TIA CARR WRITES —For the past three years, US Middle Eastern policy has been unprecedentedly volatile. With ISIS leader Baghdadi now dead following a US military operation, the world, and especially the American public, is left confused — particularly considering America’s history of relatively low-involvement in the Syrian conflict. Clearly, the US lacks a codified, coherent way of engaging with the region and choosing which international norms to support.
The sudden US decision to intervene to protect oil fields due to rumored oil access issues went in a different direction. The Pentagon essentially bragged about convincing Donald Trump to greenlight the operation— as if the commanded swapping roles with their Commander in Chief.
Trump’s defense secretary even went so far as to claim that defense of those oil fields was needed to diminish ISIS revenue and protect Kurdish resources, despite having completely abandoned Kurdish allies just days earlier. Such unpredictability and inconsistency ultimately take a dangerous toll on US global credibility as an ally and as a force holding up the global liberal paradigm.
Such policy inconsistency is also demonstrated in alliances with countries that should raise humanitarian concerns. The US maintains strong ties with Saudi Arabia, despite the fact that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered just last year, an offense to the international norm designed to shield journalists from violence. Additionally, the US provides funding to the right-wing Israeli government, despite its annexation of the West Bank and the obvious humanitarian crises in Gaza. US interest in the Middle East has waxed and waned, but this administration’s hunger for oil and other strategic incentives is seriously rocking the boat.
Opposition to the Trumpian strategy of engagement with the Middle East is developing daily. Meanwhile, on the other side of the US political spectrum is the call for a more coherent approach to US foreign policy, combined with complete departure from the prior liberal orthodoxy that concentrated on advocating diplomacy. The progressive movement in Washington DC argues that the US needs to decouple leadership and military operations, put a greater emphasis on human rights, and formulate clear and transparent strategic plans when it chooses to engage.
Much of this progressive movement was evident at a recent “J Street” Conference, a pro-peace gathering where solutions to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict were addressed. The first component of this new approach would be to decouple the incessant pursuit of military hegemony from other US leadership initiatives. Trita Parsi, Executive Vice President of the Quincy Institute, argues that the US has let military goals take priority over other initiatives for far too long. For example, she said, the US continues to aid an Israeli regime that perpetuates human rights violations and an apartheid society because of its geo-political strategic location in the Middle East. The US cannot stand the idea of losing that “friend.”
In addition, the US needs to fully recognize the human rights implications of its multilateral actions. For example, choosing to fund Israel while failing to demand better conditions for Palestinians worsen everyday conditions. How the US engages with the world affects not just places, and regimes, but the people who live there, as Kate Kizer of Win Without War, a public advocacy and foreign policy coalition, emphasizes. US engagement must proceed with greater caution, and human rights must be consistently defended, not just when convenient. As ancient philosopher Augustine of Hippo would say, “without principle, laws are just lies we tell to justify atrocity.”
The last and perhaps most salient aspect of the new progressive approach would be to articulate a plan with long term goals for engagement in Middle Eastern conflicts. Brian Katulis, a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress, argues that liberals need to stop focusing solely on diplomacy over military intervention and strategically plan Middle Eastern engagements. It is clear that the US foreign policy approach in the Middle East is far from “progressive,” let alone coherent. Perhaps next November, these new ideals of progressive policy will surface at voting booths across America.