FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

US Middle Power Plays

by Robert Jensen And Rahul Mahajan

For all the talk of a “special relationship” between the United States and Israel, it’s clear that for American policymakers there’s nothing particularly special about their support for Israel or rejection of Palestinian rights.

For all the talk in Washington about peace in the Middle East, it’s clear that American policymakers are not much concerned about peace.

Instead, the primary aim of U.S. policy in the Middle East is U.S. dominance over the region and its oil resources, through support for regimes that play our game and through our ever-increasing military presence.

To the degree that U.S. policymakers believe backing Israeli conquest and aggression in Palestine advances U.S. long-term business interests, support for Israel continues. To the degree that peace helps solidify U.S. control, peace is acceptable.

But U.S. policy is driven neither by unquestioned support for Israel nor concern for people’s suffering in conflicts. Any hope for real peace requires getting past this rhetoric to the reality of U.S. policy.

That reality is clear: The central principle of every U.S. administration since the end of World War II has been that the resources of the region do not truly belong to the people of the region, but instead exist for the benefit of Americans.

It is not simply a question of who owns the oil, but who controls the flow of oil and oil profits. Even if the United States were energy self-sufficient, U.S. elites would seek to dominate the Middle East for the leverage it brings in world affairs, especially over the economies of our primary competitors (Europe and Japan), which are more heavily dependent on Middle Eastern oil.

One component of this policy is support for the oil-rich countries, such as Saudi Arabia. Saudi rulers take their cut of the profits, channeling what remains into investments in the West and the purchase of U.S. weapons. In exchange, Saudi Arabia — a monarchy that could not exist independently — gets U.S. protection.

In this system, Israel is a key pillar of U.S. strategy. Especially after its impressive military victory over the Arab states in 1967, Israel was a hammer that was used to smash Arab nationalism, which could have upset the system of weak, fragmented client regimes that the United States favors. Israel serves as a local cop on the beat, in the terminology of the Nixon Doctrine, and an integral part of the U.S. military-intelligence complex in that part of the world. These roles became especially important after the Iranian revolution in 1979, when the U.S. lost its other main base in the region.

Israel also serves as a convenient foil for the United States. Even though the United States has exercised tremendous, repressive control over the region, until recently the brunt of Arab anger was always borne by Israel, with the United States representing itself to the Arabs as a friend. The U.S.-backed Arab regimes use this foil as well, diverting the anger of the so-called “Arab street” away from those states’ corruption and despotism, to Israel.

This analysis is often rebuffed by pointing to the frequent tensions between the United States and countries in the region, including allies. How is it that these nations are our clients when they seem so unruly?

This simply reflects the complexity of maintaining control in such a volatile region. It is common practice for empires to set up client regimes in a region and then play them off each other, which not surprisingly produces tension, especially when the governments are not representative of their people. That’s what U.S. diplomatic and military officials are paid to do — manage the tensions, always keeping an eye on the ultimate goal.

U.S. control — not peace — is that goal. That is why policymakers were happy to see Iraq and Iran at war throughout the 1980s and gave various kinds of covert support to both sides. Never mind the millions killed — it kept the two regional powers at each other’s throats, and hence weakened.

In Palestine, if the United States were serious about promoting peace it would have long ago joined the international consensus for a political settlement built on a viable state for the Palestinians and security for Israel. Instead, it has long blocked that consensus, such as when it vetoed a 1976 U.N. Security Council resolution that offered something much like the Saudi plan being touted today as a solution.

U.S. leaders don’t mind peace, so long as it is within a system that doesn’t threaten U.S. control. Yes, a Middle East in a constant state of tension — either engaged in war or on the verge of war — has been dangerous. But that’s a price the United States has been willing to pay.

These points are crucial to answering the claim that U.S. leaders simply do Israel’s bidding. Of course there are well-organized and well-funded groups in the United States lobbying very effectively for Israel. And of course U.S. politicians feel pressure from vocal constituents who support Israel.

But those domestic political realities alone do not drive U.S. financial and diplomatic support that allows Israel to continue to defy international law in its 35-year military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon has skillfully used the “war on terrorism” banner to expand further the level of violence against Palestinians that the United States will accept, and the expressions of reflexive support for Israel in Congress have never been stronger.

But in the end, the U.S. policymakers shape foreign policy to benefit U.S. elite economic interests, not those of another country.

The inevitable conclusion to draw from this is that United States cannot be a positive force in the Middle East without a fundamental shift in goals: The United States must replace its quest for control with a commitment to peace AND justice, under international law.

Never has it been more crucial that Americans understand this. While Israel steps up the violence in Palestine, the Bush administration plots a war on Iraq. U.S. officials tell us Iraq presents a grave threat to the world, though other nations (including Kuwait) don’t feel threatened and all the world (save Israel and the always-loyal Tony Blair) rejects the U.S. plans.

It’s not that other countries support Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime, but that they see that a war on Iraq will deepen U.S. control over the region at the expense of the Iraqi people. As U.S. officials talk about bringing democracy and freedom to Iraq, they search for an Iraqi general who can be trusted to follow U.S. orders if put in charge. All this after more than a decade of economic sanctions — demanded by the United States, largely to break Iraqi control of its own oil — that have killed a half-million Iraqi children (according to a comprehensive UNICEF study).

The more the United States overplays its hand in the Middle East, the more the rest of the world sees clearly U.S. intentions. The question is, can we the American people see the same, and demand of our government a policy geared toward justice not domination.

Robert Jensen is a professor of journalism at the University of Texas and author of Writing Dissent: Taking Radical Ideas from the Margins to the Mainstream. Rahul Mahajan serves on the National Board of Peace Action and is author of The New Crusade: America’s War on Terrorism. Both are members of the Nowar Collective.

They can be reached at rjensen@uts.cc.utexas.edu

 

 

Robert Jensen is a professor in the School of Journalism at the University of Texas at Austin and board member of the Third Coast Activist Resource Center in Austin. He is the author of several books, including the forthcoming Plain Radical: Living, Loving, and Learning to Leave the Planet Gracefully (Counterpoint/Soft Skull, fall 2015). http://www.amazon.com/Plain-Radical-Living-Learning-Gracefully/dp/1593766181 Robert Jensen can be reached at rjensen@austin.utexas.edu and his articles can be found online at http://robertwjensen.org/. To join an email list to receive articles by Jensen, go to http://www.thirdcoastactivist.org/jensenupdates-info.html. Twitter: @jensenrobertw. Notes. [1] Wendell Berry, The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture, 3rd ed. (San Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1996), p. 106. [2] Gerda Lerner, The Creation of Patriarchy (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986). [3] Fyodor Dostoyevsky, The Brothers Karamazov, edited and with a revised translation by Susan McReynolds Oddo (New York: W.W. Norton and Company, 2011), p. 55.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail