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  • Yasmin Aliya Khan

The Biden Administration's Attack in Syria


Hello, and welcome to the Global Thread podcast! I’m your host, Yasmin Aliya Khan, and today we’re talking about the Biden administration’s recent decision to launch a military attack in Syria.


Before we get into this, I want to emphasize the point that just because you support or voted for a certain administration does not make them above criticism. In fact, you’re supposed to criticize your leaders rather than sycophantically idolizing them and backing their every whim. That’s how they get better - by being held accountable. At least, that’s how the conversation regarding populous ideas and opinions grows and evolves, or in some cases, devolves.


That said, and I know a lot of people don’t like to hear this - but these issues are incredibly nuanced and complex. They often can’t be, nor should be boiled down to a few memes that get shared around on social media, but we all know that that’s exactly what happens. The result is that people form opinions based on a small fraction of the information that’s actually available to them, which is great for creating mass movements and swinging biases, but to me, that can often do more harm than good. When things shift too aggressively too fast, it creates volatility. Volatility isn’t great for decision-making, and it usually rides heavily on emotions rather than facts.


Um… an analogy? It’s like listening to a podcast such as this one and thinking you’ve got all the information you need on a certain topic, when really, there’s so, so much more that you could dig into - and I very much encourage you to do so. Or it’s like a get-rich-quick scheme that is always just that - a scheme that people fall for because they’re desperate to believe in whatever they’re being sold and they’re desperate to break out of their current situation. Or, to use a recent example, it’s the whole Dr. Seuss thing that’s taking over the news now. The Dr. Seuss estate decided, on their own, to remove just six of Dr. Seuss’ books from publication last year while Trump was in office, so the right has hijacked the story and blamed it all on the left, cancel culture, and “Joe Biden’s America,” as if that’s what the left has been worried about this whole time - not the stimulus checks, not Cuomo, not Syria.


I’m not here to tell you what to think or how to feel about anything we’re about to discuss. My hope is that you leave here with more information than you started with so that you can form an opinion of your own that is slightly more informed than it was. I don’t really make any overt efforts to hide my own thoughts and feelings on these topics, but my own thoughts and feelings aren’t the focus, nor should they be. The debate that springs up from issues such as this one, in a perfect world, would start from a generally agreed-upon moral baseline and expand into questions and suggestions of how to best deal with it going forward. As far as listeners of this podcast go, I feel like that’s a possibility, with that baseline being that millions of people shouldn’t have to suffer the whims of a few leaders in the name of political, religious, or economic conquest.


The Ottomans


I know this seems like a crazy place to start this story, but it’s not. Or whatever, maybe it is, I don’t know.


The Ottoman Empire was one of the longest-lasting empires in history, spanning an impressive course of over six centuries, and only collapsing as recently as 1922. The empire surrounded much of the Mediterranean Sea, occupying regions of northern Africa including Egypt, eastern Europe and the Balkans, modern-day Turkey, and the Middle East. As with anything so large and diverse, the Ottomans struggled to unify their lands and their people, even attempting to instill a form of nationalism throughout the empire to breed loyalty, but following World War I, the empire was divided up by the Allies to basically prevent any kind of political monopolization from happening.


From this, we got the nation of Turkey and the Middle Eastern nations we more-or-less know today. In last week’s episode about the Central African Republic, we talked a little about how foreign powers drawing arbitrary borders can negatively impact the local populations in ways that we’re still dealing with. Well, this is another instance of that. For example, the struggle between Israel and Palestine was born from this partition, as well as conflict among various ethnic groups in Syria.


You know, when I decided to transition into a podcast format, one of the things that gave me pause was the lack of a visual element. When talking about topics such as this one, it really, really helps to look at a map while doing so. The geographic and political borders matter, and your own familiarity with them can make such a difference as far as how well you comprehend what’s going on. I’ll do my best to describe it all to you, but if you’ve got a minute, take a peek at a map of the Middle East real quick. Trust me, it’ll help. It’s like trying to watch the first season of Game of Thrones while looking at a family tree versus not. Things are still weird, but significantly less confusing.


