US policy in the Middle East: Containment strategy and the “War on Terrorism”

Policy is constructed in social context by elite’s entanglement and contestation of the political, social, economic and religious forces acting on it both internally and externally. The forces shaping US foreign policy is complex and multifaceted but all operate within an existing national consensus on the priorities set forth in post WWII and continue to shape actions and responses to events across the world. Cardinal to US national consensus is military superiority supported by massive investments to deter current and future enemies from challenging America’s strategic superiority across the globe; to lead and be the center for economic expansion based on unfettered capitalism with emphasis on private enterprise and access to markets; lastly access if not dominance of the energy resources (natural resources in general) to guarantee supply for industrial production and expansion for itself and the ability to limit and freeze competitors supplies thus gaining or maintaining a market and strategic edge against them.

During the Cold War period the Soviet Union with a superpower status threatened US national interests and attempted over a long period to construct an alternative international order that if successful would have led to weakening America’s strategic standing around the world. Operating within the Cold War strategic landscape various states aligned themselves either with the US or USSR. The “Middle East” was no different as countries in the region were divided according to the existing global framework. The Cold War was won by the US and with it the preservation if not the triumphant assertion of some type of divine purpose for this success.

The Arab and Muslim World operated within the Cold War logic and participated in a regional Cold War that witnessed a confrontation between, on the one hand monarchies and their allies, and on the other Arab nationalist. During this period the US had what was known as a “Twin Pillars” foreign policy depending on Iran and Saudi Arabia for maintaining and protecting America’s national interest in the region.

In the post 1979 Iranian revolution both Arab nationalist and pan-Islamic and anti-western movements were subject to a newly framed US “Dual Containment” strategy targeting both the nationalist and “Islamic fundamentalist” that were opposed to America’s and Israeli’s policies in the region. The regional context did present a challenge as containment of “Islamic fundamentalism” focused on the Shia “threat” while at the same time needing to promote and nurture a particular “Sunni fundamentalism” to be instrumentalized in confronting the USSR in Afghanistan and building a wall of resistance against the Iranian revolution.

Today’s rising tide of violent “Islamic fundamentalism” has its genesis in the Cold War and the sub-sequent “Dual Containment” strategy, which for the most part was a success for Washington’s policy makers considering the collapse of the USSR, the most important strategic goal in the second half of the 20th century. “Sunni fundamentalism” mobilization did not come to an end with the defeat of the USSR but it was once again harnessed by regional actors, Saudi Arabia, Pakistan and others to fight proxy wars and continue to provide rationalization for a status-quo corrupt “nationalist” and dynastic regimes. Claiming the mantel of “defenders of Islam” against un-orthodoxy on the one hand and democratic “westernization” on the other meant cultivating a most regressive and closed minded approach to Islam itself while mobilizing fictitious “wars” on fundamentalism that they are but its inspiration.

The “war on terrorism” has to be placed in the context of a containment strategy through which the left-overs of the Cold War pawns could be accounted for and redirected once again to fight straw man enemies, the Sunnis, Shias, Sufi, Salafis and other “unorthodox” groups. Divide and conquer sanctioned by wrongly interpreted text providing divine dispensation and the utilization of religion for keeping hold on seats of power is at the heart of the current period. Containment was successful against the USSR in the Cold War and at present it is being deployed in the Middle East with the focus at re-directing regional resources-human, financial and military-at each other and away from development and societal progress. Indeed, bringing about failed states by design and through a containment strategy.

What we are witnessing in the Middle East today is a new US containment strategy implemented through the foil of a managed chaos intended to deplete the collective resources of the regional actors, wipe-out a generation or possibly two who if left to its own devices would otherwise contemplate a change in the status quo and begin to mount a serious challenge to the post-colonial regional structure. More critically the strategy causes people to lose hope and accept to be serfs and slaves in their own lands. Designed death and destruction visited upon a people will make them accept despotic hell as a better alternative than the endless hell of chaotic war thus US allies can be introduced again as the source of stability and security for the region. The aspiration to be free by the people is at the heart of the current attempt at a new containment strategy and from the looks of it all the cards point to a prolonged period of suffering and a “success” in frustrating the emergence of freedom, justice and dignity.