(CNN) — The United States has a history of often picking sides in Middle East conflicts to its own detriment.
In the 1980s, former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam Hussein to establish a relationship that helped the dictator gain access to American arms during Iraq’s war with Iran. In the 1990s, the U.S. would drive former ally Hussein from Kuwait and impose a decade of sanctions that were devastating for Iraqis, but had little effect on the dictator. In 2003, we went to Iraq, overthrew Hussein, and became part of nation-building effort from which we only recently saw most of our soldiers return home.
Arguably one of the greatest beneficiaries of the Iraq war was Iran, which now enjoys more power and influence with the elimination of its historic enemy. President George H.W. Bush did not pursue Hussein directly during Operation Desert Storm precisely because he feared the destabilizing effects it might have on the region, or as his Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney explained in 1994, “Once you got to Iraq and took it over, took down Saddam Hussein’s government, then what are you going to put in its place?” Today, Iraq is unstable and its future uncertain.