So, this is one of those times, but I’ll try to paint you a picture. The nation of Turkey sits on top of the Arabian Peninsula. It juts out into the Mediterranean Sea and forms a land barrier that separates the Mediterranean from the Black Sea - it’s got the Mediterranean forming the western part of its southern border and the Black Sea forming its northern border. This is important - one of the easiest ways to access the Mediterranean from the north is to go through Turkey, and it’s the only way to access it if you’re coming from the Black Sea without going out of your way through Eastern Europe. Another nation that borders the Black Sea? Russia. For this and other reasons, Turkey has a complicated relationship with Russia, which will become more important later in the story.


Making up the eastern portion of Turkey’s southern border is first Syria, then Iraq, with the two sitting right beside one another. Iraq, itself, is also largely bordered by Iran to the east and Saudi Arabia to the west. Everyone is quite closely nestled together.


So going back to the 1920s, there were a few key players to know - Gertrude Bell, for one, and T.E. Lawrence for another, the latter being more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia. Both of these people are worth their own character studies, but for this story, suffice it to say that they were both explorers of the region who, as far as I can tell from a cursory look over their stories, really knew the region and its people well - and that’s saying something. Both of them traversed the land several times over and were compassionate towards the various groups of people occupying the lands. Lawrence maintained that he was a proponent of Arab independence and autonomy while also being considerate of British economic interests, and Bell offered valuable insights into the women’s perspective in the region, a perspective that was hard to come by at that time.


But at the end of the day, they were Brits and they were both there as envoys of the British government. When the time came for the western nations to divvy-up the land, both Bell and Lawrence were heavily involved in advisory roles.


And that’s where we get to the Kurds and the formation of Iraq.


The Kurds


The Kurds are often referred to as “a people without a country,” and while that’s a simplification of the situation, it’s actually pretty accurate. Currently, there are an estimated 30-45 million Kurds living in the region commonly known as Kurdistan. Kurdistan is not a country - it’s a geographic region that straddles the area where portions of Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Iran meet. This makes the Kurds the largest ethnic group in the world without a homeland.


Following the fall of the Ottoman Empire and the conclusion of World War I, the Kurds were not given their own country. Instead, the lands they occupied were divided up between the four nations I mentioned. The result was that they were made minorities within four different nations rather than given any kind of self-governance over themselves. It’s a literal divide-and-conquer type of situation, and for the past century, the Kurds have suffered for it. Apart from their lack of representation in any of the governments they’re ruled by, they’ve been direct targets of genocide and mass deportation.


So, why did this happen, especially with people like Bell and Lawrence advising the British on these borders?


One thing that Bell, specifically, has been heavily criticized for is her lack of opposition regarding the choice to not establish an official Kurdistan. Surely, she, of all people, was familiar with their cultural uniqueness, right? Well, according to her own writings and the writings of her contemporaries, she did have a profound understanding of the political and cultural implications of what was being proposed. She knew this would be a problem and raised her concerns to the council, only to have her concerns downplayed or dismissed. She expressed frustration that regardless of the border they drew, it would not solve all of the problems present within the region. She even commented at one point regarding the budding Zionist movement that she could foresee the problems that would inevitably come from it but was helpless to stop them from happening. I suppose there’s only so much one person or a few people can do in such situations, especially when she was up against something far more formidable than just dissenting opinions, something that we, today, can certainly relate to.


Kurdistan sits on a lot of oil, and all that oil needed to be controlled, or at least watched over. Nothing like deliberately orchestrated instability by foreign powers to keep resources in check. On top of that, because of their strategic location at the intersection of four major nations, they were used as a buffer between them.


Today, an official Kurdistan exists as a semi-autonomous region in the northern portion of Iraq, but while Iraq formally recognizes the Kurds, they don’t always play nicely with them. Moving into more recent history, in the 2010s, ISIS was making significant gains in the then-weakened Iraq and Syria. If it wasn’t for the Kurds, those regions would likely have been overrun and captured. Backed by the US military in the fight against ISIS, the Kurds were very much our “boots on the ground” in both Iraq and Syria. We couldn’t have claimed victory over ISIS without them. This strategy began with Obama and was ramped up by Trump, who went as far as arming the Kurds, much to Turkey’s dismay.


