Reagan and the Law of Unintended Consequences, a.k.a. Today’s Mess in the Middle East

Yes, hindsight is always 20-20 and, no, this is not a post to bash Ronald Reagan. The Reagan administration certainly did what they had to do and they managed the challenges presented at the time. What they could not see were the consequences of their actions as they were unintended.

How does a country that was a sweetheart of the free world and a defender of democracy end up being the object of hate for so many? The answer lies in the unintended consequences.

The Middle-East was relatively peaceful and willing to tolerate religious differences (as compared to the present) up to the 1970s. The roots of the anti-USA Jihad can be traced to the Lebanese civil war that raged from 1975 to 1990. That civil war was primarily due to the expulsion of Palestinian from Jordan in 1970, which was triggered by Palestinians being forced into refugee status after the creation of the state of Israel and the creation of Trans-Jordan.

There were effectively three sides to the conflict in Lebanon: Pan-Arab, secular and Christian militia. Pan-Arab and secular militias sided with the Soviets and Christian militia got their support from Europeans. The U.S. supported the Christian militia.

The decision to support Christian militia had nothing to do with religion. The United States was looking for ways to contain the Soviet threat, and anyone who aligned with the Soviets automatically became an enemy of the U.S.

The situation escalated very rapidly. In response to the killing of four people, about 30 people were killed which led to the killing of another 60 odd people in retaliation. Very soon retaliation reached 600 people massacred which brought back a response by killing about 1000 people.

Due to its alignment with Christian militia the Unites States was soon perceived as anti-Muslim. This led to suicide attacks in Beirut on American and French barracks in April 1983; 241 American servicemen died in this attack. At the time, the response from the Reagan administration was to increase military cooperation with Israel beginning in November 1983. It is certainly true that the U.S. sold arms to Israel prior to 1983 but what differed this time was increased cooperation between the armies of United States and Israel. This provided fuel to Islamic extremists and, in turn, provided large-scale support for Jihad against the United States.

To be fair, the Reagan administration was more bothered with increased Soviet presence in the Middle East rather than any religious issue. The proof that religion was not an issue for Reagan administration comes from the proposal to sell AWACS to Saudis in 1981.

We are certainly aware of how the situation escalated after 1983 and now, with the benefit of the hindsight, we can say that the increased military cooperation resulted in less safety for Israel and the United States.

The question here is since the consequences are unintended, how one does avoid them — at least the harmful consequences?

This is where President Obama’s foreign policy needs to be examined. Taking Libya and Syria as an example, we can see that his policy is supported by a very strong fabric of ethics. This is something that Republicans do not acknowledge. The Republican solution to every problem in the world is to either ‘stomp them out’ or display complete apathy. Both approaches make the word unsafe. If you think about it you will realize that not interfering is as un-ethical as stomping someone out.

It is time this country learns some lessons from the past and, simultaneously, unwinds harmful consequences of the actions taken during the last 2-3 decades.


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