The history of US foreign policy in Pakistan and the Middle East


The good old days for me started way back in the 1950’s before sliced bread and flush-able toilets. It was a time that saw manufacturing and industry catapult our economy into the stratosphere. It was a time of prosperity that saw the pinnacle of the middle class.

Dwight Eisenhower was the leader of the free world, the Cold War was making folks more than just a little nervous and the space race was in full gear as was the arms race. And of course, those revered folks we like to call statesmen were very busy meddling in other people’s business.

I find it interesting that seemingly insignificant foreign nations (Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, Lebanon, Palestine, Egypt, Pakistan, Iran, etc.) were quite willing to bide their time, and allow Western “expansionism” to self-implode.

The case of the United States vs. Pakistan which has taken over half a century to play out, has all the elements that summarize the misguided adventures of expansionism by the United States. Antiseptic monikers have been applied to this effort such as “Nation Building”, “Regime Change”, “Winning the Hearts and Minds”, a “New World Order”, etc.

Call it what they may, the US Government has been in the business of international expansionism for quite some time. However, the United States has historically slipped, tripped, and fallen flat on its face in this arena.

Some may recall that before there was Bangladesh and Pakistan, there were two Pakistans, east and west. These two very different land masses and cultures flanked India and fought bitterly over whether they would remain one nation or split into two sovereign entities. The split won out, and I think modern-day Pakistan feels satisfied that they did not continue as one Nation.

US-Pak-Relations-AidThe United States was very quick to jump into the fray as they saw a golden opportunity to install military bases in close proximity to Mother Russia and the center of the universe, China. And so in 1954, the U.S. secured its first major base of military operations in Pakistan.

Afghanistan was where the US really wanted to lease space because of its proximity to Russia, but they had to settle on an airfield outside of Islamabad to conduct their U-2 surveillance flights. (Remember Francis Gary Powers? The U-2 he was shot down in flew out of Pakistan.)

Throughout the 1950’s, 1960’s, and 1970’s the United States chose a foreign policy in the Middle East that locked them into an endless loop of tick-tack-toe. The U.S. was involved at any given time with every nation, large or small, from the shores of the Mediterranean Sea in the west to the Himalayan Mountains in the east. They constantly tried to pick winners in the sovereign affairs of other states, but it was proved downright impossible for the leader of the western world.

Apparently, US Foreign Policy has been formulated over this time period around the theory that money can buy you love. Before any attempt at learning the culture of a country, region, or society, Americans are quick to throw cash at a situation in the form of civilian and/or military aid.

This practice led to massive corruption as these funds were distributed in good faith to dictators, warlords and tribal chiefs with absolutely no control or follow up on where these trillions of dollars actually went.

In reality, the bulk of this foreign aid went directly into the leaders bank accounts and the intended recipients never saw a red cent. Apparently, taking the time to understand why things are the way they are doesn’t have a place in the American foreign affairs play book, and neither does fiscal responsibility.

Staying with Pakistan as a model of U.S. foreign policy, it was John Foster Dulles, Eisenhower’s Secretary of State, who reinstated Pakistan as a recipient of U.S. foreign aid in 1952, after four years of absolutely no aid at all. By 1959-60, Pakistan was drawing $2.5 billion (2009 dollars) from the U.S. treasury in the form of aid.

Covert military bases started springing up all over the country. Of course, the U.S. felt that by making an investment in the wellbeing of the area, they were due something in kind. That’s when Pakistan, through a maze of civilian and military leaders, thumbed its nose and refused to do anything for the “cause of freedom” that the U.S. espoused.

When all the deceit and treachery on both sides finally played out and as Pakistan entered the nuclear age, most western powers generally neglected Pakistan and Afghanistan until the Russian debacle ended there in 1989.

Seeing a vacuum occur in the power structure of the area, America once again jumped in with both feet before doing any due diligence concerning the politics, culture and history of the region. In a nut shell, this trail of policy blunders has led us to where we are today. America’s relationship with the Pakistan leadership, from Musharraf to Zardari, has gone weak at the knees.

Pakistanis protesting the US
Pakistanis protesting the US

History does repeat itself! We find ourselves mired in a war we cannot win in the region and we haven’t a clue of how to extricate ourselves from it. Sounds a lot like our wonderful experience in Vietnam, although our government tells us that it has no resemblance to our failure in Southeast Asia.

Perhaps it’s time to step back, take a breath, and look at international conflicts as they are, not how we would like them to be. Put the shoe on the other foot and try to imagine what our response would be if a foreign nation meddled with our internal conflicts the same way we do in theirs.

Please don’t believe what you hear from our government about the complexities of withdrawal. We certainly had the resources to get there, so it stands to reason that we have the resources to leave. After all, we don’t want to be there and they sure as hell don’t want us there. Bring it home… Bring em’ all home!


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