My comprehensive plan for US policy on the Middle East …

by John Quiggin on September 20, 2011

… is set out over the fold. I’m confident readers who take a little time to think about it will realise it’s far superior to existing policy, and to any alternative proposed so far.

{ 108 comments }

1

Tom Bach 09.20.11 at 1:56 am

Oddly enough, I find this to be identical with, if less verbose, than the more verbose but equally silly official policies. Or, to put it another way, it’s underpants gnomes all the way down.

2

geo 09.20.11 at 3:51 am

Ah the inscrutably complex, tragic, intractable Middle East …

But is it really as complicated as all that?

3

John Quiggin 09.20.11 at 3:57 am

@geo Probably not, to the people who live there. To spell it out, my suggestion is that the US government should leave them to sort it out – I’m sure the great majority would be happy to return the favor.

4

Glen Tomkins 09.20.11 at 4:24 am

What you really have to spell out though, is that “leave them to sort it out”, does not mean, “leave them to sort it out themselves, with the small exception that the most extreme hawk/Likud tendency gets a blank check for whatever arms, subsidies, and political muscle it wants the US to expend on its behalf to insure its continued dominance”.

People in this country have an amazing ability to mistake our current policy for a sort of hands-off, laissez-faire. If the most extreme hawk/Likudnik tendency is on top, well, that’s just the undisturbed natural order of things, how we found conditions when we first noticed the problem at about 3PM yesterday. Removing the tiniest jot or tittle of the generations-long US support that made things the way they are is unimaginably radical, because it would be such an arbitrary and decisionistic assault on the stable and settled order of things.

5

J. Otto Pohl 09.20.11 at 6:47 am

Tompkins is right the US policy has never been hands off regarding Israel. Instead it has mostly been unconditional support of Israel. If the US were to stop using its veto to protect Israel in the UN and abstain thereby adopting a “hands off” approach it would greatly alter the existing balance of power. Without the US veto it would not take long for the UN to enact the kinds of sanctions that it imposed on South Africa.

6

Phil 09.20.11 at 8:44 am

“UN vote on Palestinian statehood threatens to delay negotiated peace by intensifying Israeli concerns” – Times leading article.

You know how we said satire was dead?

7

Cian 09.20.11 at 9:26 am

The Palestinians would be delighted if the US pulled out entirely; the Israelis would be horrified. Is this what you mean John, tacit support for the Palestinians? Please don’t tell me you think that the USA is a neutral party in this.

8

Ao 09.20.11 at 9:31 am

Cian: “tacit support for the Palestinians”

Are you here applying this general principles: not continuing to give enormous economic and military support for party A is tacit support for party B?

9

otto 09.20.11 at 10:30 am

Would you have left the white and black South Africans alone to sort it out?

10

Cian 09.20.11 at 10:34 am

Are you here applying this general principles: not continuing to give enormous economic and military support for party A is tacit support for party B?

I am of course speaking the language of the venerable NYT.

Otto – the US was supporting the Afrikaaners, so leaving them alone would have been an improvement, no?

11

Watson Ladd 09.20.11 at 10:50 am

The problem is that its unclear what a blank means. Will the US use its veto at the UN? Will it abstain? Will it withdraw from UN Human Rights Commission, with its one sided focus on Israel? Will it stay and do nothing on it? What about helping to track down money from Arab dictators? Is that part of the realm of do nothing?

12

P O'Neill 09.20.11 at 11:54 am

It’s revealing that on this thread, “Middle East” means “territory known prior to 1947 as Palestine.” Aren’t there a few issues for the USA in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt as well — for which blank might also be the best response?

13

NomadUK 09.20.11 at 11:55 am

the US was supporting the Afrikaaners

So was Israel. So the US pulling out of both would have been a fine thing.

14

John Quiggin 09.20.11 at 12:01 pm

@13 The responses *are* very revealing. It’s sort of a Rorschasch (sp?) blot with no blot.

15

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 12:10 pm

What are some of the issues for the USA in Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Egypt, that have nothing to do with the territory known prior to 1947 as Palestine?

16

P O'Neill 09.20.11 at 12:22 pm

@16

Shia/Sunni/Christian, national territory/identity, challenges of post-colonialism, forms of governance, role of women in society, impact of natural resources in these countries and in the nearby region on their economies and societies, and their not always-harmonious relationships with each other.

17

Salient 09.20.11 at 12:31 pm

It’s remarkably how closely your comprehensive plan for US policy on the Middle East resembles the currently implemented US comprehensive plan for economic recovery.

18

J. Otto Pohl 09.20.11 at 12:32 pm

I do not think very many people in the US, certainly not the media, politicians, and other power brokers would care very much about anything having to do with Lebanon, modern Egypt, Syria or Jordan if the State of Israel did not exist. These are considered problem countries precisely because of their historical opposition to Israel and US unconditional support for Israel. They do not have a lot of oil or other resources. Yes, the US would still be interested and involved in places like Saudi Arabia, Iran, UAE, etc. if Israel did not exist. But, the oil poor Arab states would register no more importance than most of Africa does with the US government and media.

19

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 12:32 pm

Yeah, but why would any these things be an issue for the USA?

20

otto 09.20.11 at 12:47 pm

The main goal of current US policy in the Middle East is supporting Jewish colonialism. So, yes, the discussion necessarily turns to how that particular situation would be different if the US adopted a policy of “leave them to sort it out”. Any other response was rather odd. I hope you understand that US policy towards e.g. Egypt and Jordan are very much influenced by that primary objective.

