How American Empire ends in the Middle East could determine the future of the United States and the world.
Most observers; including President Donald J. Trump (R-Florida), know the American Empire in the Middle East is unsustainable. Unfortunately, some Americans cannot accept the notion that their Middle Eastern imperialism has failed.
Instead,the American adventures in Iraq and Syria continue as the United States engages in a pointless low-level war with Iran. In addition, America’s client states; Egypt, Israel, and Saudi Arabia, are mired in destructive conflicts of their own.
At home there is no support for the American military presence in the Middle East and little tolerance for the Saudi alliance. Moreover, the only support for the U.S. Israeli alliance comes from the Jewish community and evangelical Christians. In America, hostility to Israel is growing even among conservatives and Jews.
Given this situation, and the success of Trump; who ran on a” bring the troops home from the Middle East” platform in 2016, many people will expect the U.S. to withdraw from the Middle East. Yet the American adventure in the Persian Gulf and surrounding areas continues.
How Empires End
History teaches that an empire’s end is a complex and messy business. For example, the Soviet Union’s collapse led to chaos in Russia, Central Asia, and Eastern Europe.
History has one lesson about the end of empires; however. Empire’s end is never voluntary.
The Soviet Empire only fell because the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR) ran out of money. Likewise, the British Empire fell because the United Kingdom lacked the resources to continue imperialism after World War II.
Notably, Britain’s post World War II prime ministers (Clement Attlee, Winston S. Churchill, Anthony Eden, and Harold MacMillan) all worked hard to preserve the Empire. Different prime ministers from rival parties with diverse political beliefs committed themselves to the same policy: preserving the Empire.
The British public at home no longer supported the empire and most of Britain’s colonial subjects had lost their tolerance for their imperial warlords by 1945. Yet, one British government after another kept trying to preserve the empire. Tellingly both major British political parties; Labour and Conservative, were dedicated to preserving the empire.
Empire’s Sorry End
The Empire came to a sorry end on 18 July 1967 when Prime Minister Harold Wilson announced a plan to withdraw British troops from Singapore within the decade. Six months later, Wilson moved the withdrawal up to 1971.
Notably, it was not idealism that motivated Wilson’s withdrawal. It was a horrendous British economy that was close to collapse. The United Kingdom could no longer afford to maintain troops or bases in Asia.
Predictably, Britain’s empire and its hasty retreat left a bad taste among former subjects. In 1966, Richard Turnbull; the last British governor of Aden, best summed up the situation when asked what the Empire’s legacy would be.
In response, Turnbull quipped, “association football and the term fuck off.” To elaborate, Turnbull thought the British Empire’s only contributions to world culture were an insult and soccer. Association football is the official British name for soccer.
Sadly, Turnbull’s evaluation of the British Empire’s contribution to the world is greater than the Soviet contribution to Eastern Europe. That contribution consists of ugly statues, ugly architecture, poverty, and horrible memories.
What will America’s Legacy to the Middle East be?
Under Turnbull’s criteria the contributions of the American empire to the Middle East will be killer drones, video games, Netflix, and Heavy Metal Music. In addition, Middle Eastern peoples will have bad memories of the self-styled liberators who either killed or abandoned them.
I think popular memories of the American adventure in the Middle East will be long and ugly. Remember, the Arabs are still angry about the Crusades, which were 700 years ago. Frustration against America could be as great and last as long.
Local memories of the American adventures in the Middle East will be ugly because the US exit from the region is apt to be fast and surprising. A probable outcome is that some U.S. President will take advantage of an emergency, such as the Coronavirus, to pull the troops out overnight.
Notably, America is facing an economic crisis that could be worse than the stagflation that devastated Britain in the 1960s. Thus, economics could put an end to America’s empire as it did Britain’s.
In the final analysis, I think the history of America’s empire in the Middle East will be brief and nasty. Yet the memory that empire could linger for generations and poison relations between nations.