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The US Foreign Policy and the Middle East PDF Print E-mail
Written by Steven J. Rosenthal   

Policy Perspectives , Volume7 , Number 1, Special Issue 2010

 

Question: What are the American national interests, particularly in the Middle East, and what are the perceived and real challenges to them?


A.    The ‘American interests’ in the Middle East are not really ‘national’ interests.  The interests of the small number of energy companies, Wall Street banks, the political establishment, and their well paid lobbyists are not the same as the interests of working class people of all racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who make up the majority of the population of the United States. Indeed, since all countries throughout the world consist, more or less, of an upper class that possesses most of the wealth and political power and a lower class that has neither—there is no ‘national interest’ in any country. The ruling groups portray their special interests as the ‘national’ interest.

The ruling elites in the United States have clear interests in the Middle East that they have consistently pursued for nearly a century. Those interests can best be summed up as ‘imperialist’ interests that have always centered on the pursuit of geo-strategic advantages in control of the region's energy resources—oil and natural gas, the pipelines and sea lanes that connect them to global markets. After World War II, the United States superseded the British as the dominant imperial power in the Middle East. Its interests consisted of three interrelated objectives: (1) To control the oil and gas resources of the region; (2) To control certain regimes in the region as much as possible, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan; and (3) To prevent the rise of any popular movements—whether communist, socialist, nationalist, or religious—that might threaten US control of the region’s energy resources and the stability of its client regimes.

Once it is recognized that the rhetoric is meant to deceive the general public, it would not be difficult to recognize the intense competition among capitalist interests for resources, cheap labor, markets, and geo-strategic advantage that, during the first half of the twentieth century, produced two horrific world wars. The US is trying to prevent its ongoing decline, while new powers, especially China, are challenging the US Empire. During the past several years, Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar, who writes regularly for ‘Asia Times Online’, has published highly informative articles and books on the global battles over what he has dubbed “Pipelineistan.”  With a wry and cynical sense of humor and a great deal of knowledge, his “Roving Eye” has described the competition for dominance over the Middle East and Central Asia. Among the major powers, there are no “good guys” in this competition. They fight for their own material interests, and they do not hesitate to threaten the lives of millions of people.



B.    Beginning in 1979, the US, along with Saudi, Pakistani, and other allies, organized an international private army to invade and devastate Afghanistan, a strategic objective in the new “Great Game” for control of the energy resources, and potential and actual pipeline routes in Central and South Asia. More than two decades later, the 9/11 terrorist attacks on the US were blowback from the US strategy of encouraging and unleashing the most extreme form of political Islam against a Soviet backed progressive government in Afghanistan.

The US, which possesses a military arsenal larger than that of all other nations combined, and which spends more on weaponry and sells more arms than all other nations combined, is the single largest practitioner and sponsor of terror in the world. It cannot possibly wage a war on terror, unless it makes war on itself. That is not to deny or minimize the existence of both non-state and state sponsored terrorism not controlled by the US and sometimes directed against the United States. Terror has long been a weapon employed by contending imperialists, primarily against colonized, occupied, and subjugated people, but also against each other.

The end of the Cold War period brought with it the end of the challenges to US imperial interests from the Soviet bloc and its sponsored communist and nationalist movements in the Middle East. Secular leftist forces throughout the Middle East declined in strength and influence. This provided a brief window of opportunity for the US to launch the first Gulf War against Iraq without any Soviet opposition. Soon, however, new forces rose to challenge US hegemony in the Middle East. As the US sought to expand its military presence in the region, in order to bring oil resources and governments more securely under US control, States in the European Union, Russia, and China increasingly saw a world dominated by a lone superpower as contrary to their own interests and challenged US policies in the region. For example, Chinese and Russian support enabled Iran to pursue a path that challenged US interests, and Iran supported groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Palestine that resisted the US backed Israel government and its allies in Lebanon.

Question: What is the role of national, regional and international media and US’s spending on it in promoting US foreign policy?

All of the corporate media in the United States serve government policies faithfully, working constantly to keep most people in the United States from acquiring accurate information and understanding of what their government is doing in the Middle East and throughout the world. Although major media confessed belatedly, for example, to helping George Bush lie the US into the 2003 invasion of Iraq, these same media continue to provide the same services to the US government. They are part of the corporate establishment themselves, and they will not change. They have continued, for example, to promote support in the US for Israel’s criminal blockade of Gaza, and current US assistance to Egypt to build a steel wall on the border between Egypt and Gaza. They never allow any information about the energy objectives that are driving the US war in Afghanistan to get into their coverage of the war.

Since the terrible earthquake in Haiti, the media have hidden from the public knowledge of a century of US imperialist domination and exploitation. They do not mention the more recent economic restructuring plans and the two coup d’etats against Haiti’s elected leader. They do not remind the people that the US intercepted thousands of Haitian immigrants and detained them in prisons at Guantanamo during the years before 9/11. They false portray Haitians as violent to justify US prioritizing military security over lifesaving aid. This shows what the US does in the Middle East, it also does to the people of small island nations right on its doorstep.

Question: Will Obama be able to achieve any breakthrough in resolving the age-old Israel Palestine conflict and containing the sentiments against the US with his PR or manipulating his ‘Middle name’?