In 2017, the Iraqi Kurds voted with a nearly-unanimous majority for independence from Iraq. In response, the Iraqi government laid claim to many of the lands that the Kurds had fought so hard to secure. To put it briefly, none of the involved nations want the Kurds to have their own land or government, and they certainly don’t want the Kurds to have control over their own resources.


Then, in 2019, with our gratitude for all they’d done to help us, the United States pulled its support and protection from the Kurds in Syria, unapologetically exposing them to Turkish aggression.


Trump and Erdogan


Now, you guys may remember this, but it happened back in 2019 during the Trump administration, which, if you can recall those days, was characterized by an insane amount of doomsday-type news coming out on a nearly daily basis. I don’t think anyone could be blamed for not having kept up with all of it, or even for not remembering it now. There was a lot going on.


But maybe this will jog your memory - in October of 2019, Trump had a phone call with Turkey’s President Erdogan, after which he announced, without even consulting the Pentagon, that he would be pulling troops out of Syria, which would effectively abandon our Kurdish allies to hostile Turkish forces.


It was a crazy announcement, mainly because it blindsided the American military and government, and it received bipartisan backlash among congressional leaders, political analysts, and commentators. These decisions are supposed to be subject to congressional approval, or at least deliberated over with military leaders and foreign policy experts. Instead, Trump didn’t do any of that before announcing his decision publicly. On top of this move betraying our allies, it also seemed beneficial to Russia.


Within something like a week of Trump making this announcement, Turkey invaded northern Syria, causing tens of thousands of Kurds to flee. Trump then sent a super weird letter to Erdogan warning him, and I quote, “Don’t be a tough guy. Don’t be a fool!” in response to the completely-foreseen invasion. Erdogan allegedly looked at the letter, laughed, and tossed it.


The politics surrounding the invasion were weird, too. Trump said and implied a bunch of things at the time that were either categorically untrue or had little basis in reality, including the idea that the Kurds weren’t all good and that they didn’t help us out at Normandy during World War II… Not sure why World War II is relevant here. He also said that Turkey, which has an extensive and well-documented history of vilifying and oppressing the Kurds, somehow for some reason was cool with them now. Whereas the US-Kurdish alliance had been seen as a threat and deterrent to Turkish military ambitions, Turkey was able to completely eliminate that threat after a quick phone call with Donald Trump.


Why does Turkey want to attack the Kurds in northern Syria? It goes back to the days of the partition, and even to the years leading up to it towards the end of the Ottoman Empire. Long story short, Turkey sees the Kurds as a threat to his country and his brand of governance and has deemed them all “terrorists.” At a time when he was getting a lot of bad press, specifically regarding the Turkish recession as well as a refugee crisis that resulted in millions of Syrian refugees fleeing into Turkey, Erdogan needed an enemy to rally against. With the US out of the way, Turkey was able to move into Syria under the guise of setting up a buffer zone, which he interestingly called a “safe zone,” along the border between the two countries. He also claimed that this would aid in the fight against ISIS, but the Turkish attacks actually ended up freeing a lot of ISIS fighters who had been detained in Kurdish-run jails.


And as is always a concern regarding the US military presence in the Middle East, when we move out, Russia moves in.


Turkish-Russian Relations


Firstly, I’ve got to mention that Russia has backed Syria’s Assad regime, the same one that our allies, the Kurds, were fighting against. Oh, by the way, Bashar al-Assad has COVID, now. That’s new. Anyway, Russia also backs Iran.


