Middle East Primer, Part III: The Middle East and the West
Back in our introductory post, I wrote: As nearly always in political matters, discussions of the current Israel-Lebanon crisis routinely incorporate vast amounts of total horsepuckey, most all of which I shall endeavor to sidestep here. There's actually an unusually good reason for the high level of horsepuckey in this instance: in middle-eastern issues, three giant factions (hereafter "players") have oxen being gored...
I meant two distinct kinds of "horsepuckey": (a) misinformation, intentional and otherwise -- never in short supply among humans,* particularly (and necessarily!) in wartime; and (b) something else entirely: the application of emotional, moral, religious, idealistic, utopian, and otherwise (I'll argue) largely irrelevant issues to matters of power.**
I do NOT mean by this that such issues aren't important, in all sorts of senses, from the cold and pragmatic to the warm and fuzzy.*** What I DO mean is that however honestly those engaged in power struggles may raise such issues, the issues themselves aren't determinative
, even to those raising them. Rather, then, than entering into arguments of either morality or law, we will try to focus here on the practical forces which actually drive policy. Deal? Deal!
What, then, are the west's actual interests in the middle east?
Looked at that way, they're obvious, of course: strategic locations, assets, resources, most especially oil. Another major one is cultural, of course: Israel is a "western" outpost in an "eastern" land. Only then do we get to historical ties, "moral" issues and such.
This is not some sort of dreadful aberration, some sickness of western culture. This is how power relations among human beings work.
Finally, then -- now that we've established the notion of the middle east as gameboard, where global players seek advantage -- we're prepared to examine, however superficially, the state of play itself. It won't surprise you to hear me suggest that for many reasons the gameboard is rather a mess just now. Our final (I hope!) post will focus on why that is, and what might be done to improve matters.
As I noted here the other day, the fall of the Soviet Union at the end of the Eighties made for melodramatic changes in power relations of the sort that used to be settled by world wars. The middle east had long since, thanks to the western powers, settled into dictatorial rule, not least since (to focus on U.S. interests****) attempts at democracy tended to favor socialist, communist, and nationalist models, all of which threatened our policy of external exploitation of their internal resources (e.g., the ready supply of oil, repatriation of oil profits, etc.). I've noted too how such policies favored rabid Islamic fundamentalism over, say, broadbased liberal education of the sort that encourages folks to want to keep their own profits; add to that the final Cold War struggles, particularly our arming and training proto-Al-Qaida fighters to bring down the Russians in Afghanistan.
Finally -- the Soviets out of Afghanistan, then out of power entirely -- President George H.W. Bush managed***** (in the runup to the 1991 Gulf War) to arrange for U.S. bases in Saudi Arabia, thereby pissing off Bin Laden and company.
Okay. Almost done for this time. But here's the thing:
Up until the end of 2000 we had managed -- despite lingering hostility, and thanks very largely to Israel's role as what amounts to forward U.S. base -- to keep instability in the middle east more or less within tolerances for our purposes...though always with the awareness that this was changing, and could change even more in a big hurry. For any number of reasons, that stability is getting wobbly. Next time, our conclusion: Part IV, "All stick, no carrot."
93 93/93 -- AJ
* Including, alas, yr. obdt. svt., whose attempt to gloss over some of the complexities of the November 1947 EV U.N. partition of Palestine -- among other matters -- was, thanks to christeos_pir
, quite rightly taken to task by an expert, in yesterday's comments. Don't miss it! :)
** You'll notice I didn't include "legal." This was a close decision, but legal arguments inevitably arise in modern power struggles...and while that goes for, say, moral arguments as well, the legal ones often prove actually unavoidable.
*** One last clarification. I have a very strong sense of personal morality, which influences my own political beliefs; I just don't kid myself that moral arguments tend either to motivate, or to sway, the decisions of the powerful. My posts here are, in fact, largely about using pragmatic arguments to reach moral, as well as practical, outcomes. But, y'know, don't tell anybody. ;)
**** The Soviets were, of course, fonder still of dictatorship; I'm explaining here why the capitalist democracies also were.
***** Just how is yet another topic in dispute.