At the conclusion of the Burke Society’s November 4 debate with Doug Bandow of the Cato Institute and Robert R. Reilly of the American Foreign Policy Council, both sides agreed that recent events in the Muslim parts of Africa and Asia were heading towards fragmentation and uncertainty.
Whether the United States should get involved in those foreign issues, however, was another question.
Speaking to the audience gathered in Nau Hall, Bandow warned against the dangers of trying to “remake the world” in America’s image due to the unpredictable clash of cultures and the loss of civil liberties in the name of security. Arguing against American interventionism, he also noted how different presidents have received pushback from abroad, ranging from George W. Bush on Iraq to President Barack Obama’s problems with foreign aid in Egypt and enforcing his “red line” toward Syria. Bandow advocated a “foreign policy…based on circumstance,” and said that the military would be better served by not getting involved in overseas conflicts unless there was a “substantial threat” to the United States.
Reilly then spoke against Bandow’s points, saying that America previously tried to pressure Europe out of the Middle East in the first half of the twentieth century by arguing this would help the region “secure the blessings of liberty,” but was unprepared for the resulting political vacuum, which was only exacerbated by the long history of imperial rule. He concluded that the Middle East’s political problems were thus “indigenous to the region,” allowing totalitarians like Saddam Hussein of Iraq to take over and become potential pariahs against American interests in oil and national security, making foreign interventionism necessary.
Taking points from his latest book, The Closing of the Muslim Mind, Reilly then said that even if Israel were to disappear as a point of tension, American-directed animus would not fade away due to Islam’s position as “the faith of success and rule,” especially for Islamists cognizant of the irony of being ruled by other global powers. It is therefore imperative to get the correct timing on squashing terrorism and totalitarianism overseas. Using Saddam Hussein and the Gulf War as a practical case, he said that George H.W. Bush’s “fatal mistake” was to keep Hussein in Iraq, although he did not follow through the ceasefire agreement, and that the 2003 Iraq War was justified because it enforced its terms. However, he also made the point that the mission was about short-term “liberation,” and when it turned to occupation, the military was left unprepared, causing an uptick in resistance and violence.
Despite these differing views, both agreed that Middle Eastern violence will only going to grow worse after the Arab Spring, demanding an increasingly cautious foreign policy. For example, while Turkey has usually been an ally of the United States, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has used his position as Prime Minister to aid the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, which America distrusts due to links to terrorism in its international branches. Bandow also predicted that the heavy ethnic and religious fragmentation visible strongly in places like Afghanistan and Syria) will result in political instability and other possible hegemonies like Iran taking over the region. Thus the future of American interests in the Middle East remains uncertain.