Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Robert Gates and lasting, rippling consequences

This is a long-form book review/historical-political analysis about Robert Gates and more generally the long-lasting, far-reaching aftereffects that ripple out whenever the US intervenes abroad for some current political purpose.  The article links the US-backed coup in Iran in 1953 with the Iranian revolution in 1979, and this with the Afghan insurgency of the 1980s, the fall of the Soviet Union, the rise of international Islamist insurgent movements, the US interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq in the 2000s, and finally 2014's complicated Middle Eastern web of ISIS insurgencies and the international reaction to them (which has thrust the US and Iran into the uncomfortable position of de facto allies on certain issues).  The message I take away from the article is that, though no one in 1953 could possibly have guessed that deposing Mossadegh would contribute to the rise of ISIS in Iraq in 2014, we in the US (and any country with wide-ranging foreign policy ambitions) should be more humble in our direct interventions abroad.  Not just because our interventions can lead to the death and suffering of other people, and that's not good, but because in fact these interventions that seem to make sense in the short term inevitably have long-term consequences that end up harming our own country.  It's a point that's been made before in many places and in many ways, but it always bears repeating, and I think that author Mark Danner does a great job here by making this case through the analysis of Robert Gates's political life, as told by Gates himself in two memoirs.  I first became aware of Mark Danner for his writing on Haiti, and recently he has started this series on the Long War in Afghanistan and Iraq, profiling figures like Donald Rumsfeld and Robert Gates.  I think he offers much more critical thought and analysis than much of the journalism out there right now.

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