2012’s Event of the Year: The Arab Spring
By Cameron Conrad
The Arab Spring is a series of revolutionary protests, demonstrations, and wars that have spread throughout the Middle East because of dissatisfaction with repressive governments. Rulers have been overthrown in Tunisia, Libya, and Egypt; civil uprisings are taking place in Bahrain and Syria; and protests have occurred in Algeria, Iraq, Iran, and many other countries. The protests have utilized civil resistance through strikes, marches, and rallies to speak out against corrupt dictators and autocratic regimes that have committed countless human rights violations. In many cases, authorities have responded to the demonstrations with force, and violence has erupted between the protesters and government-backed militias. The Arab Spring movement resulted in the overthrow of some of the world’s worst dictators, including Mubarak, Gaddafi, and Ben Ali. Personally, I am obviously in support of the Arab Spring movements; that’s why it’s my top event of 2012. It is inspiring that people are rising up through protests and rallies to fight to overthrow oppressive governments in order to secure rights, attain liberty, and strive for peace. The violence and loss of life is deeply disheartening, and it’s truly regrettable that sometimes that is the price that must be paid for freedom. While I am in support of the movements, I think we should be very wary of U.S. government and military involvement in the events of the Arab Spring. The situation in Syria is a little bit more difficult since there is such large scale loss of life, but in general, we should definitely question how much the U.S. should be involved in the chaos that is erupting in the Middle East. I will explain some of the past mistakes of U.S. foreign policy and why I oppose U.S. political and military intervention in the Middle East.
For those of you who have been reading the Best of 2012 on the blog, you know that I have introduced some of Ron Paul’s ideas related to foreign policy, including nonintervention, diplomacy, free trade, and avoiding entangling alliances. In this section on U.S. foreign policy, I will justify why I’m opposed to U.S. intervention in the Middle East and why I support the neutral foreign policy of our Founding Fathers.
- Unsustainability: The United States cannot afford to continue to finance wars and intervention in the Middle East. Defense takes up about 20 percent of the federal budget, and the United States spends more on defense than the next 19 biggest defense spending nations combined. We have troops stationed in over 130 countries around the world. Our military is overstretched, troops’ lives are unnecessarily put at risk, and the U.S. debt continues to grow as we attempt to finance wars overseas. In becoming more involved in the affairs of nations in the Middle East, we are fulfilling the goals of Osama bin Laden, who hoped we would become bogged down in the Middle East while bringing on our national bankruptcy at home.
- Unconstitutionality: The power to declare war is specifically listed in Article 1 of the Constitution, which lists the powers of Congress. The requirement that Congress declare war was mostly followed up until World War II, but has largely been abandoned since. President Harry Truman set a dangerous precedent when he took the United States to war in Korea under a United Nations Resolution without congressional approval. Since the Korean War, numerous undeclared, unconstitutional wars have been fought (Vietnam, Afghanistan, Iraq) and the President has unconstitutionally utilized force countless times. In the case of Libya, many people argue that President Obama unconstitutionally bombed Libya in an effort to kill Gaddafi. Former judge Andrew Napolitano states, “Mr. Obama unlawfully, deceptively and unconstitutionally bombed Libya in an effort either to kill Col. Gadhafi, its former strongman and American ally, or to weaken his defenses until he surrendered. It was unlawful because he used the CIA to fight a war. It was deceptive because he lied about no boots on the ground (“boots” referring to troops, rather than intelligence agents with military hardware). It was unconstitutional because under the Constitution, only Congress may declare war on another country. This was an act of war on a legitimate government…”
- Intervention Breeds Hostility: Prior to World War I, people of the Middle East had a highly favorable impression of the United States; they admired the country’s efficiency, ability to produce goods, military strength, and democratic values. However, U.S. intervention and meddling in the affairs of other countries has generated a great deal of hostility. When Muhammad Mossadegh was voted into power as Iran’s prime minister, he wanted to recover control of the country’s oil resources. He canceled the country’s lease with BP and nationalized the Iranian oil industry. The U.S. CIA planned the overthrow of Mossadegh’s popularly elected government in 1953, leaving thousands dead. The U.S. propped up Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, the repressive and dictatorial shah of Iran for 26 years, which resulted in blowback with the revolutionary Iranian government taking American citizens hostage for 444 days. The U.S. also set up an international consortium of oil corporations that managed Iranian oil. Iranian citizens felt betrayed, and anger about U.S. involvement in the affairs of other nations spread throughout the Muslim world.
During the Cold War, the United States was willing to provide foreign aid and weapons to basically any country that pledged not to form a communist government and join the Soviet Union’s side in the Cold War. This practice resulted in the U.S. providing assistance to some of the most brutal dictatorships that committed atrocious violations of human rights. The U.S. provided $70 billion in funds to Mubarak, it supported the shah of Iran, Mobutu in Zaire, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, and it provided funding and arms to the dictatorship in El Salvador, where soldiers routinely raped women and then mercilessly murdered them.
When Islamist radicals like Osama bin Laden were rising to power, the secular modernists’ power began to erode. Saddam Hussein was a Sunni secular modernist and was an enemy of radical religious Islamism. The U.S. helped the Iraqis and Saddam Hussein in war against Iran in order to keep the Soviets at bay. The war ended in 1988 with no winners and an entire generation of young men and boys dead. Soon after, the U.S. led a coalition of countries to keep Iraq from taking Kuwait. Operation Desert Storm destroyed much of Iraq’s infrastructure and left the country in ruins. The UN then imposed crippling sanctions on Iraq that severed Iraq from the rest of the world by preventing it from trading with other countries. Iraqi citizens were reduced from a European standard of living to one of the most impoverished in the world. Incomes dropped by 95% (do the math on what your family’s income would be if reduced by that much) and 500,000 Iraqi children lost their lives. Sanctions hurt the population of the country but rarely do serious damage to the repressive regime. Sanctions are an act of war. If another country blockaded the U.S., reduced our economy and trade to next to nothing, and incomes fell dramatically, we would be livid and we would want to go to war with that country. Bill Clinton’s Secretary of State Madeleine Albright stated that she believed that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children as a result of the sanctions were “worth it” (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RM0uvgHKZe8). Her interview was broadcast all over the Arab world. Is it any wonder that these countries become hostile towards the U.S. when our government officials say things like that? When we provide money and arms to dictators who oppress their people? This conflict is not a religious one. Radical elements of Islam only gain support from the common people because the people want to be rid of U.S. intervention in their politics and economies.
What happened with Iraq is almost exactly what is happening today with Iran. Sanctions are being imposed on Iran, a 3rd world country that the CIA has determined is not on the verge of building a nuclear weapon. Iran poses no national security threat to the United States, but what does pose a threat is continued U.S. intervention in the affairs of the Middle East that could one day break out into a much larger and more unaffordable war, if Russia and China ever decide to get involved.
The situation in Syria is more problematic. There are many innocent civilians losing their lives and it is a natural human reaction to want to do something about the situation quickly. However, I still think we should be cautious of U.S. involvement even in this situation. The U.S. is currently providing funding and arms to rebels in Syria, but the problem is that there are many groups of rebels advocating the overthrow of the Assad government, including al-Qaeda. No one is certain about where exactly the arms and aid are going, and given our government’s past history of providing assistance to groups who turn out to be radical and use our weapons against us, we definitely need to be careful.
- Foreign Aid Hinders Economic Growth: Israel relies on over $2 billion in U.S. aid every year. Without the grants, the country would be forced to develop a more free economy, which would bring greater production and prosperity to the country. Foreign aid breeds a dependency on other governments and discourages the Israeli government from legislating necessary economic reforms. The Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem states “foreign aid is the greatest obstacle to economic freedom in Israel”. Rather than helping those in need, foreign aid tends to prevent economic reform and aid repressive regimes. Instead, the U.S. should stop providing special privileges to countries like Israel and practice a foreign policy of diplomacy and free trade with all nations. This will help our economy to grow and allow for the free market to operate in countries that have been waiting for increased economic expansion (As a minor side note, what if we applied the arguments related to foreign aid to domestic redistributive programs? Just a thought, but that’s an argument for another day).
I do not propose an isolationist foreign policy, only a noninterventionist one. Providing aid to and fighting wars in these countries is fiscally unsustainable in the long run and unconstitutional. There’s not a line in the Constitution that authorizes the U.S. government to direct the politics of other countries to the degree that it does. Our history of intervention in foreign countries since World War II is definitely not one that we should be proud of. We should practice free trade and diplomacy with countries involved with the Arab Spring in order to provide them with the economic and political security they will need as they strive to set up governments that will allow citizens a greater degree of freedom.