And so the question still applies: would you have left the white and black South Africans alone to sort it out? do you mean ‘leave them to existing power inequalities’, for example? because some versions of “leaving them to sort it out” would seem to imply permanent apartheid for the Palestinian arabs.

21

Hektor Bim 09.20.11 at 12:48 pm

I know that the US would care very greatly about Saudi Arabia even if Israel did not exist. It also would care about Turkey and Iran if Israel did not exist.

There are a lot of countries in the Middle East. Many of them have significant natural resources that greatly impact the world economy. That would be important even if Israel did not exist.

22

Hektor Bim 09.20.11 at 12:50 pm

Our behavior in Bahrain, for example, doesn’t make sense if one thinks it is just all about Israel. Saudi Arabia also has a significant influence on Pakistan, for example, which is another place we are that doesn’t have much to do with Israel.

23

engels 09.20.11 at 12:51 pm

from Uri Avnery Sad and Happy About Palestinian Statehood Bid

[...] In an almost comical turn of events, the army is also providing means of crowd dispersal to the Palestinian security forces trained by the Americans. The occupation authorities expect these Palestinian forces to protect the settlements against their compatriots. Since these are the armed forces of the future Palestinian state, which is opposed by Israel, it all sounds a bit bewildering.

According to the army, the Palestinians will get rubber-coated bullets and tear gas, but not the “Skunk.” The Skunk is a device that produces an unbearable stench which attaches itself to the peaceful demonstrators and will not leave them for a long time. I am afraid that when this chapter comes to an end, the stench will attach itself to our side and that we shall not get rid of it for a long time indeed.

Let’s give free rein to our imagination for just one minute. Imagine that in the coming U.N. debate something incredible happens: The Israeli delegate declares that after due consideration Israel has decided to vote for recognition of the State of Palestine. The assembly would gape in disbelief. After a moment of silence, wild applause would break out. The world would be electrified. For days, the world media would speak of nothing else.

The minute of imagination has passed. Back to reality. Back to the Skunk.

24

Cian 09.20.11 at 12:52 pm

The US cares about the Suez canal.

Iran is about the humiliation of the revolution, right? I mean lets be honest. If it was just about the oil, an accommodation would have been reached years ago.

25

Peter B. Reiner 09.20.11 at 12:59 pm

This comment is reminiscent of this classic paper [The reviewer's comment at the bottom of the title page is highly recommended.]

26

otto 09.20.11 at 1:07 pm

Yes, there is an oil-rents question too. Well done. And much else besides, to be sure. But US foreign policy on the ME is driven above all by the goal of promoting jewish colonialism, so it would be good for JQ to specify what sort of outcome he is expecting there from this change in policy.

27

John Quiggin 09.20.11 at 1:08 pm

@Hektor Bim. Quite right. My proposed policy is particularly applicable as regards oil. The US would do much better to plan on paying the price the owners want, or else using less, the same as happens in markets generally.

28

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 1:10 pm

The canal doesn’t seem to be connecting the US with anything. Europeans care about the canal, that’s why they (and Israel) invaded and occupied Egypt in 1956. The US at the time didn’t care about the territory known prior to 1947 as Palestine, or, apparently, about the canal, and so Eisenhower, instead of explaining how the occupation equals ‘the right to defend yourself’, told them to get out.

29

David Moles 09.20.11 at 1:11 pm

…but it’s upside-down.

30

Cian 09.20.11 at 1:21 pm

The responses are very revealing. It’s sort of a Rorschasch (sp?) blot with no blot.

Except that variations on your post are often made by Americans who seem to believe that the US is a neutral party in the Israel/Palestinian conflict, or even the only one capable of sorting it out. So maybe the responses are less revealing than you think. If you unintentionally write a post which fits into an existing propaganda narrative, don’t be surprised if people read it that way.

31

Hektor Bim 09.20.11 at 1:33 pm

Actually, for me at least, the natural resources question is paramount in US policy. That’s why we signed a deal with Saudi Arabia right at the tail end of World War II. That’s why we backed the shah to the hilt, and why we care about Iraq at all. Israel wasn’t even really on the US’s radar screen to a great extent until after the 1967 war. Before that its main international sponsor was France and its main intellectual supporters were on the left.

32

P O'Neill 09.20.11 at 1:41 pm

@20
Yeah, but why would any these things be an issue for the USA?

JQ’s original post, QED.

33

Salient 09.20.11 at 1:44 pm

It’s revealing that on this thread, “Middle East” means “territory known prior to 1947 as Palestine.”

Well, or maybe there’s some kind of big deal thing happening today regarding the Israel/Palestinian conflict which has been talked to death obsessively on our news programs for about a week, and the obvious utter incoherence of the action that our country is inevitably going to take is mind-numbing. We have been saturated with endless discussion of this thing, and a natural effect of that is the temporary narrowing of fields of vision. (But of course, you’re correct about Syria et al.)

(Also. Rest of world: can you credibly petition to have my country’s UN veto power revoked? Pretty please?)

34

otto 09.20.11 at 1:47 pm

“Before that its main international sponsor was France and its main intellectual supporters were on the left.”
Not sure what that has to do with current US policy that JQ wants to change. Israel is certainly the driving force of US ME policy now.

“My proposed policy is particularly applicable as regards oil”
Particularly applicable, or only applicable?

35

Hektor Bim 09.20.11 at 1:53 pm

otto,

I just said that I disagree that “Israel is certainly the driving force of US ME policy now”. I do think natural resources are viewed as more important by US policymakers and always have been viewed that way.

