The End of the Middle Eastern Crusade?

The End of the Middle Eastern Crusade?

While sporadic U.S. involvement in the Middle East started with the formation of Israel in the 1940s, their current mission of counterterrorism and country building started in the 1990s with the rescue of Kuwait from Iraqi occupation. It has recently ended with the withdrawal from Afghanistan, marking one of the first times that US troops are not actively fighting in the Middle East for 2 decades. Throughout the late 20th and early 21st century, the U.S. involvement in the Middle East, despite having varied reasons for engagement, has always ended in chaos, a pretend victory, and long-term consequences. For the greatest nation in the world, the Middle East is their kryptonite.

The U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan was facilitated by two presidents – Trump and Biden. The fact that a Republican and Democrat President have both supported a withdrawal emphasises the Americans wanted out, while Trump created and signed the peace treaty with the Taliban, official document here, Biden followed through with the treaty agreement withdrawing on the 31st of August.


Former President Bush declaring victory almost 15 years ago.

On the success of the withdrawal and operations overall in Afghanistan, reactions have been mixed. While Biden’s foreign policy maestro, Antony Blinken, declared that Afghanistan has been a success as the US had got revenge for the event of 9/11 with the defeat of AL-Qaeda and the death of Saddam Hussein, but other commentators have remarked that the rapid collapse of the US-backed government is a failure with American allies attempting to slow withdrawal and commentators remarking at how unprepared the US government seemed to deal with the collapse.

The initial objectives of the US government were revenging 9/11, namely, getting rid of AL Qaeda and the Taliban. The US was initially successful in wiping the Taliban from power and into the mountains but failed to completely annihilate them. Furthermore, the government set-up by the US has rapidly collapsed to the Taliban proving efforts were fruitless.

The similarities between Afghanistan and U.S.’ previous endeavours in the Middle East are stark. For example, Iraq (2003-2011) -After deposing of Saddam Hussein in a matter of weeks by May 1st fighting was dismissed as “dead-enders” by Defence Sect Rumsfeld with Bush announcing the end of major combat operations.

With this, the situation seemed resolved, now install democracy, and keep security. The first mistake of the US was already in motion, they disbanded the Iraqi Army on the 23rd of May sending the well-armed men into the streets. These men with no ways to support themselves, angry at the US, and now not providing security joined the insurgency. Coupled with this the Baathist purge of the government with the party banned from Iraq caused a political vacuum.

Taliban flags wave in the background of the recently regained city of Kabul.

Similarities with Afghanistan now start to rise, sporadic violence started to turn into organised resistance. Like how the Taliban, after initially collapsing re-gathered. Al-Qaeda took control of cities and the US fought with allies to rid themselves of the threat. The main difference was what happened next- the Sunni-Shia violence.

Under the dictatorship of the Sunni government, the group who had dominated for centuries, Shia’s had been persecuted but with democracy and, naturally, a Shiite government formed, and violence started, like in 2006 when Sunni extremists destroyed the Al-Askari Shrine, a Shia holy site, which violence spread across the country.

In both Afghanistan and Iraq, the US failed to grasp the situation of the country due to the distinct cultural problems in the Middle East. The American idea of democracy has been and is based on their own model and not tailor-made for the historical and cultural precedent of the country.

It is not until 2007 that peace seemed to be reaching Iraq, like how in December 2001, just 2 months since the beginning of operations in Afghanistan the Taliban collapsed and all seemed secure. But in both scenarios insurgents survived. Despite this it still took the US another 4 years to withdraw from Iraq with Obama announcing, “a new phase in the relationship between the United States and Iraq”.

With peace seeming to be emerging in the Middle East, both Iraq and Afghanistan had stable democratic governments.

A beast however was lying dormant. Despite ISIS coming before the US invasion of Iraq it was fuelled by the invasion, when hatred between religious sects allowed extremists to exploit the opportunity. It was found by Iain Overton looking at 412 contracts that the Pentagon provided more than

 “1.45 million firearms to various security forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, including more than 978,000 assault rifles, 266,000 pistols and almost 112,000 machine guns”

with only 700,000 of these the Pentagon claiming it has records for when asked by Overton. These spare arms likely went to multiple militant groups including ISIS. ISIS gained more power after defeating the larger Northern Iraqi Army in 2014. According to a report by Caerus Associates:

“The Iraqi army has been plagued by corruption, neglect and a shortfall of combat-effective resources and personnel that crippled the Iraqi’s military capability and widened ISIL’s range of strategic options”.

Isis merely tore the cracks in the creaking Iraqi army and their reward was US military equipment. ISIL was able to use Iraqi War-era Humvees and troop carriers to help their advance in Northern Iraq and these supplies allowed for ISIS to build their caliphate in Syria and Iraq and forced the US in June 2014 to get back involved, showing their mission of stopping Sadam Hussein’s terrorism in Iraq had just caused the rise of terrorism in Iraq and their rebuilding of the military, much like in Afghanistan, had failed.

With the trouble in Syria and the rise of ISIS the US has deployed around 2,500 troops to deal with the problem with currently 900 deployed in Syria to continue the fight. With this effort by 2017, Isis had been generally pushed out of Iraq.

In 2021 it has been made clear by Biden that the US is out of the Middle East following his election promise:

“Biden will end the forever wars in Afghanistan and the Middle East, which have cost us untold blood and treasure. As he has long argued, Biden will bring the vast majority of our troops home from Afghanistan and narrowly focus our mission on Al-Qaeda and ISIS. And he will end our support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen”

Biden has also made the promise of “no more failed states” hinting at the failure of the past of US Middle Eastern Foreign Policy. Only time will tell if the US must re-engage in Afghanistan to deal with. They failed to build a democracy and an army in the country practically wasting 20 years and trillions, at least in Iraq they have a government to show for it, in Afghanistan, they have practically nothing, just a humanitarian crisis, and criticism from all quarters. $2 trillion has been spent in Iraq due to a 2003 invasion, for 20 years in Afghanistan, the US abandoned $85 billion of equipment with $955 billion spent overall. All these costs for little or no gain. Even in Iraq the most successful mission the US now competes with Iran for influence due to both Iraq and Iran being Shia nations.

These political and military endeavours have cost a lot of money, lives, and time for little or no return. Whether the US will return to the Middle East and continue their costly endeavours or whether they look on from afar will impact the future politics of the world.

About The Author

Lloyd Watts

I am from Portsmouth in Hampshire and I am currently studying International Relations at the University of Warwick. My main areas of interest in writing are in politics, history and sport. In terms of other hobbies I enjoy playing sports, mainly rugby and I love to game and read.

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