Russia and Turkey have their own long and complicated history that goes back centuries, so I won’t get into the details of all of that here. It’s been a lot of back-and-forth, with tensions starting back when it was the Ottoman Empire versus the Russian Empire. In many ways, Russia was directly involved in and supportive of the dismantling of the Ottomans, siding with their enemies when the Ottomans were already weak. Why? Partially for religious expansionism, and partly because Russia wanted secure and dependable access to the Mediterranean Sea by way of the Black Sea. Geo-politics!


The two nations have since enjoyed periods of antagonism towards each other as well as periods of cooperation, with the 1990s being especially good. The two were trading partners with a lot of business and energy ties, and today, despite some major hiccups along the way, they seem to maintain a decently friendly relationship.


So, what we’ve got is Russia backing both Syria and Turkey, but also Syria and Turkey fighting one another.


Let’s add in Iran, just for fun.


Iranian-Russian-American Relations


Iran is also backed by Russia! The US backs Saudi Arabia, which is in opposition to Iran on several levels, and the Iranian-Russian connection is a problem for us.


Let’s quickly go back to how Trump wanted to pull troops out of Syria. Did he actually do it?


Kind of, but not really.


Keep in mind that one of Trump’s presidential campaign promises was to remove US troops from the Middle East entirely. I mean, among all of Jared’s incredible responsibilities during the Trump administration, he was put in charge of literally brokering peace in the Middle East… as if so many much better-qualified people hadn’t previously tried and failed to do exactly that. Now, I’m not one to get overly upset or even disappointed when politicians make promises they can’t, won’t, or for whatever reason don’t keep. Maybe I just have low expectations for people, in general, but I remember hearing Trump make this particular promise back when he was running for president and being confused as to how he honestly thought he was going to achieve this. His empty campaign promises always hit differently for me because as with most things he promised, he never had a plan or even an idea for how he was going to get them done, and for some reason, he was never adequately pressed to provide one.


So no, he didn’t pull American troops out of Syria. He moved them out of the way during Turkey’s siege, but he left some in place to protect - you guessed it! - the oil.


He also deployed 14,000 American troops to Saudi Arabia in the months prior to protect - the what? - the oil.


Who was he protecting it from? The Russian-backed Iranians, who also didn’t like him.


Remember what else was going on during this time? Trump pulled out of the Iran Nuclear Deal.


Iran Nuclear Deal


Here’s this whole thing again. The Iran Nuclear Deal was brokered by the Obama administration and reneged by the Trump administration. Currently, the Biden administration is trying to get back into it.


So, what did the Iran Deal entail? In exchange for the US removing crippling economic sanctions against Iran, they would have to comply with four primary conditions.


  1. Iran would have to give up 97% of its uranium.

  2. Iran would only be able to enrich its uranium up to 3.67%, which is sufficient when using uranium as a source for nuclear energy. Conversely, uranium would need to be enriched up to 90% for it to be used for weapons.

  3. Iran would have to reduce its number of centrifuges, which are used to enrich uranium, from 20,000 to just 5,000, with an additional 1,000 being permitted for research and development purposes.

  4. Iran’s nuclear program would be subject to inspection by the IAEA, or the International Atomic Energy Agency.


When Trump pulled out of the deal, his reasons for doing so were pretty sketchy. He had long railed against the deal, calling it, quote, “defective at its core,” but again, he never really gave any obvious reasons as to why he was so against it. When he finally made his decision, he cited intelligence from Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. It’s also worth mentioning that Israel is not an ally of Iran. They don’t like each other.


So, Netanyahu said that the Iran Deal was no good for the following reasons.


  1. It had an expiration date, which just meant that Iran could enrich all the uranium they want once the deal had expired.

  2. The deal didn’t take into account Iran’s ballistic missile program, nor

  3. Iran’s “secret nuclear bomb” program.


Netanyahu’s intelligence was directly contradictory to the IAEA’s intelligence, and no one besides Netanyahu seems to know anything about this “secret nuclear bomb” program.