36

Watson Ladd 09.20.11 at 1:59 pm

@Henri,
Because when slavery and patriarchy rule in far off lands we are all diminished?

37

soru 09.20.11 at 2:22 pm

The superiority of the empty policy is not all that significant. I’d be more impressed if someone managed to come up with a clearly _worse_ policy than the existing one, at least while not using the word _nuke_ as a verb.

38

engels 09.20.11 at 2:28 pm

when slavery and patriarchy rule in far off lands we are all diminished

If they rule at home, it’s no problem naturally.

39

Walt 09.20.11 at 2:34 pm

J. Otto Pohl, I recommend to you the sections of the history book on the topics of “Nasser” and “pan-Arab nationalism”, and imagine the reaction of a Cold War US to a pan-Arab nationalist movement aligned with the Soviet Union, even if Israel never existed.

40

William Timberman 09.20.11 at 2:43 pm

John Quiggin, the naughty psychoanalyst. Tsk-tsk….

41

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 2:43 pm

when … patriarchy rule[s]

Oh my!

42

ajay 09.20.11 at 2:44 pm

The canal doesn’t seem to be connecting the US with anything.

7.5% of world trade goes through the canal. I’m just guessing here but I suspect that the US might notice if it was shut. And you can’t say that ME oil is important to the US and then discount the channel that most of it goes through (even if the oil itself doesn’t all go to the US).

Even without Isr**l, the Middle East would still be a region of 350 million people, with above-normal cultural, linguistic and political links between countries (compared to, say, South-East Asia), and a huge amount of economic importance because of the oil issue. The US would still need a policy towards it just as it has a Russia policy and a Latin America policy and a Japan policy and so on.

I do think natural resources are viewed as more important by US policymakers and always have been viewed that way.

Hektor, think back. What happened when the US was explicitly given a choice between supporting Israel in war and ensuring the continued free flow of oil? Which way did the US jump?

43

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 2:48 pm

@41 Yes, but the Cold War and pan-Arabism has little to do with the last 30-40 years. I don’t think you can attribute the last 30-40 years of policy to inertia.

44

Walt 09.20.11 at 2:59 pm

Egypt clearly was policy inertia. As soon as supporting Mubarek proved to more than epsilon work, the US shrugged his shoulders while he was driven from power. This is even though the regime change has considerably weakened Israel’s strategic position.

Otherwise, the US has intervened in the region in a large scale for reasons only tangentially related to Israel — for example, two wars with Iraq, the second of which ending with military occupation.

45

Watson Ladd 09.20.11 at 3:04 pm

Its a problem at home as well, which only socialist revolution can truly solve. But that revolution will lead to going back into Afghanistan.

46

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 3:07 pm

I’m just guessing here but I suspect that the US might notice if it was shut.

It wouldn’t affect the US directly. Again, what about the evidence, clear empirical evidence: Eisenhower’s actions in 1956, at the time when the US wouldn’t give a fuck about Israel? He forced Europeans out of Egypt and Israel out of Sinai; the canal remained nationalized. Simple as that.

47

otto 09.20.11 at 3:10 pm

On the oil issue, and much other econ stuff too, including that canal, willing-buyer-willing-seller would work fine if powerful interests in the US political system did not seek to use political pressure to get a larger share of the rents. So the US is interested, of course, but free exchange with mutual gains would very largely take care of its interests. There’s no need for coercion at all.

As regards the colonisation of Palestine, obviously this is not – how to put it – a win-win scenario for both the colonisers and the colonised, any more than apartheid South Africa. The system is built on coercion. So there’s no stable “leave them alone to sort it out” situation available, or rather what you mean by “leave them alone to sort it out” may indicate either colonial apartheid or effective decolonisation (like South Africa) depending on how it is fleshed out. Maybe JQ would like to flesh out his version of it?

48

Cian 09.20.11 at 3:28 pm

It wouldn’t affect the US directly.

France and Britain had financial stakes in the Suez canal; the US did not. Completely different thing. The US navy depends upon the Suez canal. Its not the only factor, but its certainly a strategic consideration. If there was ever a serious threat of closing it to international shipping, you’d probably see just how little the US cares, once the smoke cleared from the bombing raids.

49

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 3:29 pm

@46 Maybe, but it wasn’t inertia left over from the Cold War! But I wouldn’t even describe it as inertia. Mubarak served US interests as long as he was in power, and if they could have kept him in power longer, they would have.

proved to more than epsilon work

It was a lot more than epsilon work. You can’t assume that the US could have kept Mubarak in power with somewhat-more-than-trivial effort after last spring. The US’s ability to intervene in the Middle East isn’t unlimited, especially when it comes to mass social movements strong enough to overthrow a dictator. I don’t think the US could have managed that even in the heyday of its power, if things had gotten to the point they were at in late January, and it was never perfectly able to stop things from getting to that point, either (see Iran 1979).

@49 So there’s no stable “leave them alone to sort it out” situation available

The reason “leaving them alone” in Palestine probably wouldn’t doom the Palestinians is that there are a lot of other countries not leaving them alone, who want to see a reconciliation of some kind. The intervention of the US, in particular, is not essential.

More generally, the important thing to keep in mind is that the cultural and political environment in which American Middle East policy is formulated is largely shaped through non-state institutions–look at the cancellation of the exhibit of Gazan children’s drawings at the Oakland Museum of Children’s Art, for example. I’m waiting for somebody to show me the military industrial complex at work behind the scenes there. Thus is US Middle East policy described as being essentially a domestic policy rather than a foreign policy.

