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Obama's Arc of Instability: Destabilizing the World One Region at a Time

The "arc of instability" includes 97 countries. A startling number of these nations are in turmoil, and in every single one of them, Washington is militarily involved.

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Instead of pulling back from operations in Yemen, however, the U.S. has doubled down. The  CIA, with support from Saudi Arabia’s intelligence service, has been running local agents as well as a lethal drone campaign aimed at Islamic militants.  The  U.S. military has been carrying out its own air strikes, as well as sending in more trainers to work with indigenous forces, while American  black ops teams launch lethal missions, often alongside Yemeni allies.

These efforts have set the stage for further ill-will, political instability, and possible blowback.  Just last year, a U.S.  drone strike accidentally killed Jabr al-Shabwani, the son of strongman Sheikh Ali al-Shabwani.  In an act of revenge, Ali repeatedly attacked of one of Yemen's largest oil pipelines, resulting in billions of dollars in lost revenue for the Yemeni government, and demanded Saleh stop cooperating with the U.S. strikes.

Earlier this year, in Egypt and Tunisia, long-time U.S. efforts to promote what it liked to call “regional stability” -- through military alliances, aid, training, and weaponry -- collapsed in the face of popular movements against the U.S.-supported dictators ruling those nations.   Similarly, in  BahrainIraqJordan,KuwaitMoroccoOmanSaudi Arabia, and the  United Arab Emirates, popular protests erupted against authoritarian regimes partnered with and armed courtesy of the U.S. military.  It’s hardly surprising that, when asked in a recent survey whether President Obama had met the expectations created by his  2009 speech in Cairo, where he called for “a new beginning between the United States and Muslims around the world,” only 4% of Egyptians answered yes.  (The same poll found only 6% of Jordanians thought so and just 1% of Lebanese.)

A recent Zogby poll of  respondents in six Arab countries -- Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates -- found that, taking over from a president who had propelled anti-Americanism in the Muslim world to an  all-time high, Obama managed to drive such attitudes even higher.   Substantial majorities of Arabs in every country now view the U.S. as not  contributing “to peace and stability in the Arab World.”

Increasing Instability Across the Globe

U.S. interference in the arc of instability is certainly nothing new.  Leaving aside current wars, over the last century, the United States has engaged in military interventions in the global south in Cambodia, Congo, Cuba, the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Egypt, Grenada, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Iraq, Kuwait, Laos, Lebanon, Libya, Panama, the Philippines, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Somalia, Thailand, and Vietnam, among other places.  The CIA has waged covert campaigns in many of the same countries, as well as Afghanistan, Algeria, Chile, Ecuador, Indonesia, Iran, and Syria, to name just a few.

Like George W. Bush before him, Barack Obama evidently looks out on the “unlit world” and sees a source of global volatility and danger for the United States.  His answer has been to deploy U.S. military might to blunt instability, shore up allies, and protect American lives. 

Despite the salient lesson of 9/11-- interventions abroad beget blowback at home -- he has waged wars in response to blowback that have, in turn, generated more of the same.  A recent Rasmussen poll indicates that most Americans differ with the president when it comes to his idea of how the U.S. should be involved abroad.  Seventy-five percent of voters, for example, agreed with this proposition in a recent poll: “The United States should not commit its forces to military action overseas unless the cause is vital to our national interest.”  In addition, clear majorities of Americans are against defending Afghanistan, Iraq, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and a host of other arc of instability countries, even if they are attacked by outside powers.

 
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