How the US neocons’ dreams turned to dust

How the US neocons’ dreams turned to dust

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In a public statement in October, 2007, former NATO Supreme Allied Commander Europe Gen. Wesley Clark revealed details that shed light on today’s Middle East. Clark said that during a visit to the Pentagon before the invasion of Iraq, he became aware that the US was considering destroying the governments of seven countries — Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and Iran — in five years.

In Clark’s opinion, the core designers of this policy were neocons, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz. Almost 20 years after this conversation, not all the targeted governments have been destroyed, but we now have a different Middle East.

In Iraq, the US has shattered not only the Saddam government but also the entire country, causing 640,000 civilian deaths, immense suffering to the population and enormous damage to infrastructure. In the process, it has wasted up to $6 trillion of US taxpayers’ money.

In Syria, the government remains, but the country is devastated. Its oil wealth is being plundered by the US while guarding the oil wells is entrusted to the Kurds. The US provides the Syrian Democratic Forces, made up mainly of Kurdish fighters from the People’s Defense Units, with all sorts of military equipment, turning the region into a powderkeg and possibly changing the power balance in the north of the country.

In Idlib, Turkish soldiers continue to be targeted by the Syrian army. The final outcome in Syria is uncertain. Russia still hopes that Turkey will honor its commitment to persuade moderate opposition fighters to lay down their arms. To Washington’s regret, Russia is likely to become further embedded in the country.

In Libya, the US role is less than significant.

Moderate Islam or political Islam tried its hand and failed. One may wonder whether any country in the Middle East now looks to Turkey as a role model.

Yaşar Yakış

Fortunately for Lebanon, Somalia, Sudan and Iran, the US has not yet destroyed these countries’ governments. 

Developments in Turkey followed another course. In the mid-1990s, neocon emissaries paid multiple visits to Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his companions. At the time, he was leader of the reformist branch of Turkey’s conservative anti-secular Virtue Party.

Neocons thought moderate Islam, as applied in Turkey, could be a model for other Middle Eastern countries. They proposed to support Erdogan in founding a political party based on moderate Islam. In exchange, they asked him to support the US and Israel’s interests in the Middle East. This deal was reflected in numerous media reports at that time.

The Justice and Development Party, or AKP, was established in 2002 as a result of this “give and take.” Cooperation between the party and the neocons worked well in the early years.

During a visit to Washington and New York, the AKP delegation, which included the author of this article, was given an exceptional welcome both by the neocons and many member associations of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Erdogan was later given a Profile of Courage award in 2004 by the American Jewish Congress. However, 10 years later, the same Jewish organization asked Erdogan to return the award on the grounds that he had become “the most virulent anti-Israel leader in the world.”

Today, the Middle East is different from the neocons’ dream. Moderate Islam or political Islam tried its hand and failed. One may wonder whether any country in the Middle East now looks to Turkey as a role model.

In Syria and Libya, the dust has not yet settled. However, we may assume that the US has also drawn lessons from its failures both in Iraq and Afghanistan. Iraq may not be pining for the Saddam era, but it is looking forward to seeing the final US withdrawal.

Afghanistan is a special case. After so many “try and fails,” the US probably understands that attempts to change the Taliban by force are bound to fail. A widespread mobilization in education to reach the hearts and minds of the militants may have a better chance of success. Even a fraction of the trillions of dollars spent on the war would do the job.

US President Joe Biden has yet to disclose the details of his Middle East strategy. There may be divergent approaches among the main powerhouses in Washington, the White House, the Pentagon, the Department of State and Congress. US plans to shift the focus to the Pacific Rim are probably still valid. This may save Washington from committing new mistakes in the Middle East and also help the region help itself.    

• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkey and founding member of the ruling AK Party. Twitter: @yakis_yasar

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