But, Netanyahu’s unfounded claims were all the proof Trump needed to pull out of the deal. Even if Netanyahu’s claims were valid, they still wouldn’t have justified completely pulling out of the deal. They would have been grounds for re-negotiation, maybe, or even an extension of the terms if the expiration date was his primary concern. His plan was to negotiate a better deal, even though he never actually did that. Additionally, it created a rift between the US and its allies, and it called American credibility into question at a time when Trump was also hoping to set up a similar deal with North Korea. Of course, he didn’t do that, either, though an argument can be made that it was more Kim Jong-Un’s stubbornness at fault rather than Trump’s misplaced confidence in his ability to negotiate with someone who’s had an international reputation for being uncooperative. Or, some could argue that Trump was still effective in preventing North Korea from expanding its military and nuclear operations any further than it already had. This is an excuse, if you want to call it that, that Trump later goes on to use regarding his relations with Iran, as well - it could have been worse. And who knows, maybe he’s right! We really have no way of knowing.


So in May of 2018, the US officially pulled out of the deal and re-established economic sanctions against Iran. At that time, Iran still committed to adhering to the terms of the deal, as several foreign powers were involved in it - not just us - but remember, they only agreed to the terms of the Iran Deal in exchange for the US repealing our sanctions against them. Once we put them back in place, Iran found itself in a situation where it’s now got sanctions and nuclear restrictions. The US action on this front led to Iran eventually pulling itself completely out of the deal, and it directly led to the 2019-2021 Persian Gulf Crisis.


2019-2021 Persian Gulf Crisis


Bet you didn’t know we were even in a crisis over there. Who can keep up?


This is another one of those times when a map is helpful, but I’ll do my best to give you an idea of what it looks like over there.


The Strait of Hormuz is a narrow waterway that is absolutely critical in foreign policy and energy policy, which by now you should realize are often the exact same thing. The strait connects the Persian Gulf with the Gulf of Oman, which then opens up to the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean. To the west of the strait is the Arabian Peninsula, including nations like Oman, the UAE, and Saudi Arabia, along with a few others. To the east is Iran. Just Iran. The oil that passes through this strait is distributed around the world, accounting for an estimated 20% of the global oil supply.


Following the dismantling of the Iran Deal, tensions have been escalating pretty steadily over there, including but not limited to Iran seizing oil tankers in the strait from other nations and redirecting them to Iran.


So just to recap the previous few decades quickly, prior to the Iran Deal even happening, Iran was already engaging in some shady behavior regarding its weapons program. On top of that, they were disrupting trade within the Strait of Hormuz, leading to volatile and exorbitant oil prices, leading several nations around the globe to suffer economically. To deal with this, the US under the Obama administration imposed economic sanctions against Iran, effectively crippling the Iranian economy. In exchange for then getting rid of the sanctions, Obama negotiated the nuclear deal, which served to at least minimize decades of Iranian hostility and instability. That deal was a long, long time coming. When Trump pulled out of that deal, the hostility predictably came back, this time worse than before.


In December 2019, a US airbase in Iraq was attacked, it was decided, by the Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia. The US, if it had any proof that it was Hezbollah, has yet to share that proof with anyone, not even the Iraqis, upon whose soil the attack took place. To be fair, not sharing intelligence is a thing that happens. It’s not unprecedented.


To retaliate, the US launched a series of drone strikes against Hezbollah operatives in both Iraq and Syria.


What followed was a series of similar incidents involving several different nations, one striking another and the other retaliating. Iran, as expected, got ballsier and said that they’d only hold up their end of the Nuclear Deal if the US did. When we refused to drop the sanctions against them, they dropped out of the deal.


Around the same time, in January 2020, we assassinated an Iranian major general, Qasem Soleimani. But Soleimani wasn’t just a general - he was the second-most powerful person in Iran and highly influential regarding Iran’s foreign relations. Needless to say, his assassination earned the US a ton of criticism from international and national players, and it didn’t endear Iran to us any further. We did it via drone strike in Baghdad, and following the attack, Iran swore, quote “shattering revenge” against us. The attack faced questions regarding its legality in accordance with international law, and US lawmakers were concerned with the president’s lack of oversight and unchecked power since he did not seek or receive congressional approval for the attack. Additionally, the intelligence Trump used to justify the attack was, again, questionable, with his own Secretary of Defense contradicting his statements regarding the event.


