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Let the Middle East Govern Itself

NEW YORK – It is time for the United States and other powers to let the Middle East govern itself in line with national sovereignty and the United Nations Charter. As the US contemplates yet another round of military action in Iraq and intervention in Syria, it should recognize two basic truths.

First, US interventions, which have cost the country trillions of dollars and thousands of lives over the past decade, have consistently destabilized the Middle East, while causing massive suffering in the affected countries. Second, the region’s governments – in Syria, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Egypt, and elsewhere – have both the incentive and the means to reach mutual accommodations. What is stopping them is the belief that the US or some other outside power (such as Russia) will deliver a decisive victory on their behalf.

When the Ottoman Empire collapsed at the end of World War I, the great powers of the day, Britain and France, carved out successor states in order to ensure their control over the Middle East’s oil, geopolitics, and transit routes to Asia. Their cynicism – reflected, for example, in the Sykes-Picot Agreement – established a lasting pattern of destructive outside meddling. With America’s subsequent emergence as a global power, it treated the Middle East in the same way, relentlessly installing, toppling, bribing, or manipulating the region’s governments, all the while mouthing democratic rhetoric.

For example, less than two years after Iran’s democratically elected parliament and prime minister, Mohammad Mossadegh, nationalized the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company in 1951, the US and Britain used their secret services to topple Mossadegh and install the incompetent, violent, and authoritarian Shah Reza Pahlavi. Not surprisingly, the Islamic Revolution that overthrew the Shah in 1979 brought a wave of virulent anti-Americanism in its wake. Rather than seeking rapprochement, however, the US supported Saddam Hussein during Iraq’s eight-year war with Iran in the 1980s.