The traditional US practice of blaming Middle Eastern instability on intervention by a single “bad actor”, and claiming that containing the guilty power will bring about stability, has been challenged in a study by the Washington-based Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
The report says that while today, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the alleged wellspring of terrorism, previous US villains have included Muammar Gadafy’s Libya, Saddam Hussein’s Iraq and “the Assad family’s Syria”.
No Clean Hands: The Interventions of Middle Eastern Powers, 2010-2020, by Matthew Petti and Trita Parsi, points out that of the six main interventionist regional powers, five – Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Turkey, Qatar and Israel – are US allies.
The sixth, US antagonist Iran, is held responsible for rising unrest and conflict while the others “are often as interventionist as the Islamic Republic – and at times even more so. Indeed, UAE and Turkey have surpassed Iran in recent years.”
The authors also argue that Washington is an “active player” in regional interventions,through its provision of “significant political support” for its five partners as well as arms amounting to one-third of US weapons exports.
They point out that this decade began with the “hopeful revolutions of the Arab Spring” but ended with the collapse of the Arab state system, transforming nations “into blood-soaked battlefields” and prompting military interventions and proxy wars conducted by the six states seeking to shape the outcome of conflicts.
The authors argue that the “largest single-year increase in regional interventionism” was the US-backed, Saudi-led war against Yemeni rebels. Riyadh, a longstanding US ally, had expressed concern that the US might pivot to Iran after the conclusion of the 2015 agreement for limiting Iran’s nuclear programme in exchange for lifting sanctions.
Sunni governments claimed freeing Iran from sanctions would lead to Iranian “expansionism”, although this has not been borne out.
The human costs of these interventions have been high, say the authors, with the Yemen war inflicting 250,000 fatalities and the Syrian toll standing at 600,000.
They recommend the US should seek to “do no harm” by avoiding “policies that fuel state collapse”, promoting regional diplomacy with the aim of creating an “inclusive security architecture”, and countering regional feuding by managing “rivalries among US partners”.
The Quincy Institute was established in 2019 by “like-minded progressives and conservatives” with the aim of laying “the foundation for a new foreign policy centred on diplomatic engagement and military restraint”.