A June 28 article published on Foreign Policy’s website titled “Department of Dirty Tricks” posits that “the United States needs to sabotage, undermine, and expose its enemies in the Middle East.”
In it, the article’s authors wax nostalgic for the Cold War and the resulting U.S. foreign policy, which saw the advent and heyday of the Central Intelligence Agency. They argue that only through these sort of covert operations will the U.S. be able to find success in its meddling in Middle Eastern affairs. In reality, however, what Max Boot and Michael Doran suggest will only increase the rat’s nest that is U.S. policy in the Mideast and bring back antiquated strategies from a bygone era.
“With the end of the Cold War, America’s tradition of political warfare all but died,” Boot and Doran write, as if there is a current, widespread longing for the 44-year period during which the U.S. secretly (and often, not so secretly) had its hands in covert action across the globe. To define political warfare, Boot and Doran point to George Kennan’s Policy Planning Staff Memorandum from 1948 for the State Department, which describes it as “the employment of all the means at a nation’s command, short of war,” including “both overt and covert” actions such as “political alliances, economic measures,” “psychological warfare,” and “encouragement of underground resistance in hostile states.”
According to Boot and Doran, without the course of action outlined by Kennan, the “United States will never be able to extricate itself from the Middle East.” Yet what they’re recommending will only sink the U.S. further into Mideast affairs, likely with negative effects. As my fellow PolicyMic pundit Jason Farrell argues, “intervention [in Syria] may actually empower radical jihadists.” While Farrell speaks largely to overt action, covert operations, if uncovered, would result in even greater anger against the U.S. At a time when the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of allies and enemies, both foreign and domestic, has come under heavy scrutiny, Boot and Doran’s misguided suggestion that the U.S. actually increase these sorts of operations will do little but further the abysmal reputation the U.S. is accruing as of late.
That Boot and Doran argue that restored political warfare operations “can be paid for by redirecting parts of the foreign aid, public diplomacy, and military budgets” only makes matters worse. Diverting funds from these legitimate channels in order to pursue covert operations is asinine. And while public diplomacy often leaves something to be desired – I question how earnest Secretary of State John Kerry is being when he says that the U.S. and Russia are both “committed to the Geneva Process” – abandoning it for secret operations led by executive branch agencies would be foolish.
The U.S. does not need a return to Cold War “tradition.” It does need to involve itself further in Mideast affairs through covert operations, when the goal should be to untangle itself while leaving the region as stable as possible. In their article, Boot and Doran seem to yearn for a foreign policy lifted from 1960s spy movies, filled with secret networks and underground regimes, and with little practical benefit or success.