Time to Leave the Middle East to the Arabs

There seems to be no limit to the ruthless and cold-blooded killing practiced by those convinced of the righteousness of their cause.

How else to describe the brutal murder of 20 men in a Middle East village, who were loaded into a bus, then forced at gun point to drive over a huge land mine the killers had buried in the middle of the road. The explosion killed everyone on the bus. The killers photographed the remains and then forced the villagers to bury them in one mass grave.

No, it was not the Islamic State that committed this atrocity. It was the British Army, in Palestine, circa 1938, extracting revenge on the villagers for the killing of fellow soldiers who had been ambushed by a land mine.

The French were no less brutal during their colonial heyday. In 1925, for instance, during one of the attempts by Syrians to gain their independence, French troops besieged Damascus, subjected it to aerial bombardment, shelling, and tank fire, as well as looting and arson by troops. Portions of Damascus were reduced to rubble, killing scores of innocent men, women, and children.

The Islamic State may have raised the bar for atrocious, cruel, and inhumane acts in the Middle East to a higher level than their predecessors, but they did not invent the ruthless actions that occupying powers in the Middle East have used to hold territory that was not theirs.

If truth be told, Arabs have not been stewards of their own destiny for 500 years.

Beginning in the seventeenth century, the Ottomans ruled them for 300 years. As the Ottoman Empire disintegrated after the First World War, Britain and France stepped in during the twentieth century. They carved out new nations and borders from the Ottoman provinces, to maintain their Colonial rule. It is these British and French invented nations that are at the heart of today's mayhem in the Middle East.

As British and French power in the Middle East waned at the end of the 20th Century, it was the turn of the new superpower, the United States, to get sucked into the politics and sectarian rivalries of that benighted land. American hubris followed that of the British and the French, with results that have been just as lethal to Arabs and the wider Middle East.

As a result of the 2003 U.S. invasion of Iraq and America's quixotic, decade long attempt to transform Iraq into a democracy, over 4500 Americans died, and tens of thousands were wounded. Johns Hopkins University estimates that some 650,000 Iraqis were killed as a result of the U.S. invasion. And what has America gained from this sacrifice and expense of over a trillion dollars? In spite of the military taking every hill they were asked to, the Middle East is even more unstable now and getting worse by the day.

It is this history of political and commercial manipulation of Arab lives and interest that has resulted in the instability and mayhem that one sees today throughout the Middle East. Alas the hubris continues, the United States is at it again, trying to remake the map of the Middle East with the force of arms.

Is it not time for the United States to exit the Middle East, to let the Arabs resume their historical narrative from where it was interrupted five centuries ago? To fight their own battles, confront their own demons, and settle their own scores; just as the Europeans did, during the seventeenth century, with The 30-Year War, that ended, as the Encyclopedia Britannica puts it, "...the ancient notion of a Roman Catholic empire of Europe, headed spiritually by a pope and temporally by an emperor... and the essential structure of modern Europe as a community of sovereign states was established."

Why not then, finally, give Arabs and the Middle East the opportunity to do the same by leaving the future of the region in the region's hands?

To those who would argue that a decision to leave the Middle East to its denizens would tarnish America's image, show weakness, and erase U.S. influence in an important part of the world, I would simply point to Vietnam. The same arguments were made in 1975 when the United States was forced to leave the future of Vietnam to the Vietnamese Communists. Instead, Vietnam today is a stable country with a vibrant economy. The United States is the largest destination for Vietnam's exports, and Vietnamese and American navies drill together.

It is time for the United States to chart a course away from trying to influence the trajectory of events in the Middle East and let the region's history move on to a destiny which only the region's inhabitants can define. We owe it to the Arabs, and to ourselves.