In his bombshell new book “Fear”, Bob Woodward describes Trump’s alleged reaction to Assad’s infamous chemical weapons attack on civilians in April 2017: “Let’s fucking kill him! Let’s go in. Let’s kill the fucking lot of them…” — Trump is reported to have told Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. I hardly find this surprising or Trump-explicit behavior. In fact, the quote could easily have been attributed to Bush, Obama, Clinton or any modern US leader for the matter. After all, America, and “The West” have been “f*cking going in” for decades, meddling in the affairs of foreign powers, without much hesitation to use force and bypass international law when necessary. The Middle East’s history is full of of examples of Western policy-makers who failed to understand the intricacies of the region’s history, politics and culture, resorting to simplistic analyses not dissimilar from George W. Bush’s famous “Axis of Evil” comprising Iran and Iraq (and North Korea, by the way, but we’re discussing the Middle East here). Such thinking conveniently chooses to ignore the role Western interventions played in destabilizing the Middle East and manufacturing that evil in the first place. But hey, when oil and paramount geopolitics are at play, one must resort to what is convenient, right? A few coups here, a few puppet regimes there. Now that’s convenient. Until you start dealing with the unforeseen consequences.
Iran is a good place to start. It’s been almost 40 years since the Iranian Revolution, and 16 since George W. Bush included Iran in his famous “axis of evil”. But historically speaking, ‘evil’ is a term many Iranians — especially of the older generation- would attribute to the United States, and not without cause or justification. The reasons can be traced back to the years preceding the Iranian revolution. when President Eisenhower ordered the CIA, with help from the British MI6, to remove Mohammed Mossadegh — Iran’s first democratically elected Prime Minister — in a coup d’etat. What happened to all that pro-democracy and freedom talk? We’ll conveniently ignore that, for now. Mossadaq was hugely popular after introducing a series of social welfare reforms, but nationalizing Iran’s oil industry, previously owned by the Anglo-Persian Oil company since 1901 was a major economic setback and threat to British and US interests. The United States also needed a reliable and predictable partner in the region to counter the Soviets’ growing influence, which the increasingly independent and non-aligned Mossadegh could not guarantee. So bring in the CIA, who helped replace Mossadegh by reinstating Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi — a Western puppet — to power. Pahlavi alienated the traditional elites through policies of Westernization, but his increasingly tyrannical authoritarianism, suppression of minority freedoms, torture of political opponents which Amnesty International reported as “Whipping…electric shocks, extraction of teeth and nails…” was conveniently ignored by the West.
Economic problems and inequality rose while the increasingly etilist government, along with the Shah continued to live lavish lifestyles, with corruption widespread. These conditions, which the United States and its Western partners were partly responsible for by supporting the Shah and turning a blind-eye to his failures and his government’s injustices, sew the seeds for the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Iranians were further outraged when the Shah, considered a national tyrant, was granted exile in the United States. When Iranian authorities demanded he be sent back to Iran to face trial, the US government refused. Suddenly the “Death to America” slogans and posters visible in Iran till this day are somewhat more understandable. America had succeeded in creating a viciously anti-American regime at the heart of the Middle East. It didn’t help when the US assisted Iraq in invading Iran a year later, in 1980. The brutal war, which lasted eight years, killed nearly a million Iranians, becoming a national trauma of sorts, exacerbated by the US providing Saddam Hussein with the very same chemical weapons which today spark outrage when used by Assad. Foreign Policy describes how in the ending days of the war, US intelligence provided the Iraqis with information on the location of Iranian troops, completely aware of the Iraqis’ intention to attack using Sarin gas, a lethal chemical weapon. In fact, CIA declassified documents suggests the US had knowledge of chemical weapons attacks by Iraq as early as 1983. Which brings us its relationship with Saddam Hussein.
Popular opinion suggests America’s ties to Saddam began during the Iran-Iraq war in the 80s. In reality, this shameful relationship began much earlier. In fact, America helped bring Saddam’s party, and therefore him, to power. Very much like in Iran, oil and Cold War geopolitics guided US Foreign policy thinking: Iraqi leader, general Abdel Karim Kassem was removed in a 1963 C.I.A instigated coup, and replaced with the anti-Communist Baath Party. According to former party leader Hani Fkaiki, Saddam was among the individuals working closely with the CIA prior to the coup. The New York Times reports the coup to have been accompanied by a bloody purge of Iraq’s left-leaning intelligentia at the time, with lists of potential adversaries provided by the CIA to the new regime. Scores of intellectuals, lawyers, teachers and political figures were wiped out to make way for the new Baathist status quo. Arms were pouring in from America, and Western Oil firms like BP and Mobil soon began making business in Iraq. As factional infighting among the Baathists broke out a few years later, another coup with CIA involvement brought Ahmed Hassan Al-Bakr to power, with Saddam becoming his deputy, providing him with the platform that would eventually bring him to power.
The rest, as they say, is history: The invasion of Kuwait and Iraq’s apparent pursuit of WMA suddenly made Saddam the enemy. While the sanctions of the 1990s and international pressure failed, the 9/11 attacks provided the US with the perfect pretext to invade. The war, which began in 2003 and deposed Saddam, left the country and its population in tatters, laying the groundwork for chaos and extremism to flourish.When US troops opened fire on peaceful demonstrators in Fallujah, the transformation from liberators to occupiers was complete in the eyes of the Iraqi population. The subsequent disbanding of the Iraqi army by American authorities sent millions of men unemployed and bitter, straight into the arms of violent militant groups looking to exploit the situation. One such group was Abu Musad Zarqawi’s Al Qaeda in Iraq, created in 2004 to challenge and target US troops in the region. Al Qaeda in Iraq would later become known as ISIS.
By no means am I an apologist for regimes like Iran which have suppressed political freedoms at home, and supported militant groups abroad. Nor am I in any way sympathizing with the legacy of murder, ruthlessness and despicable crimes left by Saddam. But labeling such regimes as part of an “Axis of Evil’ suggests they arose inevitably, as a result of some natural and inevitable form of brutality and malice within their DNAs. It also fails to appreciate why many Iranians, and Arabs in the Middle East despise the United States and the West. In reality, decades of undemocratic, short-sighted and reckless Western foreign policy, gave birth to the Iranian Islamic Republic, and Saddam’s Iraq. And arguably played a critical role in the rise of Islamic terrorism as we know it. The hypocrisy of preaching democracy in public discourse while silently toppling democratic regimes is almost as shocking as conveniently ignoring Human Rights abuses and authoritarianism in Saudi Arabia. Meanwhile, the 2003 invasion, dubbed as “The War on Terror”, played a role in fueling the very terrorism it was supposed to fight. Correct me if I’m wrong but more often than not, evil is manufactured, not born.