A friend sent me a link to this story in The Raw Story which is about a Daily Show episode titled "'America to the Rescue' in the Middle East." Now, in true Daily Show fashion, the format determines the content, which is to say, it's like a bunch of comedic soundbites wrapped into what's meant to be important political commentary.
In essence, the episode tries to draw a line from today's Iraq back through Osama bin Laden and Afghanistan--with the basic assumption being that America has been the root cause of everything that's happened in the Middle East. This timeline assumes that world events progress in a perfectly linear fashion, that all of the actors are perfectly predictable, and that each event happens in a vacuum, untouched by other events.
Of course, none of these assumptions are valid.
Our providing weapons to the Mujahadeen in Afghanistan made perfect geopolitical sense at the time, because the last thing we wanted was another Soviet puppet government in such a sensitive spot. Osama bin Laden was a nobody then, and of course we had no idea that he would one day turn his attention from Russia to the US.
At least, we couldn't have foreseen that we would place troops in Saudi Arabia, which would so anger bin Laden--which in and of itself isn't even valid, because bin Laden's thinking goes beyond Saudi Arabia. He's fighting for a return to the glory days of the Ottoman Empire, only he's thinking globally. Everything else is incidental.
Also, the Soviet defeat in Afghanistan was one of the turning points in the downfall of what was an ideologically corrupt, expansionist enemy intent on taking over as much geography as possible. Perhaps even if we had known bin Laden's true character, we would still have proceeded as we did because, at that time, keeping Afghanistan out of Soviet hands was more important.
Next, about our providing arms to Hussein: we did so only starting in 1982, when Iran was looking more and more powerful (at least, relative to Iraq). For the period 1973 to 1990, roughly $30 billion in arms were sold to Iraq. Of that, during the period 1982 to 1988 (when American arms sales to Iraq ended), the total sold by America to Hussein was $200 million. In short, American arms sales to Iraq were negligible, with Russia, France, and China representing the bulk of the sales. This directly contradicts the point made in the Daily Show episode. (Source: Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), via Wikipedia.)
In hindsight, of course, even $200 million was too much to sell to a government that was, two years later, to invade a neighboring country. But of course we don't make decisions in hindsight. We saw Iran about to overrun Iraq, and we made a decision to make sure that didn't happen. At the time, it was probably a good decision, and I hardly think that the 0.5% of arms that we sold Iraq (during the period 1973-1990) made much of a difference in the first Gulf War.
Finally, it might very well be possible that the Iraq War has strengthened Iran's position. Again, in hindsight that may be perfectly clear. And arguments for and against going to war with Iraq are both legion and, at this point, irrelevant. I think most people can agree that the way the war was handled was incompetent, and it's only lately that we've made any measurable progress.
But, we should also remember that Iran's position is strengthened only because we allow it to be. Iran has committed acts of war against the United States by providing arms and fighters in Iraq, acts that we have so far ignored. Had we put a halt to the influx of fighters and materials from Iran and Syria years ago, Iraq could be a stable country by now. All that is meant to show that it's been political incompetence that has strengthened Iran, and not the Iraqi war per se.
The one area where I would agree with the Daily Show is in our providing arms to Saudi Arabia. We should be doing the opposite--forcing the Saudi royal family to stop its exportation of Islamic extremism. That alone would make a significant difference in the Middle East and elsewhere.
What the Left doesn't seem to want to recognize is that, for the Islamic extremists (including Iranian President Imajihadi, or whatever is name is), this is not about geopolitics as usual. This is about a group of religious fanatics who desire to impose Islam as the world religion and to establish an Islamic caliphate.
The problem with the Daily Show's timeline is that it ignores so many other elements and singles out only those "facts" (some of which are distorted) that seem to support its position. I suppose one can only blame them for trying to cover so much in so little time. Which is part of the point of this post: that things are far more complicated than the Left (and the Right) wants to recognize, and the enemy is different than the one's we've faced in the past. For one small example, the Soviets were ideologues, but they wanted to live. Our current enemy wants to die. That makes all the difference in the world in how you deal with them.
And so, in short, while the Daily Show might make for good political humor, it's not relevant when considering past American actions or trying to determine future actions. Which is not to say that I agree with anything the Bush Administration is doing, but then my alternatives would certainly not be the same as the Left's.