Global Policy Studies & International Security

Flag-Draped Coffins Continue to Pile Up in the Middle East

September 11, 2001 ushered in a new era for the United States, especially in regards to nations we labeled “terrorist friendly.” The US declared a "war on terror," including regimes that allowed terrorist organizations to operate within their borders.  It  deposed regimes that it labeled terrorist friendly and installed new leadership that would help its noble crusade. Fast forward ten years and we see the overthrow of the despotic and terrorist-friendly Gaddafi regime. Alarmingly, at the same time the new Libyan regime, which we support, is unable to control terrorist networks within its borders. Wait, what? We shifted our strategy from militarily eradicating regimes that are terrorist friendly to diplomatically propping up those that allow terrorists to operate within their borders

In the past decade we have seen the expansion of both regional terrorist networks and terrorist activity. Changing regimes to stabilize regions has had the opposite effect, creating newly failed states or states that lack a monopoly on the use of force. The most recent example today is the Libyan regime, which has so little power it must subcontract security to the regional militias. These militias are arbitrarily using force for revenge, often torturing their rivals. Even more illustrative of this vacancy of power is the recent four-hour attack on the US Embassy in Benghazi. A government that cannot respond to an armed uprising against a foreign embassy within an hour deserves neither power nor our support in maintaining the facade of power. We can no longer turn a blind eye to the repercussions of our newly created regimes.  

Despite the Libyan reality check on our support of terrorist-friendly regimes, blissful amnesia sets in as we fix our sights on Syria. The US is calling for regime change, but who are we calling on to do it? Al-Qaeda in Mesopotamia, other regional terrorist networks and Islamic extremists are a few of our strange bedfellows in Syria. So, in reality, we are allowing these Syrian rebels to be trained and armed. If all goes as planned, the Syrian Rebels will overthrow the Assad regime, creating another failed, terrorist-friendly state in the region to rebuild.

US policy focused on regime change as a means to create stability and counter terrorist activity in the Middle East has changed little since President George W. Bush. President Barack Obama still practices regime change, albeit through different actors than the previous administration, despite the instability it creates. The overwhelming failure of regime change as a means to create stability and counter terrorist activity is yet to be addressed and is simply creating failed states, destabilizing the Middle East and exponentially increasing terrorist activity. US policy has merely traded flag-draped coffins of American troops for flag-draped coffins of American diplomats.  It will continue doing so until our leaders reject this broken policy and practically address the instability in the Middle East.

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