The Neo-Conservatives however dramatically underestimated the amount of effort and energy needed to reform entire cultures. Their excessive optimism led to introducing democracy in countries where the only real opposition parties that had managed to survive, were Islamists. The Bush Administration in particular treated democracy as a totem that could do anything, because it had adopted a simplistic model in which the Muslim world was not bad, only its leaders were. And once the people had a chance to vote for peace and prosperity, better leaders would emerge. Where these leaders would come from, and did people in the Muslim world really want peace and prosperity, in the American sense, were questions that went unasked. The Radicals and the Stabilizers both understood this quite well, and knew that with a few pushes in the right places, their whole project would come crashing down.
Those are the three. Which means what we now need is a fourth approach that avoids the flaws of these three. What is the primary flaw of all three? They all sought to determine who would rule in the Muslim world. The Stabilizers thought that the best way was to keep the Muslim world as it is. The Radicals and the Neo-Conservatives wanted to remake it. And all three of these approaches tangled them in the political chaos and instability of the Muslim world. But there is a fourth way.
The Fourth Way is Accountability and it is simple enough. Stop arguing over who will rule in which Muslim country. That is a decision that only the inhabitants of that country can make. And they won't make it through elections, so much as through dealmaking among their oligarchy, tribal leaders and occasional outbursts of armed force. It would take a massive project of decades to have any hope of changing that. But we don't need to. What we need to do is make very clear the consequences of attacking us to whoever is in charge.
Rather than trying to shape their behavior by shaping their political leadership, we can use a much more blunt instrument to unselectively shape all their leaders. A blunt instrument does not mean reconstruction. It doesn't mean Marines ferrying electrical generators. It doesn't mean nation building. It means that we will inflict massive devastation on any country that aids terrorists who attack us. If they insist on using medieval beliefs to murder us, we will bomb government buildings, roads, factories and power plants to reduce them back to a medieval state. We will not impose sanctions on them, we will simply take control of their natural resources and remove the native population from the area, as compensation for the expenses of the war.
Accountability means no more aid to tyrants or terrorists, and no grand democracy projects either. It means that we stop trying to pick a side, and just make it clear what happens when our side gets hurt. We gain energy independence and never look back. And when we've done that, the Muslim world will no longer be able to play America against Russia, against Asia and Europe. Instead it will suddenly find itself stuck with a predatory Russia looking for an energy monopoly, a booming China expanding into their part of the world, and no Pax Americana to protect them from either one.
America has provided the stability that kept many Muslim countries from imploding. It has protected others directly and indirectly from being conquered more times than anyone realizes. All the treachery and terrorism that has been carried out, has been done under an American umbrella. Now is the time to furl up the umbrella, and let the rain fall where it may.
It will be a cold day indeed, when Russia and China realize that they can do what they like in the Muslim world, without the US to stop them. And a colder day still, when European countries realize that there is nothing standing the way of deporting their insurgent Muslim populations, because the US will not lift a finger to protect them, as it did in Yugoslavia. That is accountability. And in both its active and passive forms it will exact a high price from the enemy, and none from us. To employ it, we must be prepared to use massive force casually without considering any collateral damage. We must achieve energy independence at any cost. And we must be prepared to realize that everything else we have tried has failed. Only by disengaging from the Muslim world, can we ever be free of it.