Cross-posted with TomDispatch.com
To this day, it remains difficult to take in the degree to which the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq destabilized the Greater Middle East from the Chinese border to Libya. Certainly, as the recent Republican and Democratic presidential debates suggest, Americans have some sense of what a disaster it was for the Bush administration to use the 9/11 attacks as an excuse to take out Iraqi autocrat Saddam Hussein. The gravity of the decision to occupy and garrison his country, while dismantling his party, his institutions of state, and much of the economy, not to speak of his military, can hardly be overemphasized. In the process, it's clear that the U.S. punched a giant hole through the oil heartlands of the planet. The disintegrative effects of those moves have only compounded over the years. Despite the many other factors, demographic and economic, that lay behind the Arab Spring of 2011-2012, for instance, it's hard to believe that it would have happened in the way it did, had the invasion of Iraq not occurred.
Though you'll seldom find it mentioned in one place, in the ensuing years five countries in the region -- Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria, and Yemen -- all disintegrated as nation states. Three of them were the focus of direct American interventions, the fourth (Yemen) was turned into a hunting ground for American drones, and the fifth (Syria) suffered indirectly from the chaos and mayhem in neighboring Iraq. All of them are now embroiled in seemingly unceasing internecine struggles, wars, and upheavals. Meanwhile, the phenomenon that the Americans were ostensibly focused on, crushing terrorism, has exploded across the same lands, resulting among other things in the first modern terrorist state (though its adherents prefer to call it a "caliphate").
Those two invasions also loosed another deeply destabilizing phenomenon: 24/7 counterinsurgency from the air and the "manhunting" drone that was so essential to it. At first, this was an American phenomenon as U.S. Air Force planes with their "smart" weaponry and CIA and Air Force drones, all hyped for their "surgical precision," began cruising the skies of the Greater Middle East, terrorizing parts of the backlands of the region. In effect, they acted as agents of disintegration as well as recruitment posters for expanding terror outfits. The "collateral damage" they caused was considerable, even if it has, until recently, been largely ignored in our world. Hundreds, for instance, died in three of those disintegrating countries (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Yemen) when at least eight wedding parties were obliterated by American air power, and yet few noticed. This may recently have changed when an American AC-130 gunship eviscerated a hospital run by Doctors Without Borders in Kunduz, Afghanistan. Doctors, staff, and patients were killed, some burned in their beds, because American special operations analysts believed, according to the Associated Press, that a single Pakistani intelligence agent might be on the premises. (He evidently wasn't.) Soon after, the Intercept published a cache of secret U.S. documents from a "new Edward Snowden" on the American drone program in Afghanistan, Somalia, and Yemen that offered a strong sense of the "apparently incalculable civilian toll" taken in the constant search for terror targets.
But here's the truly grim reality of the Greater Middle East today: what the Americans started didn't end with them. The skies of the region are now being cruised by French, British, Jordanian, United Arab Emirates, Kuwaiti, Qatari, Bahraini, Moroccan, Egyptian, Saudi, and Russian planes and drones, all emulating the Americans, all conducting "counterinsurgency," all undoubtedly blasting away civilians. In Yemen, the Saudi air force, backed and supplied by Washington, recently took up the twenty-first-century American way of war in the most explicit fashion possible -- by knocking off two wedding parties and killing more than 150 celebrants.
And can the Iranians, the Chinese, and others, all now building or purchasing drones, be far behind? We are, it seems, already on a Terminator Planet. In that light, as Rebecca Gordon points out today in "The Secret to Winning the Nobel Peace Prize," this year's Nobel Prize to a Tunisian foursome of civil organizations that struggled to bring peace, not war, to their land has special meaning. It offers a tiny window on what the world of the Greater Middle East might have looked like if Washington had never intervened as it did.