The situation at this point is one where the US is still in Syria after saying we wouldn’t be, protecting oil that isn’t ours, and technically, isn’t even the Kurds’. Iran, Turkey, and Syria are all backed by Russia and allied against us, and the allies we did have no longer trust us. That said, in 2020, we did strike an oil deal with the Syrian Kurds. Of course, the Syrian Kurds can’t really make deals on behalf of Syrian oil, but they did. Naturally, the Syrian government sees this as theft, and it’s hard to blame them for seeing it that way. I mean, it is that way.


Also, no one wants us there anymore. It’s getting harder to justify our presence for all of the aforementioned reasons, but there was even this one time when the Iraqi parliament voted to expel us from Iraq, and instead of complying, we stayed in their country and threatened them with sanctions. The audacity! And yes, we’re still there.


President Biden


Let’s jump forward to 2021.


Oh, but first - remember how Iran swore revenge on us for killing their general? They haven’t gotten that revenge yet, so that’ll be fun to look out for.


This Persian Gulf Conflict has been relentless for nearly two years now, with the conflict getting worse over time rather than better. Military bases, drones, oil fields, and tankers have all been attacked by enemies and have all attacked enemies. There have been more assassinations since the Soleimani one, more nations involved than the ones I’ve discussed in this episode, and everyone is hurting economically in some form or other. And when I say it’s been relentless, I mean every month since this all started has been one crisis after another. Relentless. Nonstop. I cannot stress that enough.


As all of this is going on, the US transitioned from the Trump administration to the Biden administration. While it’s hard to pin the blame for this conflict on one person or one specific event, it’s hard to deny that the actions of the Trump administration were effective at escalating tensions in an already incredibly tense region with the US left with little to show for its efforts. The only thing we can really point to as victories now are hypotheticals about what could have happened if we hadn’t done X, Y, or Z.


This was the situation when Biden took office - relentless conflict.


Mere weeks into his presidency, President Biden launched an attack on Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia in Syria in retaliation against Iran for attacking our troops in Iraq. Biden’s justification for the attack mirrors that of Trump’s - to protect US personnel and US interests. Also, by targeting militia, Biden’s hope was to send a message to Iran that their use of proxy warfare wouldn’t excuse them from responsibility for attacks against the US, and he hopes that Iran will see the attack, which by our own government’s accounts was minimal and conservative, as a signal that the new president is not to be messed with. The legality of this attack has been called into question by American lawmakers.


I’ll remind you one more time that Iran, which is backed by Russia, is still mad at us for killing their general. The US under the Biden Administration has expressed interest in renewing the Iran Nuclear Deal, but after the events of the last few years, that seems as improbable as anything. After Biden’s attack in Syria, it seems even less probable.


I really, really hope that if you’ve made it this far into the podcast, you have a better understanding as to why this happened. I’m not saying you have to like it, just understand it within its context. I don’t like it either, but I’ve just given you several centuries-worth of history that has directly contributed to this modern-day conflict, so hopefully, it’s apparent that a few weeks of a new American administration wasn’t going to change or solve anything, despite whatever intentions that administration may have had and despite what many of us would have liked to see happen.


So when President Biden got all kinds of flack for his decision to launch attacks in Syria, I was… confused. I scratched my head for a bit and wondered, “Did y’all forget how we even got to this point? Did y’all miss everything that happened during the Trump administration that dumped Biden straight into the deep end of this seemingly unwinnable situation? Were the standards and expectations for Trump really so incredibly low, with those same standards and expectations for Biden being so unrealistically high? Was Biden really expected to undo centuries of foreign affairs within a few weeks?”


