“All Arab governments fear destabilization…because there is simply nothing they can do about it. “
Danny Rubinstein, Israeli journalist
Answering the question of what the US wants when it comes to the Middle East requires one to lift a considerable amount of fog to get to the simple imperatives of the region. There are a lot of forces that operate seeking to cloak true intentions.
There are basically two overriding impulses that define US interests in the Middle East and they are both related. The first is maintaining cheap access to the huge reservoirs of oil in the region. This can only be accomplished through stable regimes that can control the passions of the Arab street. In the opening quotation from Danny Rubinstein, he clearly outlines how Arab governments fear destabilization.
IWhat exactly is “destabilization?”
The paradigm to avoid for US and Arab governments alike, is the Iranian revolution, where a religious clergy overthrew a government predisposed towards US interests. If Rubinstein is correct, it is certainly the case that many Arab leaders seek US help in maintaining stability, which is another way of saying to stay in power. US and Arab leaders’ interests coincide to the extent that they both want to avoid revolution. Revolutions are bad for business and in the Middle East, oil is the only business that counts. Stability in the region is necessary to maintain cheap access to oil.
The second foreign policy imperative for the US is to influence Arab leadership in supporting those same economic interests. Maintaining an empire (whether the Ottoman, the British or the current American Empire) is not an easy task. It requires a combination of force (see Afghanistan and Iraq) and pliable leaders to serve as surrogates. This is important unless one wishes to occupy every region under one’s influence or control. It is much more cost effective and efficient to have surrogate or proxy leaders serve the interests of the empire.
As you can readily see, both imperatives are closely related. In the Real Politik of foreign policy, economic interests reign supreme. Morality does not play much of a role when deciding courses of action. That is why appeals to morality usually are met with blinding indifference. When dissecting US Middle East policy, one needs to forget about what is said and look to those twin pillars of what animates policy. If you want to understand why the US gives Israel and Egypt so much foreign aid, look to US interests.
Leaders in the region are not above reminding each other about what their respective roles are. Recently Israel chastised Egypt for their seeming indifference to the current Intifada.
“This certainly endangers regional stability, and he must surely roll up his sleeves, hike up his [Mubarak] pants and get into this matter.” –Israeli Deputy Defense Minister Dalia Rabin-Pelosof
The reader may ask now how did Israel serve the two foreign policy imperatives that are behind all US policy decisions in the region? After all, Israel has no oil yet the entire world understands the US has been one of the few friends Israel has enjoyed in the last fifty years. It is clear that Israel had secret alliances with several regimes in the region. Chief among these was its relationship with the Shah of Iran. Israel even trained his brutal secret service SAVAK. Israel’s secret alliance with King Hussein of Jordan is still a classified state secret to this day, even though he is long dead.
For those Arab regimes that were not under the direct sphere of US influence, Israel was the proxy military power that would help enforce US policy. There could be wars, but as long as the flow of oil was maintained at favorable prices to the oil companies, US interests were satisfied. Israel also served another major function for the US. The stability of regional regimes was enhanced because Israel became the outlet or diversion for Arab dissent. Instead of dissent becoming an internal critique, energies were diverted toward an outside enemy, namely Israel. In this way, Israel aided regional stability by being a pressure valve for regional leaders. Had Israel not existed, the monarchies in the region would all have been overthrown long ago.
But now a growing internal critique from the Arab street is emerging. Osama Bin Laden is but one manifestation as he is decidedly against the Saudi monarchy even more than he is against the US. Arab dissent is growing and the “War on Terrorism” should be viewed through the lenses of what animates US foreign policy. The “War on Terrorism” is actually a war on dissent. The US stands ready to help all oil regimes in stamping out its dissenters that would seek to destabilize or overthrow its leadership. That leadership must be maintained to run “interference” for US economic interests outlined at the beginning of this piece.
I often get asked, “What is the US policy toward Yasser Arafat?”
Once again, one must understand the twin filters of US foreign policy: Oil and controlling regional leaders. Yasser Arafat met with Colin Powell at the beginning of the Intifada. He was given a “to do” list or script to follow. He was to be rewarded with the privilege of joining the ranks of regional rulers. Arafat was positively beaming as he was promised statehood, only if he played ball with US demands and followed the script offered by the US administration.
This was when editorials from the Chicago Tribune, LA Times and even the NY Times surfaced condemning Sharon and Israel. Arafat began arresting those that were put on the “list.” Eventually, the US administration put the dreaded label of “terrorists” on these groups, further pressuring Arafat to do its bidding.
After Israel began a strategy of assassinating Palestinians without benefit of trials, Arafat’s internal political situation made it untenable to follow the US script chapter and verse. What was, and is, the US response? The US is using Arafat as an abject lesson to other regional leaders. The lesson?
If you fail to follow the dictates of US demands, you will be left to wallow in the US doghouse. And worse, the Israelis would threaten your very existence.
So the US can accomplish one of two goals: gain another regional leader to do its bidding (Arafat) or if he does not, use this as an opportunity to teach others in the region what happens to those who fail to capitulate to the US agenda with unwavering enthusiasm.
Specific US foreign policy positions are malleable. Arafat can go from terrorist to statesman and back to terrorist… depending upon how closely he follows US demands. Will Arafat survive? Presently, Arab leaders are engaged in begging the US to let Arafat survive. A minister from Qatar told Palestinian representatives:
“Go and beg the Americans for aid, because they are the only ones that can do anything for you with Israel.” (as quoted in the Israeli paper Ha’aretz)
So it appears that behind all the rhetoric, one can discern which way US Middle East foreign policy will turn by simply understanding what policies are likely to lead to the stable flow of oil in the Middle East and what policies will most likely keep those in power that can assure the former. It is this writer’s opinion that Israel’s historic role has fundamentally become irrelevant and it is next on the docket for a major policy reassessment by the US. It is no longer a stabilizing force and is running smack dab into US economic interests.