50

ajay 09.20.11 at 3:46 pm

Again, what about the evidence, clear empirical evidence: Eisenhower’s actions in 1956, at the time when the US wouldn’t give a fuck about Israel? He forced Europeans out of Egypt and Israel out of Sinai; the canal remained nationalized.

1956 was about who owned the canal. Not about whether it stayed open or not.

51

patrick 09.20.11 at 4:14 pm

Walt in addition to the sections from history you recommend please allow me to add the books Devil’s Game: How the U. S. helped unleash Islamic Fundamentalism by Robert Dreyfuss, and Sleeping with the Devil: How Washington sold our soul for Saaudi crude by Robert Baer.

52

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 4:30 pm

…but its certainly a strategic consideration

Of course it is. But also everything else is a strategic consideration. Read those wikileaks cables: Turkmenistan ruler’s quirks is a strategic consideration. My point is that there is no direct clear reason for the US, as in ‘US national interests’, at least as I see them, to care about the canal.

53

John Quiggin 09.20.11 at 5:26 pm

As regards Israel/Palestine, I’m confident of one thing that would not happen if the US withdrew from the scene, namely an invasion of Israel by the combined armies of the Arab world (let alone a successful invasion). And, as mentioned above, I can’t see the removal of the tight constraints imposed by the US leading Israel to a radically more aggressive line against the Palestinians.

Otherwise, I don’t have a strong prediction. But then I don’t have a strong prediction as to what will happen under existing policy, and as far as I can see, neither does any other sensible person.

More to the point of the post, almost any outcome would be better, from the US viewpoint, if it was realised without US involvement. (I guess the exception is the West Wing scenario where Lieberman and the Hamas leadership meet at Camp David and emerge swearing eternal friendship).

54

Cian 09.20.11 at 5:55 pm

My point is that there is no direct clear reason for the US, as in ‘US national interests’, at least as I see them, to care about the canal.

Egypt is taken over by a government that makes it clear if it has a beef with the west, it will close the canal:
1) This would have a material affect on oil supplies to the US
2) It would materially affect the US’s ability to project naval power around the world (currently they can go through the canal).

Do you really think the US would let that happen?

55

geo 09.20.11 at 6:05 pm

One thing, however, that many sensible people did foresee and predict for approximately the last forty years is that as long as “existing US policy” toward Israel (ie, unqualified material and diplomatic support) remained unchanged, the annexation of the West Bank would proceed apace, as it has. I have to confess that I don’t see the slightest mystery, or even ambiguity, about Israeli/Palestinian, or indeed Middle Eastern, affairs, or about US policy in the region. “Complexity” is the hobgoblin of imperialist apologists. (No reference to present company intended or implied, of course.)

56

Substance McGravitas 09.20.11 at 6:06 pm

It’s one thing to consider the right of Israel to exist after all these years, and another to support an ongoing invasion.

57

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 6:07 pm

It’s unimaginable that an even semi-functional Egyptian government would actually close the Suez under any circumstances. That would be like Iran or Saudi Arabia shutting off ALL their oil wells. You can do it for a little while to make a point, at significant financial cost (and the Saudis are super-rich, they can weather a shutdown, whereas Egypt is quite poor). The worst they could do is not allow certain traffic (say, the US navy?). And in a situation where the US has adopted John’s suggested foreign policy in the Middle East, how much would this matter? It seems like shipping is fungible too, like, you can’t easily determine the ultimate destination of goods on a given ship, and shipments could be routed through multiple ports, no?

58

geo 09.20.11 at 6:07 pm

I think I should have said “last resort” rather than “hobgoblin.” Sorry, got carried away.

59

P O'Neill 09.20.11 at 6:10 pm

The Suez canal is apparently so unnecessary it’s a wonder it was built at all.

60

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 6:21 pm

A question for John: would your proposed Middle East policy include ending tax exemption for Israeli settlers, and rather broadly treating Muslim charities as terrorist organizations? Or any restrictions on Americans funding and arming settlers and manning the settlements? A lot of focus, both by critics and supporters of Israel, is on the US govt and its policies, but while the non-state stuff is probably insignificant to what the US govt does, in a situation where that massive source of support for Israel is removed, these things might become important.

61

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.20.11 at 6:55 pm

Oh well, I was wrong: apparently some US-bound oil tankers do use the Suez canal. So, it’s not completely unnecessary.

62

Scott 09.20.11 at 6:59 pm

I think many, if not most, of the US Congress would like to be shot of Israel, but they can’t because they have AIPAC on their case. If you gave them the chance to lance the AIPAC boil, I suspect they’d jump on it.

I guess you have to give credit for the Israel lobby in the US- they’ve done a hell of a job of brainwashing the US political class.

63

Kaveh 09.20.11 at 7:17 pm

Scott @64 I agree, I suspect that support for Israel is “a mile wide and an inch deep”. I don’t think the Israel lobby is as powerful as people think it is. It continues to be effective partly just because people believe it is so powerful. People point to Congresspeople like Cynthia McKinney and claim they were shot down by the Israel lobby, but Ralph Ellison doesn’t look like he’s going anywhere (we’ll see what happens when he’s up for reelection, but he at least doesn’t seem to be suffering right now; and surely Israel-firsters, with all their suspicion of Obama, must have suspected that an avowed Muslim American might not be sympathetic to their agenda, they didn’t stop him from getting in).

64

Donald Johnson 09.20.11 at 8:14 pm

“Will it withdraw from UN Human Rights Commission, with its one sided focus on Israel?”

Weird. I just went to the UN Human Rights Commission website and found a lot of stuff about Syria and Libya and the Sudan and drinking water and children and so forth-

link

65

Donald Johnson 09.20.11 at 8:20 pm

The previous link was to a list of press releases–here is the UNHRC’s main webpage–

link

As anyone can plainly see, it consists of a giant Israeli flag with a big “X” marked across it.

66

Hektor Bim 09.20.11 at 9:29 pm

ajay,

1973 was the US taking the opposite side from the Soviets in the Cold war. When OPEC retaliated with the oil embargo, the Nixon administration quickly forced Israel to the negotiating table and produced land for peace.

67

Rob 09.21.11 at 7:33 am

“is set out over the fold”: Forgive my ignorance, but what does this mean? I presume the fold refers to a newspaper fold, but this does not help me find the “comprehensive plan” advertised.

68

novakant 09.21.11 at 10:14 am

I really don’t see why control of natural resources and neocolonialism are being treated as different objectives here – after all colonialism was mainly about extraction of resources. The ideological ueberbau, be it the white man’s burden, democratization or religion, has always been merely a fig leaf for domestic consumption. The aim is to control the region and make a profit. This applies to all major players involved.

69

John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 10:28 am

@Rob This was a joke, which may be a bit harder to see now that there are lots of comments on the post. “Over the fold” is what you see when you click “More …”. The point of the post is that there is nothing over the fold. That is, my comprehensive plan is for the US to leave the Middle East entirely alone.

70

John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 10:39 am

I haven’t yet spelt out my point on oil, and lots of people still seem to think US policy makes some sense, so let me spell it out. As a general proposition, invading countries to steal their natural resources hasn’t been cost-effective for at least a century – the European powers worked this out quite some time ago.

But the US doesn’t even do that. It maintains a gigantic military machine, in substantial measure on the theory that, at some future date, it might be useful to maintain access to oil. The only instance where that access was threatened was for a few weeks in 1973, and the associated inconvenience was rather less than would arise if refinery workers managed a successful strike (that happened a lot in Australia in the 1970s, so our self-sufficiency in oil didn’t stop us queueing).

Leaving aside the general silliness, the US gets most of its oil imports from Canada and Mexico, has a large “strategic reserve” and, thanks to its massive excess consumption has ample capacity to outlast any attempt by suppliers to withhold supplies.

So, US policy consists of spending huge amounts of money, and incurring vast opprobrium in order to protect (mostly) European access to oil, then bitching about the fact that the Europeans aren’t grateful for the protection they are receiving from non-existent threats. The same applies to the Suez canal, in spades.

71

otto 09.21.11 at 11:01 am

On the oil- and canal- question, JQ’s approach is more or less Norman Angellism and there’s nothing wrong with that. Never was!

On the Israel issue, I think JQ to – to put it mildly – vastly understates the role of US policy – diplomatic, military, financial – in maintaining jewish colonial dominance over the native arab population of Palestine. The US ‘s current role in relation to enabling Israeli policy is more or less the role that France played in relation to maintenance of French Algeria or the role that the UK played in relation to white Rhodesia. So there’s no Norman Angell type outcome waiting here, just settler apartheid or decolonization of one sort of another.

72

Walt 09.21.11 at 11:58 am

otto, Israel is a first-world country occupying a third-world country. It’s nice of the US to help defray the costs of occupation, but Israel could keep it up indefinitely without outside help.

And what do you see as the solution? The expulsion of the Israelis from the area?

73

otto 09.21.11 at 12:23 pm

I very much doubt Israel could keep it up without outside help. The Israelis themnselves are fully aware of this, which is why there is so much pro-Israel mobilization in the US.

A first world country occupying a third world country is more or less what apartheid South Africa was and the eventual solution for Israel-Palestine is something like the new South Africa: deprivileging the colonials within a single state. Of course, as unpalatable to many Israelis as it was to many white South Africans, but that’s decolonisation and loss of privilege for you.

74

jimmy 09.21.11 at 12:38 pm

not to be stupid, but I can’t find the full post. where is the “below the fold”?

75

Walt 09.21.11 at 12:53 pm

So your passion on this issue, otto, is to someday see that the Israelis be ruled by a Palestinian majority? You’ll be happy with nothing less?

76

otto 09.21.11 at 1:05 pm

That seems to be the both the just and by far the most likely eventual outcome, as in South Africa, although continued colonial apartheid (under the propaganda guise of various ‘peace processes’) is the other possibility. Again, per South Africa, those seem to be the two essential alternatives.

77

Walt 09.21.11 at 1:12 pm

Why is that a just outcome? Why is Palestinian rule of Israelis so much more of a just outcome than Israeli rule of Palestinians?

78

Hektor Bim 09.21.11 at 1:18 pm

John Quiggin,

I’m not saying that the US policy vis a vis natural resources in the ME is cost-effective, just that that is the dominant concern. I wholly agree with you on the relative costs of the issue. :)

The whole Israeli settler state meme is somewhat unusual. After all, the population of Israel is already majority Arab-origin. More than half of the Jews in Israel are Mizrahi and they or their parents spoke Arabic, Persian, or Kurdish before the founding of Israel. Some of them have lived there for hundreds of years (or longer, though records are spotty.) This isn’t a case where a straightforward European origin/Israeli vs. non-European origin/Palestinian makes sense. It’s true that the Ashkenazim were the elite at the founding, but that is no longer true. Israel has been a Middle Eastern country for a long time.

79

otto 09.21.11 at 1:19 pm

Why is black rule of white South Africans so much more of a just outcome than white rule of black South Africans? The answer is the same. Note, of course, that the white South Africans are doing fine, although of course many regret their loss of colonial privilege and ability to treat the native African population with impunity.

80

Henri Vieuxtemps 09.21.11 at 1:30 pm

So your passion on this issue, otto, is to someday see that the Israelis be ruled by a Palestinian majority? You’ll be happy with nothing less?

What does this question mean, exactly; are you implying ethnic exceptionalism of some sort? Otherwise, how come the Palestinians are not Israelis, and Israelis not Palestinians?

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John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 1:42 pm

@Otto – as far as I can see, Rhodesia was the exact opposite of your claim. The UK wanted a democratic government before decolonisation, so Smith declared UDI and lasted 15 years, despite both a guerilla war and international sanctions. Broadly speaking, the same for South Africa.

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Walt 09.21.11 at 1:53 pm

I do believe that South Africa may be the only historical analogy you know. There’s nothing intrinsically just about a majority ruling a minority, any more than the reverse. So far, South Africa has worked out pretty well, but what reason is there for thinking this is a plausible outcome in Israel/Palestine?

Right now, Syria is ruled by an Alawite minority that been shooting protestors. Should there be a global boycott of Syria?

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engels 09.21.11 at 2:01 pm

So your passion on this issue, otto, is to someday see that the Israelis be ruled by a Palestinian majority? You’ll be happy with nothing less?

What about the idea of a single territory containing Israelis and Palestinians, ruled over by those same Israelis and Palestinians? A democracy, in other words?

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Cian 09.21.11 at 2:15 pm

It’s true that the Ashkenazim were the elite at the founding, but that is no longer true.

It largely still is, as it happens.

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Cian 09.21.11 at 2:17 pm

There’s nothing intrinsically just about a majority ruling a minority, any more than the reverse.

So you’re opposed to democracy in other words.

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ajay 09.21.11 at 2:17 pm

83: this is correct. There was a lot of sympathy in Britain, especially on the right, for the white Rhodesians, but British government policy, whatever the government, was as you describe it.

South Africa was a bit different – the nonwhite population was gradually disenfranchised over the first half of the 20th century. Their political position actually got worse (contrast with Rhodesia where they were always pretty badly off politically and had started to get their hands on a bit of political power in the Federation years immediately before UDI) and this ended up with South Africa becoming a republic in 1960, at the urging of the conservative and anti-British Afrikaner population, and leaving the Commonwealth.

There wasn’t the same Afrikaans/English split in Rhodesia; the white settlers were pretty much all Anglophone. Also, key point: South Africa already was independent in 1960 – it was a sovereign Commonwealth state, like Canada and Australia. Rhodesia was an actual British colony, a part of the Empire that declared independence.

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Walt 09.21.11 at 2:25 pm

Cian, democracy is synonymous with a tyranny of a majority? I did not know that.

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engels 09.21.11 at 2:28 pm

There’s nothing intrinsically just about a majority ruling a minority, any more than the reverse.

I agree. Democracy isn’t the same thing as majority rule, though.

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wilfred 09.21.11 at 2:42 pm

@Kaveh #65 – That would be Keith Ellison, although to be fair he is equally invisible.

@Walt – Socratic hasbara – nice. Oh, and:

“Right now, Syria is ruled by an Alawite minority that been shooting protestors. Should there be a global boycott of Syria?”

Yes.

90

Kaveh 09.21.11 at 3:23 pm

Hmmm… my comments started going into moderation since I added a link to my name.

@72 But the US doesn’t even do that. It maintains a gigantic military machine, in substantial measure on the theory that, at some future date, it might be useful to maintain access to oil.

Indeed, this does seem inexplicable. But you don’t address an important alternative explanation (besides wanting to be able to seize oil), which is that the Israel lobby (broadly defined–maybe it’s even better to talk about this in terms of American cultural tendencies) has some role in this–at least to the extent of influencing which way the resources of the military industrial complex are directed. Walt and Mearsheimer’s argument focuses on the lobby as a lobby, but there is also the whole question of American culture more generally. And the description of American culture as having become “militaristic” I think is very apt.

@91 Oh my god… {hangs head in shame}

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SamChevre 09.21.11 at 4:24 pm

Some say a bygone ought to be a bygone,
Let’s make peace the way we did in OstPrusse and Poemern

(Apologies to Tom Lehrer)

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geo 09.21.11 at 4:42 pm

JQ@72: John, you keep making the characteristic economist’s mistake of improperly aggregating. (Cf. per capita GDP.) As I argued at length in a previous thread, policymakers don’t add up all the costs and benefits of a policy — either to the entire society or even just to the entire ruling class — and make policy accordingly. They respond to intense pressure from those with most to gain or lose from the policy in question — in this case the energy and defense industries. The rest of the ruling class, not having the same stake in the policy, will not commit anything like the same resources as the industries who consider it vital, on the principle that when their own vital interests are at stake over another policy in another situation, those less affected will not oppose their pressure in that case. The state may be (indeed is) the executive committee of the ruling class, but it does not calculate the aggregate benefit in every case; rather, it operates on the principle that anything a committee member (ie, a powerful industry) wants done will be done, unless there is even more powerful opposition from the other members, which there will only be when the interests of the other members are adversely affected enough to generate an outlay of resources greater than the resources being expended to push the policy.

So in this case, in order to establish either that US interventions in the ME are not motivated by the desire for a favorable investment position in energy and/or by the strategic advantages of military control over oil-producing regions, you would have to argue that intervention to control oil is cost-ineffective not for the society or economy as a whole but rather for those industries — energy, defense, and their financiers — whom leftists claim are lobbying for those policies.

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novakant 09.21.11 at 5:07 pm

I agree with geo. Even if the US didn’t need to import a single drop of oil from the ME, it still would want to control this region, because the energy and defence sector makes a ton of money there. And furthermore, as an imperial power the US would have an interest in controlling a region that is of vital importance to other big powers.

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John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 7:11 pm

But geo,
1. The military power doesn’t actually have any effect. The US doesn’t get oil any cheaper.

2. Cheap access to Middle Eastern oil would harm the most influential of lobbies, domestic oil producers. And it’s not true that US energy companies make a lot of money in the Middle East. They don’t have much in the way of rights there, and they pay full market price for what they get.

Of course, it’s true that spending on the military helps the military industry. This doubtless helps to explain why it continues, but not why the dominant class as a whole supports it. And the military could be just as well occupied staging air shows and tattoos, or even doing something useful (though I guess it’s more likely that any domestic use found for them would be the traditional one).

In any case, the point of my post was not to explain existing policy, or to suggest a political strategy for changing it, just to suggest an alternative that would be better for most people, in both the US and the Middle East.

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LFC 09.21.11 at 7:28 pm

jimmy @76
There is nothing “below the fold”. That’s the point of the post. (See same question from someone else and answer by JQ earlier in the thread.)

I haven’t read the whole thread, but curious whether anyone has asked if Israel and Egypt would have signed the ’79 peace agreement without US role as broker.

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geo 09.21.11 at 8:07 pm

1. The military power doesn’t actually have any effect

The State Department Postwar Policy Planning Group in 1944 or 1945 described Middle Eastern oil as “a stupendous prize … the world’s greatest strategic asset.” When Mossadegh was overthrown in 1953, the New York Times applauded the coup as “an object lesson to developing nations in the consequences of going berserk with fanatical nationalism.” When Eisenhower asked his National Security Council to assess perceptions of the US in the Middle East, they reported back that the US was extremely unpopular because it was perceived to be on the side of cooperative elites subservient to the great powers and against independent development under nationalist auspices. The Carter Doctrine was explicitly about oil. Every generation of US strategists and policymakers has believed it to be utterly crucial that control over the production and marketing of the 20-25 percent of world oil capacity in the Middle East not be lost to a rival great power or to the region’s own population. Moreover, the actual personnel involved in making policy in this area has been recruited, to a significant degree, from the energy industry. You may believe that energy industry executives and their flacks in government have been, to a man, deluded about their interests and would have been as colossally, uniquely profitable as they have been over the last few decades if the US had not frequently intervened in or continuously garrisoned the Middle East since WW2, but rather had saved the money and let the market take its efficiency-maximizing way. I don’t see this.

Of course, it’s true that spending on the military helps the military industry. This doubtless helps to explain why it continues, but not why the dominant class as a whole supports it.

As I keep trying to explain, what the dominant class as a whole supports is the principle that the state will intervene when necessary on behalf of any member of the class, subject to the objections of other members of the class, and on behalf of the class as a whole against the rest of the population. Now, what arouses “the objections of other members of the class”? Not, as you seem to believe, a calculation (by an advisory committe of economists?) that the sum of the (small) costs to all of them would outweigh the large benefits to the member pushing for the intervention. Rather, they reflect that they themselves will probably be in the position some day of urging a policy that, though absolutely vital for them, will nevertheless impose lesser costs on the other members of the class, and that they must now go along in order to secure acquiescence from others in the future.

Of course, this is not all decided at a committee meeting. (Though who knows what they discuss at the Business Roundtable or the US Chamber of Commerce? Or at Davos or Bavarian Grove, for that matter?) It is a matter of who is willing to commit what resources to promoting or opposing a given policy. Employers in general may have realized that they were going to pay more for inferior health care, and lose more productivity, with the Access to Health Care Act (or whatever it’s called) than with single-payer. But the insurance, hospital, and pharmaceutical industries would have considered it a life-or-death matter to defeat single payer, and would have spent virtually unlimited resources. It simply wasn’t an important enough issue to employers in general for them to have spent anything like commensurate resources supporting single care.

As a wise man once said: “Disaggregate! Disaggregate! This is the Law and the prophets!”

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John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 8:31 pm

“Every generation of US strategists and policymakers has believed it to be utterly crucial that control over the production and marketing of the 20-25 percent of world oil capacity in the Middle East not be lost to a rival great power or to the region’s own population.”

But it has been lost to the region’s own population, or at least to its ruling class. Oil production is nationalised just about everywhere in the Middle East The win against Mossadegh in 1953 was about the last. The limited of oil bought by the US from the ME is paid for at the market price.

And to repeat even louder: High oil prices and the loss of alternative suppliers are GOOD for oil companies. This is Econ 101. If US policy worked as it supposed to, it would benefit US consumers and harm producers.

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John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 8:38 pm

In this context, it’s interesting to note that the Chinese have been the big winners in Iraq oil contracts (BP got some, and the US majors nothing, AFAICT)

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/08/28/AR2008082802200.html

So, while I don’t disagree that a belief in the vitalness of control over oil is central to thinking of US strategists, I don’t see any problem in concluding that this belief is delusional. Even in Iraq, with a massive army controlling the country, they can’t actually do anything – obviously, an attempt to steal the oil would have been even more disastrous than the actual outcome.

