Intelligence Squared Debate: Sept. 30, 2014

Flexing America’s Muscles in the Middle East Will Make Things Worse

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11 comments to Intelligence Squared Debate: Sept. 30, 2014

  • Charles Merlis

    Bill, thanks for responding. I don’t think you answered my specific question nor commented on my specific hypotheses. I still don’t understand what Israel has to do with the Sunni/Shia conflict and and the greater Mid East power struggles for hegemony over the region and oil, which include the non Arab countries of Iran and Turkey. Except for the immediate Palestinian/Israeli territories, what has Israel to do with Iran, Iraq, etc.?, unless you embrace the idea of Jihad as legitimate to spread Islam and then you should also expect the religious wars to continue to this country.

    • Steve Buck

      Well part of this could be that a group of American supporters of Israel did a memo for Netanyahu outlining, among other things, how it would be in Israel’s interest if the U.S. overthrew Saddam, and how this would bring “democracy” to Iraq and the Middle East. This bizarre logic was used partly to justify our invasion of Iraq, with the subsequent decision to disband Iraq’s army and ensure that no one who was a Ba’ath party member, essentially most of Iraq’s intelligensia and civil service, got a job. On top of that those who came with Jerry Bremer and company openly talked about Sunni and Shi’a and Bremer and Company installed a Shia
      Prime Minister, Maliki, who had spent years in exile in Tehran and was adamantly opposed to Sunnis.

      Before our invasion Iraq was a secular country, with the secular ideology of the Ba’ath party, founded by a Muslim and a Christian who said “we don’t do religion.” By outlawing the Ba’ath party we also outlawed
      secularism, leading to Sunni-Shi’a conflict.

  • To respond to Chuck Merlis’ question re Israel my comment is one of a scenario of a group of Arabs who felt abused and this attitude simply was the catalyst for additional and subsequent feelings of hatred for Jews and any other group seen to be “different”. And then this morphs into a mass movement that feed upon hatred and feeling to be part of the downtrodden.
    Too simplistic? Perhaps, but when any group feels put upon and pissed off, bad things happen.

    Bill Weber

  • Chip Neville

    I just finished watching the entire debate. The things that struck me the most were:

    1. Both sides trashed the Middle East and its peoples, most conspicuously when the second speaker for the Negative used the acronym B.A.D. to describe the entire region. Despite the obvious fact that there are plenty of bad actors in the Middle East, I personally believe we need more tolerance and respect for the Arab peoples and for Muslims all over the globe.

    But ironically, the Negative also made the best points about the importance of the moral imperative to intervene to stop genocide. To continue with the list, specifically, the Negative said:

    2. “We don’t want genocide to happen — it is a core interest.”

    3. “In a democracy like ours, values are a core interest.”

    Though, just to preserve their reputation for realpolitik, they also qualified the above by stating,

    4. “We should tip the scales towards intervention to stop genocide when it is at a relatively low cost for us.” In my humble opinion, though there clearly are or could be situations where intervention is simply not feasible, we should intervene to stop mass slaughter whenever we feasibly can.

    In regard to the above, I am horrified that we have not directed airstrikes against the ISIS fighters reported (by CNN yesterday) only two miles from the Kurdish city of Kobane on the Syrian-Turkish border. What do we think will happen if ISIS enters the city? How many thousands of Kurds will be brutally murdered? The excuse given by military experts that we can’t deliver air support without forward air controllers on the ground just doesn’t hold water. We have reconnaissance drones that can survey the entire battlefield from the air. Come on Obama, quit equivocating. Do something to save lives as you did, to your great credit, with the besieged Yazidis.

    Despite my esteemed roommate Steve Buck’s comment about “Kurdish land grabs” in his excellent debate setup piece, the Kurds are the one group that actually likes us. Why? Because we did something for them; when Saddam Hussein started committing mass murder by dropping poison gas on their villages, Bush ’48 intervened through air power to make him stop, AND we dropped tons of humanitarian supplies from the air to help the fleeing refugee columns. The Kurds remember this. So should we.

    • Steve Buck

      Belated thanks Chip for some excellent comments.

      Alas Bush ’48 made statements indicating that we would support the Shi’a if they rose up against Saddam, when they did, he did nothing to support them and many were slaughtered. In the 13 years after our retaking of Kuwait we imposed sanctions on Iraq that led to 500,000 being killed through lack of clean water (caused partly by our not permitting “dual use” items, such as chlorine, into Iraq. Secretary Madeleine Albright famously said 500,000 children killed would be worth it if it led to Saddam’s overthrow. Iraqis remember that and have reason not to feel very reassured about any commitments we make to “the Iraqi people.”

