For a perfect encapsulation of the mess that is the Middle East and the United States' Middle East policy over the last 60 years, look no further than this report indicating that Iran has been bombing ISIS inside Iraq using American-made F-4 fighter jets sold to Iran during the reign of the Shah. One Iranian official denied the initial report by saying, "Iran has never been involved in any air strikes against the [ISIS] targets in Iraq."
However, the key words there are "in Iraq," because the New York Times reports that an Iranian politician, American officials, and independent analysts have all confirmed that Iran has been hitting ISIS targets inside a 25-mile "buffer zone" along the Iran-Iraq border. According to the politician, the existence of this buffer zone "was accepted by the Iraqi authorities some months ago." For the sake of simplicity, let's just say that Iran is bombing ISIS inside Iraqi territory with the permission of Iraq.
Image of Iranian F-4 Phantom jet conducting mission in Iraq, via Al Jazeera TV report
So, to recap:
U.S. enemy Iran is bombing U.S. enemy ISIS inside U.S. ally Iraq using U.S. planes sold to then-U.S. ally Iran by the U.S. during the reign of the Shah, who was installed by the U.S. and U.S. ally the U.K. after overthrowing the democratically elected government of then-U.S. enemy Iran, which is now a U.S. enemy again after being a U.S. ally. U.S. enemy ISIS of course came into existence thanks to the U.S. invasion of then-U.S. enemy Iraq, and has been wreaking havoc inside now-U.S. ally Iraq and U.S. enemy Syria in an effort to establish an Islamic caliphate. Meanwhile, President Bashar al-Assad of U.S. enemy Syria has accused the U.S. of not bombing his country enough to rout U.S. enemy ISIS, and also said that U.S. ally Turkey is directly supporting U.S. enemy ISIS, presumably because the militants are fighting erstwhile Turkish nemeses and U.S. ally the Kurds.
This surreal state of affairs is the perfectly natural result of a foreign policy authored by successive presidents who've sought momentary regional stability at the expense of all else, including human rights and the specter of negative unintended consequences, which, if history is any guide, have to be considered a very possible effect of any major U.S. action in the region. Arguably, the Middle East and the surrounding areas of North Africa and Central Asia are as volatile as ever thanks in large part to U.S. actions.
These actions have included, but are in no way limited to:
- arming jihadists in their fight against the Soviet military in 1980s Afghanistan, resulting in a jihadist victory that paved the way for the Taliban, which was harboring Al Qaeda at the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks.
- overthrowing the democratically elected government of Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran in 1954 and installing of the Shah, who ruled the country with an iron fist for a quarter century. This fostered severe resentment among the Iranian people, who overthrew the Shah in 1979, and Iran and the U.S. have been enemies ever since.
- supporting Saddam Hussein in Iraq throughout the 1980s because he was enemies with the Iranian mullahs. The support stopped after Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990 and became public enemy number one until Al Qaeda attacked the U.S. in 2001, but then became public enemy number one again because of its alleged stockpiles of weapons of mass destruction. The 2003 U.S. invasion and occupation of the country yielded a U.S.-friendly regime, but at the expense of the country's stability. That instability gave rise to ISIS.
- bombing Libya in 2011 in an effort to assist the rebels fighting the regime of Moamar Gadhafi -- a former U.S. enemy who had won some favor among the West by surrendering his weapons of mass destruction. He was deposed that year and the country has been a complete mess ever since, as the 2012 U.S. consulate attack in Benghazi made clear.
- simultaneously supporting the Kurds of northern Iraq (but not in the 1980s) and Turkey, who are mortal enemies of each other, leading to rising tensions between the U.S. and the most stable and secular force in the region.
- supporting Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak for 30 years and withdrawing that support after it became clear Mubarak could no longer maintain his grip on power.
- stating that official policy is to simultaneously fight ISIS while working to overthrow the Assad regime in Syria, which is the only thing filling the sort of power vacuum we've seen in Libya and Egypt that ISIS would be all too willing to fill.
It goes on like this in this fashion for days, or more accurately, decades. Democracy, human rights, and sectarian considerations have all taken a back seat to the longtime U.S. policy of doing what makes sense right this second. And while ISIS certainly needs to be defeated for the sake of regional stability and human rights, we have every reason to worried about the next great Middle East crisis that the U.S. thinks needs its full and undivided attention.