COLUMN: America needs to stop playing proxy-for-profit in Middle East

Mark Twain once quipped, “God created war so that Americans would learn geography.”

I don’t believe God created war — it is an evil and entirely human enterprise — but it does seem America is bound for a costly, and utterly stupid, geography lesson in a war between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

For any in need of a geography lesson (preferably without a war), here are some landmarks, based on the last two countries we disastrously invaded and soaked with the blood of young Americans and hundreds of thousands of civilians: Saudi Arabia is immediately south of Iraq (the country ISIS took over after we destroyed all law and order and then left), and Iran is sandwiched neatly between Iraq and Afghanistan (the latter being the country poised to revert to Taliban control after 18 years of us spilling blood and treasure to oust the Taliban).

Our president has taken special interest in this region since taking office — particularly in his ardor for Saudi cash, even when that cash comes soaked in the blood of an American journalist.

Weighing the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudi government, President Trump in October 2018 made his priorities clear.

“I’ll tell you what I don’t want to do,” Trump told “60 Minutes” last October. “Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon, all these companies — I don’t want to hurt jobs. I don’t want to lose an order like that.”

Before and since then, our president and his administration have been locked in a downward spiral toward conflict with Iran, all at the behest of the Saudis and their lucrative payments to American arms dealers.

We withdrew in May 2018 from the Iran Nuclear Deal, violating our own treaty and destabilizing years of diplomatic work by presidents of both parties — all to spite the previous administration. Since then, in retribution for Iran not standing by the terms of a treaty we violated, we have been imposing ever-harsher sanctions, strangling the Iranian people and driving them further and faster into the arms of the hard-line factions of their government.

Perhaps most damningly, we have been feeding arms into and acting as a proxy in the Saudis’ war with Iran in Yemen, worsening and prolonging what is now widely considered the worst humanitarian disaster in the world.

And now, our president has announced the United States is “locked and loaded” for a war with Iran — a comment he made via Twitter after what is believed to have been an Iranian airstrike Sunday on a Saudi oil facility.

Of course, the Iranians have done their share of provoking conflict, including shooting down an American drone in June and seizing several oil tankers.

In our particular American way of viewing the world, we like to see those incidents clearly, while ignoring our proxy fighting in Yemen, our constant arming of Iran’s enemy, the violation of a treaty made in good faith, and our history of overthrowing their democratically elected government in 1953 (at the behest of American and British oil interests).

Unfortunately, that myopic view of diplomacy and history has filtered into the White House, compounded by the president’s lust for lucrative arms deals. The president does deserve recognition for calling off the strike in retaliation for the downed drone in June — a good show of restraint.

Even better was his dismissal of the warmonger John Bolton, who has long lusted after a war with Iran.

But, the president’s words Sunday are perhaps the clearest indication yet of the Saudi strings pulling on our marionette commander in chief.

In the same Tweet as his “locked and loaded” comment, the president said he was “waiting to hear from the Kingdom as to who they believe was the cause of this attack, and under what terms we would proceed!”

In his own words, the Saudi royal family dictates the terms of American policy and how and when we would commit American forces to a war. If that weren’t vexing enough, the president and many of his supporters give every appearance of relishing a war with Iran.

Have the last 18 years of pointless and bloody war taught us nothing? Even if no American lives were lost — and they surely would be in a war with Iran — we can look at the 1980s Iran-Iraq war and glimpse the kind of carnage an open war between Saudia Arabia and Iran would bring. That conflict caused 1 to 2 million casualties.

American or not, those are human lives. And, if we in this corner of America actually care about the Christian values we so readily and firmly claim, we must view those lives as children of God, worth far more than fodder to be traded for arms deals and political capital.

America absolutely must work for peace from a position of strength in this conflict.

But, true strength doesn’t play proxy-for-profit for autocratic states. True strength is applied to bring warring factions to a peaceful end — not to pour gasoline on the flames of war.

Let us hope and pray our government embraces the truth of our strength, as a nation that is strong enough — both in physical and moral terms — to not be sucked into an unnecessary regional conflict, and to value human life above bloody profit.

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Neal is health, military affairs and religion reporter and columnist for the Enid News & Eagle. Follow him on Twitter, @jamesnealwriter, and online at
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