Perhaps the most enduring feature of US foreign policy is a self-righteous sense of divine mission blinds the Orientations of its self-referencing practitioners to the real world consequences of their Decisions, and Actions. Their missionary zeal makes their outlooks impervious to the corrective effects negative feedback from the real world. Put simply, with a few exceptions, our foreign policy elites have evolved a long-term blockage in their Orientation that prevents them from LEARNING from their mistakes, regardless of whether those mistakes evolved out of conflating the impulses of nationalism with the pretensions of a global communist “threat” (e.g., Mossadegh in Iran,Vietnam, etc.) or with a world wide “threat” of Islamic militancy (e.g., using the war on terror to invade Iraq or wage war in Afghanistan and Pakistan by confusing the nationalism of Saddam Hussein and the Taliban with the global pretensions of a criminal gang of Sunni Salafi fanatics ), or by conflating the national interests of Israel with the national interests of the United States.
The U.S. alliance of convenience with Sunni Salafis eastern Libya to effect a regime change is only the latest case study of the blowback (re: in Mali and now the assassination of the US ambassador) that results when arrogance of ignorance* shapes a policy to meddle in the affairs of others.
So you might ask: Has our self-styled elite learned anything from its Libyan misadventure? One need only to look at Syrian civil war to answer to this question.
Even though Libya’s tribal complexities pale in comparison to the much deeper sectarian/ethnic complexities of Syria, the U.S. is again embarking again on a policy of inciting a regime change by supporting indigenous Sunnis to fan the fires of sectarian war. And like the Libyan experience, there are already reports that this policy is attracting Sunni Salifist jihadis and Al Qaeda wannabees, like flies to honey, from across the Arab world. Only this time, our meddling involves has far greater ramifications. Whereas Libya was backwater, meddling in Syria will involve the three most important regional powers — Egypt, Turkey, and Iran (each a proud and ancient culture, with combined populations of about 240 million people) in an increasingly unstable sectarian/nationalist, cultural dynamic. Our meddling will also involve an insecure, pathologically-aggressive, nuclear armed Israel who is further complicating matters by its own meddling in ourUS presidential election in an effort to pressure a sitting President or a newly elected President into bombing Iran. Our meddling in Syria is already straining our relations with Russia and China, and it is increasing prospect of a Syrian spillover into Lebanon, pushing that country again to the brink of chaos and civil war.
How can one make sense out the emerging mess? By putting on the brakes, I think, and examining it bit by bit, this time with a little humility, and a lot of sensitivity to local history and the competing influences of ancient cultural mosaics.
In this regard, the attached essay by Nir Rosen will help interested readers to begin to appreciate the mind boggling complexities of the Syrian civil war. He examines the current role of Syria’s Alawite minority, in effect peering under one of the very top layers of the Syrian onion. And this is just the outer edge of the ancient Alawite question which is, to mix a metaphor, just the tip of Syria’s multi-sectarian/multi-ethnic iceberg.
If past is prologue, I would not count on this kind of historical sensitivity shaping the outlooks of the hordes of Bismarck wannabees in the Pentagon, Foggy Bottom, and the beltway thinktanks. My guess is that the arrogance of ignorance will prevail again, perhaps taking the form of some kind of grand bargain that will worsen the mess that the West’s cynicism done so much to create since the end of WWI.
* I borrowed the expression “arrogance of ignorance” from Robert Asprey, who coined it and showed its central importance in the repeated failures of countries like the United States to defeat local insurgents and guerrillas. See his masterful 1975 two-volume two-thousand year history, War in the Shadows: The Guerrilla in History (Doubleday 1975).
Marina Di Ragusa, Sicilia
Nir Rosen reports from Syria
London Review of Books, Vol. 34 No. 18 · 27 September 2012, pages 19-20