US more interested in proxy wars than nation building

On August 21, 2012 by stratagem

Source: Global Times

Libya and Syria reflect significant aspects of US President Barack Obama’s foreign policy. Washington’s humanitarian rhetoric continues to cloak its now widely publicized covert intervention in Syria, much as it did to justify its acts in Libya.

But costly counterinsurgency methods tied to “nation building” are not on Obama’s agenda. After Afghanistan and Iraq, Washington seeks smaller footprints, refining its tactics to avoid the astronomical costs of the wars of the last decade.

Events in Libya a year ago signaled this approach and its consequences. The intervention was to be a quick war using sophisticated US military technology, along with numerous covert and overt operations by the US, NATO, and their supporters. But no regular ground troops, no occupation, and no costly “democratizing agenda” were planned.

Official statements to the contrary, some Washington officials well understood that the outcome in Libya was far less likely to be a successful revolution than a shattered post-intervention country with little prospect for progressive change. Unfortunately, this is largely what happened.

The considerable wreckage left behind by intervention in Libya was not what Washington necessarily intended, but such results are now perilously close to the underlying logic of many of its interventionist policies.

On balance, Washington considers its interests better served by risking such messy outcomes than by the continued existence of certain governments or political movements not sufficiently under US influence.

This is partly why the issue of Iran and nuclear weapons is so dangerous in Washington today.

Events in Syria exemplify this. The conflict is partly a civil war, but it’s also very much a proxy war about Iran, with funds, arms, advisors, agents coming from the West, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey.

In Syria, as in Libya, Washington’s strategy accepts that the unexpected consequences of intervention cannot be easily controlled. This is a policy of regime change without regime building.

Washington will seek to manipulate and play rival groups off each other after a regime has fallen, but it will not occupy.

And if deemed vital to US security, drones and US Special Operations Forces can be called upon to wage low-level non-stop intervention.

Proclamations of support for people rising against brutal dictatorships remain a key aspect of US public diplomacy.

To be sure, the right of people to fight for their freedom, well-being and independence is as important as ever. But US intervention in today’s world, as Libya and Syria suggest, has rarely resulted in a positive outcome for those struggling for a better life.

Washington insists upon a “responsibility to protect” when they intervene, but they show little responsibility to protect thereafter.

With the “grand experiment” of remaking Afghanistan and Iraq in tatters, Washington still sees the necessity to intervene in modified ways in much of the Middle East and Africa.

In such an environment, serious international negotiations to reduce the violence are not likely. Nor are the short-term prospects for the people involved as promising as they should be.

The author is a US historian and founder of the Culture and Civilization of China project at Yale University

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