Guillermo Del Toro, the Mexican filmmaker, considered by today’s standards the best monster maker, says a monster is “the idea of otherness being seen as the enemy.”
This concept applies perfectly to U.S. foreign policy: from Germany and Japan in World War II, to the Soviet Union in the Cold War; from Saddam Hussein and Osama Ben Laden in the post-Cold War era, to Syria and Iran in the 21st Century.
This even applies to Mexicans and migrants, as shown prominently – but not exclusively – in the Donald Trump Administration. But Mexicans as monsters according to Trump’s views, will be analyzed on a different occasion.
Monsters are bad, they belong to the “dark-side”. They don’t care much about democracy neither human rights considerations. They despise the “American Way.” And they often – not always – create a social consensus in the U.S. that legitimizes actions to beat them. Thus, they possess a unique unifying power against them, especially in critical junctures. Thanks to them, the world, according to the President, the State Department and the Pentagon – among others – is divided into “wrong-doers” and, say, “the good guys.”
Yet monsters are created by different circumstances. Osama Ben Laden, prior to becoming America’s number one enemy, was trained and armed by the CIA to stop the Soviet Union in Afghanistan. Saddam Hussein, during the Iran-Iraq War that developed in 1980-1988, got financial and logistics support from the U.S. to stop Tehran. In time, both turned against Washington, threatening its interests at home and abroad.
The fall of Saddam Hussein due to the 2003 war, had profound geopolitical consequences in the Middle East and beyond. The power vacuum left by Iraq’s waning influence in the Middle East has been filled by other actors like Iran, Turkey, Syria, Saudi Arabia – not to mention terrorist groups and such. Countries like Russia and China have pursued specific agendas in the area at the expense of the U.S. In short: the world doesn’t look like a safer place after the deaths of Ben Laden, Hussein and most recently, Qalem Soleimani. By the way: this man is the best example of Iran’s pragmatism in promoting its interests within the region to the extend that other actors weakened or failed.
As it is well known, Soleimani helped the U.S. to fight the Taliban in Afghanistan. Then he supported the Syrian Government. He also aided Hezbollah in Lebanon. Yet he coordinated strategies with the Kurdish and Shia forces as well as the Americans in Iraq to fight Daesh. He was the most powerful man in Iran, second, only to Ayatollah Khamanei. His death, during a drone attack ordered by the Trump Administration last January 3, could be a way of strengthening the U.S. interests in the Middle East – and even work as a distraction maneuver, due to a possible impeachment faced by President Trump.
It is not the first time that impeachment and U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East are linked. Back in 1998, when then President William Clinton faced a possible impeachment due to the Monica Lewinsky scandal, two U.S. led military operations targeted al-Qaeda cells in Sudan and Afghanistan (the firs one), and Iraq (the second one). The first one was the American response to al-Qaeda’s bombing of U.S. Embassies in Kenia and Tanzania on August 7. The second was performed on the grounds that Saddam Hussein didn’t comply with United Nations Security Council resolutions on the dismantling of weapons of mass destruction.
Operation Infinite Reach on August 20 targeted with cruise missiles presumably al-Qaeda cells in Afghanistan and Sudan, three days after Clinton accepted on national TV that he had an inappropriate relationship with Monica Lewinsky. Therefore, many people and the media called the attacks of Operation Infinite Reach “Monica’s War.” As for the Operation Desert Fox of 16-19 December is concerned, Clinton was impeached by the House of Representatives the last day of the strikes against Iraqi military infrastructure. Just coincidence? Many speculated this was a Wag the Dog strategy, as seems to be the case now with Donald Trump’s impeachment.
Yet, the world is much more complex and unpredictable than the U.S. wishes. Countries, regions, peoples, exist beyond the American interests. The political calculations made by the U.S. establishment do not necessarily see beyond the juncture. There are unanticipated consequences that may turn against American interests as history has clearly demonstrated. In the case of the drone attacks that led to the death of General Soleimani, the U.S. thinks this may weaken Iran’s position within the region and certainly, this may be the case, but not for long, neither for free.
Iranian political forces within the country have unified and this may turn into a different form of retaliation, not only physical attacks against American military bases in Iraq as seen until today, but especially through an asymmetric conflict strategy, including cyberwar. Daesh, on the other hand, seems to be satisfied with the death of Soleimani, because American forces fighting it in Iraq are now “distracted” with the retaliation attacks coming from Tehran. Will Daesh reorganize and become a major threat one more time? Again, in the words of Guillermo Del Toro: “…what we are living I saw brewing through the Obama era and the Clinton era. It was there. The fact that we are diagnosed with a tumor doesn’t mean the cancer started now.” Thus, beware of monsters.
Editor’s Note: The main image accompanying the above op-ed shows its author, Rio Grande Guardian columnist María Cristina Rosas González.