  • Charles Merlis

    Steve, I appreciate the background information you give on the subject, particularly, the backgrounds of last 2 Iraqi Prime Ministers. However, it seems to me that the 1980 invasion of Iran by Iraq was a defeat for Iraq, NOT a victory. Iraq started the war against a country with a military weakened by revolutionary purges and ended by retreating back to its borders with nothing to show for it except many casualties and economic losses. Do you have any grounds to deem it a victory for Iraq?
    Since WW2, the US did have a victory in the war in Grenada and possibly Kuwait, in which Bush ’48 did not extend to Iraq as he easily could have. As Bill Weber states, I also argued for the 2003 invasion and feel like a fool because of subsequent events. However, Bush ’68 (or rather Cheney ’62) did not follow my advice and completely botched up the war. By the way, is there any way to find in the archives of this site the 2003 invasion debate so we can see what we actually wrote rather than what we think we wrote. I believe I was quite reasonable but, as stated, my advice was not followed.
    Steve’s questions certainly underscore the dangers of intervention and show that it basically makes us an ally of Iran and Assad. Is that bad???? My propensity is to bomb ISIS, but I am afraid of mission creep and where Obama or subsequent presidents may lead us. I would like a new presidential doctrine be proposed and debated and voted on by Congress to set parameters on how to wage War on Terrorism by States or Organizations (remember Ian Fleming’s SPECTRE).
    Bill, what has Israel have to do with the Sunni/Shia strife? Israel’s existence has a lot to do with what is happening in the territory formerly known as Palestine but is used as a manipulative device by other countries (i.e. Iran,Iraq,Syria [complicated by the Golan Heights],Russia,Egypt,etc.). Take Israel out of the equation, and you will still have internecine conflict, religious warfare, nationalistic and individualistic power grabs. At least, Israel is an example of a western style democracy that is doing well for its citizens.

    • Steve Buck

      Dear Charlie – Apologies for my very belated reply. Daughter in hospital for a week with ruptured appendix had me focussed on the most important. Luckily she is now well and back to teaching at Wesleyan as a visiting actress/playwright/prof.

      As for who said what prior to our disastrous invasion of Iraq and destruction of the country, you can go to the archives on the Yale62 website and put in either Stephen Buck or Steve Buck and find a number of articles I wrote saying invading Iraq, the most nationalistic country in the Arab world, would be a disaster.

      As for Israel, the reality is that what it has done and continues to do to Palestinians it controls (either on the West Bank, or in Gaza, the world’s largest open air prison, made so by a stated Israeli policy of squeezing
      the population, only allowing the bare essentials in) is something that inflames Arabs and Muslims the world over. In this age of the internet that is no need for regimes to fan the flames. All people have to do is see the pictures of bombed out apartment buildings or the casualty figures – 2000 killed in the latest Israel campaign on Gaza, compared to 63 Israelis, 58 of them military (hardly a group to be put into the civilian category, but
      implied when the figure “63 killed” is used without further explanation).

      The heads of all US intelligence agencies in testifying to Congress on the causes of 9/11, said that one significant fact in Bin Ladin’s recruiting of those who did the deed was anger over continued Israeli oppression of Palestinians. It remains a factor today, in the recruitment of those supporting ISIS or IS.

      Hope this helps.


      Steve Buck

  • Reading all this – absorbing all this – observing all this while on a 3-month sabbatical of sorts in Italy, 2 words come to mind: obvious and oblivious. And although I’ll have to miss the debate, I wish that Obama could see it and that the brilliant minds behind it were up front in our government guiding the missiles, if you catch my drift…

  • Bill Weber

    Steve and I debated this topic extensively back in 2003, just before our invasion and I must confess I was stupid enough to think that we could simply eliminate the monster of Iraq and be done with it. Our actions were much like a dog chasing a car—what would he do if he caught it? Well, we caught it and proceeded with no thought to many of the points Steve has mentioned.
    Subsequent to the invasion/occupation the region has literally gone to hell and I do not think we have given enough though to the root cause of what may well be the beginning of a modern 30 years’ war.
    To be sure part of the cause lies in the post WW1 divisions of the Arabian penninsula, the “protectorates” and the creation of the Israeli state post WWII.
    I often wonder what would have happened had the Israelis adhered to the various agreements with the Palestinians and not continued to gobble up Arab land and create a generation of people who have never known peace in their land?
    With the United States’ unending support for Israel, the Israelis feel they are impervious to any real harm by their actions and simply press on with settlements, etc.
    And, of course, oil is a factor in the middle east equation and I am not sure what this will mean in the future as far as the USA is concerned, now that we are less dependent on the oil and gas of that region.
    So with all my ramblings, all I can conclude is that there are no simple solutions and the ISIS entity only furthers the complications of direct confrontations, urban warfare and guerrila activity.
    What next? Who knows?

    Bill Weber

  • The largest and most interesting comment exchange we ever had on this site was way back in 2003 about the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Here we are again minus an actual invasion and with what purports to be a different enemy. Intelligence Squared sure got the focus and the timing right for this debate. How many of you feel the same way now about supporting U.S. policy and actions in the region as you did 11 years ago . . . or what do you see as different?

  • Chris Cory

    I must say I was impressed by the tone of the first debate, and by the amount of information it conveyed about the issue of the new public school curriculum. I expect at least some of the same on the middle east, though perhaps delivered with a bit more asperity. Classmates, do give this a try.

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