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novakant 09.21.11 at 8:47 pm

If US policy worked as it supposed to, it would benefit US consumers and harm producers.

If the US was Sweden, the world would be a better place.

Meanwhile US ME policy has been very profitable for those that devised it, e.g.:

http://www.commondreams.org/headlines01/1211-05.htm

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geo 09.21.11 at 9:30 pm

@100: High oil prices and the loss of alternative suppliers are GOOD for oil companies. This is Econ 101. If US policy worked as it supposed to, it would benefit US consumers and harm producers

Yes, yes, John but you’re thinking in a vacuum again about policy formation. Of course there are constraints on any ruling class. They have to keep the population alive, consuming, and contented or at least passive. The reason the ruling class went as a group to Johnson and told him to stop the Vietnam war was not that it was hurting them as a group more than it was benefiting the military and the defense industry, but that the population was becoming seriously disaffected and potentially rowdy, and that could be very bad for business. If gas and heating oil prices rise too steeply too quickly, there will be political discontent. This is a constraint the energy industry has to take into account, though they can sometimes (as with the OPEC boycott and the post-Iraq-invasion spike) blame high prices on external factors.

The win against Mossadegh in 1953 was about the last

No, not at all. Radical Arab nationalism had the US quite worried in the 1950s. Very skilfully, it brought Egypt, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia into the fold, while organizing a virtually invincible regional alliance among Israel, Turkey, and Iran that lasted until 1979. Intervention doesn’t just mean the Marines.

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John Quiggin 09.21.11 at 9:43 pm

Novakant @101, you’ve missed my point. I’m not remotely suggesting that it would be a good thing (even for the US) if policy worked as intended.

Geo, you seem to have switched sides in a way that makes argument impossible.

However oil prices move, there are going to be gainers and losers. So, you seem to be saying, whoever gains must be politically decisive and therefore any conceivable policy is All About Oil.

But to restate to both you and Novakant, the actual influence of US Middle East policy on oil prices is both negligible and highly stochastic – for example, the All About Oil analysis of the Iraq war was that Iraq would be forced increase output and cut prices, with special deals for the US majors. Actually, the opposite of all those things has happened, but in any case, the impact has been marginal compared to the trillions spent.

I shouldn’t complain, I guess – you are describing pretty accurately the thinking of US policymakers as you say. It’s just that that thinking is delusional.

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Bruce Wilder 09.21.11 at 10:28 pm

JQ: “If US policy worked as it supposed to, it would benefit US consumers and harm producers.”

You look at a U.S. policy formed by the likes of Richard Cheney, and you thought it was “intended” to increase consumer surplus?

Oh boy.

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geo 09.21.11 at 11:07 pm

John: your refutation would be decisive if policies were always successful and the external world never supplied unforeseen contingencies. Then it would be easy just to look at who gained and infer that the policy was intended to produce that result. I don’t actually know whether, or under what circumstances, it would be to the energy industry’s advantage to have high prices or low ones, high output or low output, whether the industry’s interests are ever or never or always aligned with consumers’ interests, whether the domestic and international oil producers always or sometimes have opposing interests, or whether domestic and international oil producers are even distinct constituencies. In each case, I defer to you economists. What I took you to be arguing, and what I disagreed with, is that there was some mystery about American foreign policy in the Middle East because the results were not, from an aggregate point of view, economically optimal. If I misunderstood you, I apologize.

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soru 09.22.11 at 12:19 am

I shouldn’t complain, I guess – you are describing pretty accurately the thinking of US policymakers as you say. It’s just that that thinking is delusional.

I don’t think it is even so much of policymakers as of voters. Supposedly, US popular support for the Iraq war declined from ~75% not based on casualties or any other measure of success, but the price to fill up at the pump. The politicians were chasing that demand, more than that of lobbyists.

Obviously, as any oil industry lobbyist would have predicted, a war lead to either failure and infrastructure destruction, or success and the creation of a government with a stronger bargaining position (lower need for high-tech weaponry or UN votes). Either naturally lead to higher prices and less profitable contracts.

But that was in the future. The votes from denying, without quite winking, ‘this is a war for oil’ were here and now. And you can’t make any money from government office if you are not in office.

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Seth Gordon 09.22.11 at 1:59 pm

I think it’s a safe bet that somewhere in the bowels of Israel’s Foreign Ministry is a binder, updated on a regular basis, labeled “What To Do If The Americans Cut Us Loose”. It probably involves making overtures to India and China.

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J. Otto Pohl 09.22.11 at 2:32 pm

Seth:

There is no way that the Israelis could establish any lobbies in India or China a fraction as successful as the one in the US. Look at the recent talks by Obama and Perry. I can not ever imagine a leader of another independent country kowtowing to the Israelis like we have. What do you think would happen if Israel sank a Chinese naval ship? Do you honestly believe there is any possible way they would cover it up and give unconditional support to Israel the way the US did after the Israelis sank the USS Liberty? No, the Chinese and Indians are going to look out for their own interests not those of Israel. The US is unique among major powers in having the tail wag the dog. Other states value their independence over the lobbies of foreign countries.

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pmcl 09.23.11 at 6:37 am

John – looked over the fold and the plan’s not there – just comments.

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John Quiggin 09.24.11 at 8:59 pm

Bruce @104 you’ve comprehensively missed the point. Reread the thread and think a bit more carefully.

@pmcl See comment #97

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