Since the October 7 attacks restarted conflict between Israel and Hamas, U.S. troops have been under fire all over the Middle East. Thus far, most attacks have been deflected with minimal damage, but it is only a matter of time before one gets through and causes a serious loss of life.
Twenty-two years after the beginning of the Global War on Terror, the government rarely bothers to say what we are doing in the Middle East. There is an implication that by “fighting terrorism” we protect Israel, which is somehow crucial to our national security. In reality, our alliance with Israel harms U.S. national security, as demonstrated by the fact that we have been attacked alongside Israel. The War Party has gone from the spurious line of reasoning, “We have to fight them over there so we don’t have to fight them here,” to not really fighting them “over there” but just leaving our troops as sort of reverse hostages to draw fire so that we have a pretense to get drawn into any regional conflict. The continuing U.S. presence across the Middle East is nothing but a depraved exercise in putting American personnel in harm’s way for its own sake.
Though it’s hard to imagine now, until around fifty years ago the United States policy class was skeptical of Israel, and the Middle East was considered a strategic backwater. Perhaps in the 1970s the need for oil and the internal logic of the Cold War justified constructing a policy of trying to split the difference between making Israel a satrap while also maintaining a sphere of influence among the Arab states. However, that questionable strategy notwithstanding, the Cold War has been over for decades and the United States is now a net exporter of oil. All that justifies our presence with the American public is the detritus from years of propaganda which has left an unexamined belief that supporting Israel as “the only democracy in the Middle East” serves some sort of moral or strategic purpose.
One way or another, U.S. troops continue to be spread throughout the Middle East and Israel continues to receive enormous amounts of foreign aid. Though the United States has multiple clients throughout the region, it is Israel with whom there is a “special relationship.” The perception among the Arab public is that there isn’t distance between the policies of the United States and Israel, despite the fact that Israel is nearly impossible to control and many observers see it as a case of “the tail wagging the dog.” In pursuit of some rarely defined objective we have troops at over 30 locations in the broader region, according to a map from the American Security Project (and that is only the public or well-documented bases). Us peasants are left guessing where else our rulers are placing our countrymen, but a study by Axios Research found that there were approximately 45,400 known U.S. troops in the Middle East as of October 31, which includes new troops deployed to the region due to the current conflict.
At this time, the United States is not said to be engaged in any major conflicts in the Middle East. The troops seem to just be on standby to give hostile militant groups convenient targets and serve as tinder for a regional conflagration. And convenient targets they are. A December 11 article from the Associated Press says there have been “at least” 92 attacks on U.S. troops in Syria and Iraq alone since October 7. In response, the United States has launched airstrikes across the region, but they are obviously unable to eliminate the myriad of militant groups who are attacking. The Iraqi government has protested the retaliatory airstrikes as a violation of their sovereignty, but of course they remain an occupied country twenty years after the American invasion and don’t have the ability to kick out the United States. In fact, it is Iraq itself that is the most threatened by attacks it has no control over, as the occupying foreign power could turn on them at any time. Alternately, the United States has nothing resembling authorization to be in Syria. Having failed to set up a puppet government in that country, they don’t even have anyone to complain to about coming under attack.
Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) recently forced a vote in the U.S. Senate to withdraw from our undeclared war in Syria, which failed 84-13, meaning 84 Senators want our troops to remain targets. Senator Paul said at the time, “It seems to me, though our 900 troops have no viable mission in Syria, that they’re sitting ducks. They’re a tripwire to a larger war, and without a clear-cut mission, I don’t think they can adequately defend themselves, yet they remain in Syria.”
It isn’t just Syria, it is the entire Middle East policy. Our political class is leaving American soldiers in the region as sacrificial lambs so there is a pretense to get involved and protect Israel should any major conflict break out. Meanwhile, few serious arguments are made that supporting Israel is good for national security—in fact, Joe Biden went with just saying he is a Zionist, which is to say he supports Israel for ideological reasons completely divorced from American interests. I suppose for the political class admitting that is better than acknowledging the more important truth: supporting Israel harms our national security and U.S. troops in the region serve no purpose but to be easy targets.