But I guess the answer to all of those questions was just… yes? Biden has been criticized extensively for not having a plan for diplomacy with the area, which is frustrating considering Trump didn’t either, and since the last time Biden was in office, Trump has done a lot of damage that Biden is now expected to reverse overnight. As far as what I, personally, would consider more reasonable or valid criticisms surround the fear that the Biden administration will prove no different from its predecessors, perpetuating a volatile and cyclical situation for the sake of oil, power, and luxury. I tend to think that people who fall into this line of thinking are coming from a more humanitarian perspective, which I would never condemn as a bad thing, but unfortunately, it is only a small part of the equation, and it’s important to remember that even the best of intentions in this type of scenario is often met with frustration and failure. That doesn’t mean efforts shouldn’t be made, though. For the American people, there is guilt to be felt with complicity and silence, and Americans absolutely should speak out against military action taken on their behalf that harms others. It sends a message not only to our elected lawmakers but also to the world, that the American people are not being adequately represented by their government and that we do not stand by its actions.


But the questions we should be asking and seriously contemplating are what could have happened? What alternatives were there? I think many Americans hoped that a new administration would put an end to all of this instability in the Middle East and our over-dependence on our military, and many of us are simply not comfortable with the fact that our government is actively hurting the people of these nations just so we can live with excess. Biden ran on a similar platform to Trump’s, with the hope of ending endless wars, but as it was with Trump, so it is with Biden - a long-shot, to put it nicely.


To attempt to answer the questions, perhaps Biden could have used the opportunity to try a little diplomacy, given the fact that it’s a new administration and Iran might possibly be more open to working with him than they were with Trump, especially since the original deal was struck under the Obama-Biden administration. That could have been a way forward, though it may have been a tough one considering Iran has already expressed a disinterest in coming back to the negotiating table.


One of the reasons they’re resistant, however, is because the US still has sanctions in place against them. Why would they cooperate with us if we’re not cooperating with them? Biden could maybe suggest dropping the sanctions as a starting point for negotiations. Or maybe we could consider honoring Iraq’s wishes and getting out of their country. That’d be a whole other conversation, but at least Iran would be happy about it.


A long-term approach to the issue could involve moving away from fossil fuel dependency altogether, but that still wouldn’t solve the problem of fossil fuels then being squarely in our enemies’ hands. Remember - when we move out, Russia moves in.


Another question that again, you hopefully have an idea of what the answer is by now, is why are there so many American troops, service workers, bases, and interests in the Middle East for our enemies to attack in the first place? Trump ran his presidential campaign on the promise to get troops out of there, and he couldn’t do it. Decades of previous presidents couldn’t do it, either. The idea that we can simply pull out of a region after all of the damage we’ve already done to its infrastructure, economy, government, and people is absurd. There’s no way we won’t be held accountable for what we’ve done. And yes, I know that it wasn’t just us that contributed to the state of things over there, but I’m not talking about those other guys right now.


Do I think that either more bombing or nearly unprecedented levels of cooperation and diplomacy will bring peace to the Middle East? Not really.


Call me a pessimist, but the only way for things to get better in the Middle East (that I can think of) is for oil to no longer be profitable or synonymous with authority. It would involve a much more aggressive shift away from fossil fuels, which would involve a massive cultural shift, not to mention an economic shift, for average Americans. Broadly speaking, as a people, we’re not good at those. We’re very resistant to change, especially change that will mean we won’t be able to light up empty office buildings all night, or that our toilets won’t flush as forcefully. We’d have to give up a lot of things that we already don’t really need so that others could live better, and if the current state of our nation is any indication at all, that’s not a stance many Americans are willing to take.


Oh, and for this to be effective, it would probably have to happen on a global scale, with each individual nation adopting the shift at around the same time.


The good news is that this shift may, one day, be forced upon us. The bad news is that we probably won’t like how that happens.


Maybe Biden can pull a rabbit out of a hat.


And that’s it for this very long, extensive episode! Thank you so much for sticking in there with me if you’ve made it this far, and I’ll take it as a great personal victory if I didn’t confuse you or just lose you somewhere along the way. If you’d like to read a transcript of this episode (with maps!), or if you would like to support this podcast, you can do both at globalthread.org. Thanks again for being here, I’ll talk to y’all soon.