The United States needs to stop its long history of aiding, funding and arming terrorist organizations and their partners, giving them the very resources they can use against us.
The U.S., through the CIA and an interventionist foreign policy, has funded and armed extremist organizations and governments all across the globe to calcify its dominance on the world stage. This rogue behavior helped destabilize the Middle East, stunt the global consolidation of democracy and bring pain and suffering to millions.
In the late ‘70s, after Afghanistan established a secular, Marxist government that allied with the Soviet Union, the CIA conducted “Operation Cyclone,” which provided aid and weapons to jihadi rebels, most prominently the Mujahideen, infamously led by a young revolutionary from Saudi Arabia: Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden would later found the al-Qaida organization in the ‘90s and orchestrate the horrific attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. All said and done, the U.S. and Saudi Arabia provided $60 billion in today’s dollars between 1979-89 to assist the Mujahideen, arguably providing the resources and experience needed to create his infamous terrorist group. Moreover, the Mujahideen later fragmented and evolved into the Taliban, a jihadi organization we are fighting to this very day.
The term “blowback” is commonly used to describe these types of situations; according to Webster’s dictionary, it means an “unforeseen and unwanted effect, result or set of repercussions.” However, calling the decision to arm militant jihadi “unforeseen” or “unwanted” is too charitable and insinuates a certain passivity that takes the onus away from the supposed foreign policy experts in the Pentagon and White House.
The U.S. did foresee this outcome. They made a simple calculation—they would rather ally with nefarious, extremist elements and topple a pluralist government that introduced equal rights for women and universal education if it meant the Soviet Union would lose a resource-rich and geopolitical ally in the region.
After all, they had just seen their puppet government fall in Iran during the Islamic Revolution in 1979, and the U.S. was desperate to maintain its influence in the region. Who cares if the Mujahideen believes in a draconic set of Islamic Laws—that would later lead to horrific violence against women—as long as we stick it to those stinking commies, right?!
An analysis of U.S. foreign policy time again reveals our short-sided strategy that exports violence, weapons and despair to countries experimenting with democracy and/or alternative economic systems. Look no further than the myriad of coups the U.S. supported, including the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Guatemala in 1954, sparking a 36-year long civil war, killing 200,000 and displacing half a million people. This is just a tiny tip of a very large iceberg.
One would think the U.S. learned its lessons from these interventions, but the U.S. does not see these outcomes as failures or something to learn from in a constructive way. They succeeded in their geopolitical maneuvering and the human toll was merely collateral damage. Actually, these interventions went better than planned and, of course, it was on the table in the Middle East after a Soviet-friendly government took power.
What’s more demoralizing is the recent actions in the region. Even after the “blowback,” we received vis-a-vis the attacks on 9/11, the U.S. continued its policy of arming jihadis. In 2011, after a civil war broke out in Syria in an attempt to overthrow dictator Bashar al-Assad, former President Barack Obama signed a secret order in 2013 that sent the CIA to train Syrian rebels, a ragtag coalition of militant jihadis including a faction of al-Qaida, the organization responsible for the 9/11 attacks.
Obama’s administration justified these actions, not only arguing against al-Assad’s despotic regime but also to create additional allies against the Islamic State, which terrorized communities by imposing the strictest form of Sharia Law; the Kurdish people, whose nation-state populated parts of Iraq, Turkey and Syria, experienced these atrocities first hand and fought ISIS along with the U.S. and the Syrian rebels.
Unfortunately, once again, the U.S.’s short-sided foreign policy fell apart, and in Oct. 2019, the alliance began to fracture as Turkey’s long-standing threat to attack the Kurds came true. Turkey and the Syrian Rebels allied and began occupying parts of the Kurdish nation in Iraq and Syria, committing atrocities in the process using weapons the U.S. provided.
The Trump administration continued the U.S’s long tradition of arming human rights violators when he made a $450 billion arms deal in 2017 with Saudi Arabia, a country known for supporting terrorist organizations and committing human rights violations—most recently the butchering of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is spearheading a humanitarian crisis in Yemen, in which hundreds of thousands are dying of hunger and millions are displaced. Instead of condemning Saudi Arabia for these atrocities, Trump has doubled down on their arms deal and has continued supporting the Saudi military in Yemen; he vetoed a war powers resolution that would have ended U.S. involvement in the conflict in 2019.
The U.S.’s desire for global hegemony is the biggest impediment to achieve world peace, and if we can undergo intervention after intervention, destabilizing regions and brutalizing populations in the process, maybe it’s time we took a step back and led with diplomacy.
When it comes to global politics, there are no black and white scenarios; it’s a messy soup of cultures, nations, and economic and political interests, which admittedly can be contentious and dizzying. But one thing we can all agree on: We must stop arming terrorist groups and countries like Saudi Arabia.