Next year marks the 25th anniversary of Desert Storm, the US led effort to remove the Iraqi military from Kuwait. Although the US military had no problem kicking Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait, removing ourselves from that troubled region has proven far more difficult. David Stockman recently provided a trenchant explanation of why that is so, by examining a debate at the Aspen Strategy Group between those who want to contain ISIS and those who want to defeat it. No other option was on the table, even though ISIS’s revenues are less than a billion dollars, it does not have the capacity to threaten us, its brutality means that it cannot last long, and its murderous hostility toward its Shiite neighbors means that they will fight ISIS without any prompting from us. As Stockman writes: “The way to stop ISIS, therefore, is to ground the bombers and drones; send home the spotters, trainers and other infrastructure of intervention; forget about who controls the oil—it will be produced by someone; and recognize that America has no dog in the 1300 year old fight between Sunni and Shiite.”
Taking a longer view, Stockman also explains that the same logic applied to Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait: we did not have a vital interest at stake in who controlled Kuwait’s oil. Whoever controlled that oil would be compelled, by economic necessity, to produce it and sell it on the international market. And Stockman notes that Osama bin Laden used Desert Storm to win recruits to his nefarious cause: one of bin Laden’s major complaints was the presence of American troops on what bin Laden saw as the sacred soil of Saudi Arabia. (Of course, there were some who took a longer view before we went into Kuwait. Chronicles has warned about the dangers to America posed by intervention in the Mideast, including the dangers posed by Desert Storm and by George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq, for decades. Chronicles has done so, moreover, without presenting Islam as an irenic force.) Stockman’s acerbic overview of our interventions in the Mideast is just the latest evidence that more and more Americans are becoming skeptical of the incessant calls for the United States to plunge ever deeper into the Mideast quagmire.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.