What should the US government do about civil wars in the Middle East?

Barbara F. Walters, a political scientist at University of California, San Diego, believes that civil wars  are the primary threat to US interests in the Middle East (rather than individual terror groups like ISIS or al-Qaeda).  She argues that civil wars not only lead to fertile grounds for these extremist groups to proliferate in the first place, but that they also result in other bad consequences, like decreased oil production and the rise of “hostile new governments”.  As such, Walters recommends that the US government not expend all of its energy into a military solution to ISIS, but rather try to deal with the underlying causes of the civil wars.

Of course, unmentioned in all of this is the question of what role the US government played in causing or prolonging these civil wars in the first place.

As Seymour Hersh discussed all the way back in early 2007 in The New Yorker, US planners in the Bush Administration and the Sunni theocratic dictatorships of the Persian Gulf were engaged in efforts to undermine and destabilize the Syrian regime, as part of a larger strategic reorientation to deal with the increased geopolitical clout that Iran gained from the disaster of the Iraq invasion and occupation–and in the process, empowering Sunni extremist groups.  And once Syria finally dissolved into an outright civil war, countries like Saudi Arabia and Turkey–key US allies–are rather transparently supporting radical groups like Jabhat al-Nusra.

In Libya, the NATO intervention has turned out to be a complete catastrophe, with key US allies Egypt and Qatar backing opposite sides of a civil war.  And the original intervention itself was done in support of a rebel group with questionable popularity to stop a “genocide” that was never coming, and ended up prolonging what would otherwise have been a quick defeat for the rebels into a bloody civil war that has today degenerated into a state of violent anarchy (see Greg Shupak via Jacobin Magazine, or Alan Kuperman via Foreign Affairs).

All of which goes to say: if the US government wants to help end civil wars in the Middle East, perhaps the real first step should be for the US government to stop facilitating them.

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