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Where did U.S. go wrong in the Middle East?

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Posted: Monday, January 9, 2017 11:38 pm

For the last several years, our government has spent close to a trillion dollars on the Iraq War — only to find this part of the world is now in greater turmoil.

“Before the invasion, Iraq was one of the most developed countries in the region,” said Taj Khan, a retired engineer, civic leader and long-time resident of Lodi.

While Saddam Hussein was considered a ruthless strongman, Iraq during his reign was relatively prosperous, along with a tolerance toward various religions — including Christianity. So what went wrong?

Perhaps it was U.S. policy that developed a goal to completely destroy Iraq’s ruling Baath party and remove military leaders who supported the Saddam regime.

U.S. military action, which was renewed with the Second Persian Gulf War, was launched by the Bush administration and sanctioned by members of both parties in Congress.

After repelling Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait in an earlier war, and later the Western world’s belief that Saddam was accumulating weapons of mass destruction, the U.S. and its allies made an unusual first-strike attack in 2003.

Despite our country’s overwhelming military victory, American foreign policy failed miserably for a number of reasons. One of them Khan points out was the Bush administration’s belief that somehow, we could remove thousands of Baathest military and civil servants. In their places, leaders would be created and detached from the deposed government.

Another reason was the U.S. backing of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki. Those in the former Baathest party were composed of mostly secular members but later attracted Islamic followers, primarily Sunnis. Although al-Maliki promised to bring conflicting groups together, his predominantly Shia-led government reportedly persecuted and killed perceived enemies, thus creating a rebellion, which partially morphed under the banner of ISIS.

Khan also told me that despite claims of U.S. taxpayer billions spent to “rebuild” the country, average Iraqis have benefited very little. They still live in a war-torn nation, which remains a much different landscape from what was seen before the U.S. invasion.

When President Obama came into power, things only got worse. Inheriting a bad situation did not improve with his administration abandoning the region too early and leaving its defense to American-trained Iraqi soldiers.

Years before, the same plan was used by Richard Nixon in Vietnam with the same results. Most troops were not motivated and became ineffective fighting forces.

In Iraq, the policy led to a quick takeover of one-third of the country by ISIS insurgents, along with a loss of millions of dollars in American military equipment.

Towns such as Fallujah and Mosul were conquered quickly by ISIS — places where victorious Americans had died just a few years earlier.

Not only Iraq, but Syria, Libya and parts of Afghanistan also have fallen into chaos. Destabilization of Egypt and Turkey has taken place as well — all partially as a result of American foreign policy.

So what does the United States do today in order to untangle this incredible Middle Eastern mess? First of all, we need to recognize and admit or mistakes.

“We never should have gone to Iraq in the first place,” said Khan.

He continued by saying once the decision was made, however, our leaders never should have tried to destroy the established military and civilian governmental structures.

“We simply could have changed the top and said, ‘You now have a new master — us.’”

This is basically what the U.S. did in World War II, and the results were quite different.

When asked what the Trump administration should do to improve the situation, Khan had three suggestions: The first was to destroy ISIS, but not with American troops.

“We will only be seen as invaders,” he said.

The second was to make friends with the Russians, who have a common interest in eliminating terrorism. The third was to separate the perception of Muslims from an extremist bunch of violent terrorists.

“Their leaders are not religious,” the former Rancho Seco manager said. “They are only using the name of Islam as a tool to recruit those who have felt mistreated by the West.”

Finally, Mr. Khan sees the most important and long-lasting solution is an understanding between Muslims and other faiths.

“We have far more in common than we do differences,” he said.

Steve Hansen is a Lodi writer.

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