President Obama has clearly and decisively supported longstanding US policies regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict. He denounced the UN Goldstone Report that irrefutably documented Israeli war crimes against Palestinians in Gaza. He has continued massive US military assistance to Israel, and has continued the effort to split Palestinians by arming sections of Fatah that collaborate with Israel. This effort, of course, has the not so secret support and participation of the governments of Egypt, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia. The most likely course of events is that of continuing Israeli settlement expansion in the West Bank and Jerusalem, along with continued terrible suffering of people in Gaza under the blockade. For the US, maintaining Israel’s status as a powerful watchdog in the region that cannot be seriously threatened by any other forces in the region makes Iran’s support for Hezbollah and Hamas a serious problem. That is why the US and Israel continue to threaten a military assault on Iran. Maintaining Israel’s exclusive ownership of nuclear weapons in the region is an important aspect of this equation.

The only “breakthrough” that President Obama could conceivably achieve would be the acceptance by compliant Palestinian leaders of a Palestinian Bantustan, lacking any real sovereignty or independence, but able somehow to contain and suppress Palestinian anger against such a betrayal. In other words, the US and Israel would like to establish an apartheid arrangement between Israel and a Palestinian Bantustan. It seems unlikely that this can be forced upon Palestinians and the hundreds of millions of people throughout the world who care about the fate of Palestine and want a just peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

Much has been written about the Israel Lobby in the United States. To be sure, lobbyists exert much influence on the US government. On a more fundamental level, however, the US government exists to serve elite interests. The pursuit of empire has been a consistent US strategy for well over a century. Regardless of which party is in the majority and which particular lobby is currently more influential, there is no division within US ruling groups about the maintenance and defense of its empire.

Palestinian American Joseph Massad, well known professor of Arab Politics at Columbia University in New York City, made this point most persuasively in a 2006 article ‘Blaming the Israeli lobby: It’s US Policy that Inflames the Arab World’. US policy in the Middle East is not significantly different than it is throughout the rest of the world, nor is it different from US policies decades before the growth of Zionism and the founding of the state of Israel. Lobbyists may battle over strategies and tactics, but there is no anti-imperialist faction with any clout in the ruling elites of the United States.

US President Obama possesses a different style and rhetoric from his predecessor, but he has rapidly demonstrated to those willing to open their eyes and see that he is a loyal steward of the US Empire. His surge in Afghanistan, drone attacks in Pakistan, retention of US forces in Iraq, bombing attacks in Yemen, continued operations in Somalia, and continued militarization throughout sub-Saharan Africa under the aegis of the Pentagon’s new military command for Africa, Africom, explain that the thrust of US foreign policy is not about to change for the better. Along with that, President Obama, despite populist rhetoric, has demonstrated his consistent defense of Wall Street banks, insurance companies, and other big financial and corporate interests. The Democratic Party received more money from the richest segments of American society than the Republicans did in the 2008 election. No one should have any expectation that the Democratic Party will alter the direction of US foreign and domestic politics. That can only come about when a mass movement, independent of the two-party establishment, develops to challenge the ruling groups in American society.

 

A. The ‘American interests’ in the Middle East are not really ‘national’ interests.  The interests of the small number of energy companies, Wall Street banks, the political establishment, and their well paid lobbyists are not the same as the interests of working class people of all racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds who make up the majority of the population of the United States. Indeed, since all countries throughout the world consist, more or less, of an upper class that possesses most of the wealth and political power and a lower class that has neither—there is no ‘national interest’ in any country. The ruling groups portray their special interests as the ‘national’ interest.

 

The ruling elites in the United States have clear interests in the Middle East that they have consistently pursued for nearly a century. Those interests can best be summed up as ‘imperialist’ interests that have always centered on the pursuit of geo-strategic advantages in control of the region's energy resources—oil and natural gas, the pipelines and sea lanes that connect them to global markets. After World War II, the United States superseded the British as the dominant imperial power in the Middle East. Its interests consisted of three interrelated objectives: (1) To control the oil and gas resources of the region; (2) To control certain regimes in the region as much as possible, especially Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Iran, Egypt, and Pakistan; and (3) To prevent the rise of any popular movements—whether communist, socialist, nationalist, or religious—that might threaten US control of the region’s energy resources and the stability of its client regimes.

 

Once it is recognized that the rhetoric is meant to deceive the general public, it would not be difficult to recognize the intense competition among capitalist interests for resources, cheap labor, markets, and geo-strategic advantage that, during the first half of the twentieth century, produced two horrific world wars. The US is trying to prevent its ongoing decline, while new powers, especially China, are challenging the US Empire. During the past several years, Brazilian journalist Pepe Escobar, who writes regularly for ‘Asia Times Online’, has published highly informative articles and books on the global battles over what he has dubbed “Pipelineistan.”  With a wry and cynical sense of humor and a great deal of knowledge, his “Roving Eye” has described the competition for dominance over the Middle East and Central Asia. Among the major powers, there are no “good guys” in this competition. They fight for their own material interests, and they do not hesitate to threaten the lives of millions of people.

 

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