Posted on: October 28, 2014 Posted by: Mitchell Plitnick Comments: 0

Chas Freeman, former US Ambassador to Saudi Arabia and thirty-year veteran of the United States’ foreign service delivered a speech today that

Ambassador Chas W. Freeman
Ambassador Chas W. Freeman

everyone in the United States should be paying attention to. It is a searing indictment of American policy in the Middle East from a man who was in the middle of it for decades.

The focus of Chas’ talk is the current battle being waged against Da’ish, or the Islamic State, ISIS, ISIL, whatever the name you want to use may be. If you’ve been following me on Twitter or Facebook, you’ve seen my view in this, but I’ll re-state it briefly.

I believe the entire approach we’ve taken to IS is completely off-course. It is, in fact, a repeat of previous errors. IS wanted the United States to intervene, just as al-Qaeda wanted the US to react with massive force to 9/11. Any losses IS suffers will be more than made up for by the increasing radicalization of the region caused by US intervention. This reality is doubled because the US will only bomb, which will greatly increase damage to civilian lives and infrastructure. And from that soil will grow many more IS recruits, eager to battle their foes in the region and in the West.

Chas lays all of this out very neatly in his speech. But there is an underlying point which, though Chas did make it explicit in his speech, he doesn’t spend a great deal of time on, as he decided to focus on current events. Let me give you my own take on it, so that you can be even more tempted to read and, more importantly, share widely, Chas’ speech. 

The reading of history can be a funny game. Almost any event of historical significance can, if one wants to waste the mental energy, be traced all the way back to the beginning of the universe. Or at least the beginning of humanity. Thus, in order to come up with a coherent narrative, one picks a starting point. That starting point is generally the one that best clarifies the writer’s own view. Many Americans these days like to start with admitting we screwed up in Iraq. I’m glad we’ve reached such a consensus, despite the stubborn insistence of Dick Cheney and some neoconservatives that they really did it right and Barack Obama came along and screwed it all up. But as Chas points out, we’ve been screwing up the Middle East for a very long time.

That’s not really a controversial point outside of FOX News. Even though even the (slightly) more rational mainstream media tends to focus on Mideast history only for the past decade or so, most people are aware on some level that American intervention in the Middle East has a much longer history of failure. But Chas makes the case that what we’re dealing with now is not just the fallout from recent mistakes.

“We are trying to cope with the cumulative consequences of multiple failures.  Just about every American project in the Middle East has now come a cropper,” Chas said in his speech. Indeed, it has been one failure after another. Yet how does the supposedly Realist, more enlightened, Obama Administration, which is supposed to be much more reluctant to use force than its predecessors, approach the region? With more of the same manipulation of sectarian interests, protecting some client regimes it deems able to survive, trying to convince the Palestinians to accept scraps from Israel and more military intervention. It’s the same formula all over again, and the Arab world and nearby Muslim countries have seen this film for a century now.

The definition of insanity is famously said to be doing the same thing over and over yet expecting a different result the next time. By that definition, US policy in the Middle East is the very epitome of insanity. For a more rational view, please read Chas’ full speech, and please share it far and wide.