A Diplomatic Game of Chess

by Kwok-Wai Hanson

After sending four hundred more troops to Syria on March 9 and launching a missile attack on April 6, the United States continues to exercise military aggression in the Middle East and throughout the Islamic World. Despite an ongoing war since 9/11, the constant threat of extremism, terrorism, and conflict continues. Military operations have been the go-to solution for the United States. But the United States should take less aggressive action towards the Islamic World to ensure a better relationship. The United States was victorious in a diplomatic game of chess during the Cold War with the Soviet Union. The same chess strategies can be applied to the Islamic World.

The Gulf War in the Middle East in 1991 marked the beginning of the United States’ active military strategy in the region. Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi forces, also known as the Iraqi Republican Guard, invaded and occupied Kuwait in a sudden invasion. The action received worldwide condemnation, including the United States and the United Nations. After approval from the United Nations Security Council and public justification for military action, the United States and allied forces began to strike against Iraq. Saudi Arabia became the base of operations for Operation Desert Storm, a massive coalition aerial campaign against Iraqi forces.

Eventually, the US and the coalition was successful in liberating Kuwait and pushing back the Iraq Republican Guard to Iraq. However, as Iraqi troops fled the capital Kuwait City, the United States launched an aerial strike against fleeing soldiers that were desperately attempting to escape in any vehicles they could get their hands on. Since the world had its attention glued to the Gulf War, images of the devastation spread like wildfire. The event, dubbed the Highway of Death, was one of the most recognizable scenes of the war with thousands of wrecked, charred, and destroyed vehicles.

The brutal attacks inspired extreme terrorist groups to take action against the United States, as it was viewed as a barbaric country that would kill military and civilian personnel. A report for the International War Crimes Tribunal after the Gulf War indicated the US military failed to distinguish between military and civilian individuals. The outrage was widespread, and condemnation was swift.

For Osama Bin Laden, the Gulf War was a turning point, and he capitalized on the event to show American aggression. By highlighting the devastation, he was successful in recruiting members to his terrorist organization, al-Qaeda. Eventually, the consequences of the United States’ military actions in the Gulf War included the 1992 World Trade Bombing, 1998 Embassy Bombings, and eventually the attack on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11. Osama Bin Laden and his terrorist organization al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the retaliation.

Despite America’s success in liberating Kuwait, the Arab world has viewed military action there negatively. There were good intentions, but it came at the cost of human life. Instead of destroying human life and cities, the United States should have engaged in a strategic game of diplomacy.

The United States has been extremely successful in utilizing diplomacy in the region and abroad. For instance, the Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union highlights a marvelous era of diplomacy. The two countries played tirelessly at a game of chess. However, the two opposing nations were never fully at war. Instead, they used diplomacy to the fullest.

One historical instance includes the Cuban Missile Crisis under President John F. Kennedy. Military surveillance by the United States spotted ballistic missiles in Cuba from the Soviet Union. In response, the US deployed a naval blockade to prevent additional weapons from being shipped to Cuba by the Soviet Union. Tensions were high on both sides which could have escalated into nuclear war. However, behind the scenes, diplomacy was ramped between the US and the USSR.

To confront the USSR, which denies the accusation, about missiles being constructed in Cuba, the United States summoned an emergency meeting of the United Nations’ Security Council to confront with the USSR Ambassador. The United States began to pursue a diplomatic resolution to the situation.

Furthermore, secret negotiations were occurring under the table between President Kennedy and the Soviet Union. The United States offered to remove missiles from Turkey 6 months later in exchange for the removal of missiles in Cuba.

However, the messages between the United States and USSR were delayed and took the time to reach both sides and be translated. Time was of the essence for the United States as the missiles in Cuba were days from being operational. As a result, diplomacy on both sides was frantic as the United States threatened to take full military action to destroy the missiles in Cuba. Eventually, the final compromise was reached between the United States and the USSR. The USSR would dismantle and remove the missiles in Cuba as long as the US pledged not to invade Cuba. Under the table, the United States secretly removed missiles in Turkey and Italy which were deployed against the Soviet Union.

As a result, the negotiations and agreement to the terms between the US and USSR deëscalated the situation short of nuclear war. The event marked a reduction in tension between the two countries, and communication became more open between Washington and Moscow.

The orchestration behind the Cuban Missile Crisis was incredibly complex and intense. The diplomatic game of chess between President Kennedy and Secretary Khrushchev of the Soviet Union highlighted the severity of the situation. Nuclear war was imminent on both sides, but it was avoided thanks to the smart game of diplomacy. On both sides, their respective governments were pressuring the two leaders to pursue military action.

Both succeeded in avoiding full conflict and inevitable nuclear war. Khrushchev went to Kennedy to seek a diplomatic resolution since he thought the conflict was getting out of hand. It was a major humiliation for the Soviet Union, and Cuba viewed the removal of the missiles as a betrayal from the USSR. The United States succeeded diplomatically in a game of chess, and it continued to win more games against the Soviet Union.

The eventual fall of the Soviet Union in 1991 presents another round of diplomatic games between President Reagan and Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev. Reagan was successful in aggressively negotiating against Gorbachev towards reducing missiles and arsenal on both sides. Gorbachev recognized that he needed to reduce the expenditures on defense and military weapons but feared retaliation from the United States and people within his government. The negotiations on both sides would prove beneficial for both Reagan and Gorbachev.

However, the negotiations benefited the United States significantly as they compromised the Soviet Union’s ability to continue the Cold War and nuclear arms race. Along with many other measures, Gorbachev fostered a less restrictive press and shifted foreign policy, so Reagan was successful in playing his cards with the Strategic Defense Initiative. Despite the skepticism from Reagan’s advisors, the Soviet Union and its military panicked. It caused Gorbachev to negotiate aggressively to ensure the United States did not realize the military promise of the SDI program.

Right now, President Trump could be engaged in his own game of diplomatic chess. If Hillary Clinton had become President, her intentions would have been known to everybody. Her stint as Secretary of State allowed her to meet with global leaders and governments throughout the world, many were aware of her agenda. Clinton was viewed as hawkish and more likely to use the military globally, particularly in the Middle East.

However, President Trump is viewed as a wild card. No one knows what he’ll do, and that is a powerful advantage in chess. In a game of chess, you want to be able to anticipate your opponent’s move to plan accordingly. President Trump has no foreign experience, so governments throughout the world will not be aware of his agenda. Trump’s “madman diplomacy” could prevail.

Since foreign governments aren’t aware of what President Trump might do, it could be useful in establishing a new relationship with the Islamic World in the Middle East.

The United States has managed to engage a diplomatic game of chess for decades. Its policy of military aggression has been ongoing and ineffective as seen in the fact that the Middle East, the decades long battle field, is more unstable than ever, and we are still involved.

The United States has managed an engaging complex yet beneficial games of diplomatic chess between the Soviet Union. Thus, President Trump could follow similar paths with the Islamic World. Since he has the advantage of being unpredictable, the tables could turn for the United States in the ongoing conflicts in the Middle East.

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