On the wrong side of the Arab Spring

by John Quiggin on October 1, 2011

The US Administration has been ambivalent about the Arab Spring from the start. But three recent developments have palce the US more clearly on the opposing side than at any time since the fall of the Tunisian regime. The list of motives is long, and its variety indicates how many things are more important to US foreign policy than the democratic aspirations of people in Arab countries

  • The autocracy in Bahrein has sentenced doctors to long prison terms for the crime of treating injured demonstrators. The US reaction is to sell the regime more weapons, as part of the deal that keeps the 5th Fleet based there
  • The assassination of Anwar Al-Awaki was carried out in close co-operation with the Saleh regime. Although the US has called on Saleh to leave, it’s clear that the Eternal War on Terror takes precedence over the concerns of Yemenis
  • Finally, there’s the promised veto on Palestinian statehood, driven by US politics, which are now characterised by the “antipathies against particular nations and passionate attachment to others” against which Alexander Hamilton warned two centuries ago.

As with the Iraq war, there is such a mixture of motives and inconsistent policy goals that it’s a safe bet that few if any will be achieved in the long run. Conversely, I think that attempts to find a coherent national or class interest driving US policy are doomed to failure. There are a bunch of different interest groups, each with their own veto points and spans of control, and the outcomes are good for (almost) no-one.

{ 81 comments }

1

Ranjit Suresh 10.01.11 at 9:43 pm

I’m not sure why it would be difficult to find a class interest behind American policy in the Middle East considering it’s been pretty bloody consistent since the Carter Doctrine a generation and more ago. Carter stated: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Once we amend that to include that any internal force (aside from Israel) will not be allowed to gain control over the Gulf, you pretty much have the rationale for the demonization of Iraq under Saddam and the isolation of Iran since the Revolution. Considering the disparate interest groups in the body politic of this enormous nation, this consistency could well be explained by the fact that one particular interest or group has been gained hegemony over foreign policy towards the region.

2

david 10.01.11 at 10:16 pm

Nitpick: the quote is from George Washington, not Alexander Hamilton, if Google is not failing me.

3

Idonthaveacoolname 10.01.11 at 10:27 pm

George Wasington asked Hamilton for assistance on his Farewell Address.

4

geo 10.01.11 at 11:05 pm

I think that attempts to find a coherent national or class interest driving US policy are doomed to failure.

Perhaps one way to make the attempt is to ask: “Is there something the US government has never aimed for in the past and can hardly be imagined aiming for in the future, unless the structure of power within the US drastically alters?”

One possible answer is: the US has never supported a less investor-friendly contender for power in any other country against a more investor-friendly one, where “investor-friendly” means willing to allow maximal foreign investment and foreign ownership of national resources; willing to tax foreign investment minimally, place few or no limits on profit repatriation or inflows/outflows of financial capital; impose minimal environmental and occupational-safety regulation; discourage labor and peasant organizing; and integrate its military and internal security forces with those of the United States. The only exception is regimes like those of Marcos, Suharto, and Mubarak, which have lost effective control of the population; and in those cases, the US will maneuver to bring to power the most investor-friendly group that has a reasonable chance of controlling the population. Can you think of any other examples? Of course it’s understood that the US generally doesn’t seek to influence the contests for power within stable First World allies, since the costs of being discovered doing so would be too high.

All this is set out, not formally but clearly enough, in Chomsky’s writings. A good place to start is Deterring Democracy.

5

geo 10.01.11 at 11:06 pm

@4: “Can you think of any other examples?” should be “Can you think of any other exceptions?”

6

salazar 10.01.11 at 11:09 pm

I don’t know. I think the outcomes are pretty good for the Pentagon, defense contractors, the Israeli lobby and government and all those who, in one way or another, benefit from keeping the United States on a permanent war footing. Furthermore, I seen no indication that the United States has lost its ability to influence the outcomes aforementioned groups have compelled it to make its top priorities in the Middle East. First, the isolation of the Palestinians, as shown, for instance, by the severe entry and exit restrictions at the Rafah crossing; second, the omnipresence of the US military-security apparatus in the Middle East and South Asia. Victory, however defined, is not the outcome. Warfare itself is.

In this context, how the Muslim views Washington’s veto of Abbas’ begging on his knees for the right to create a Palestinian bantustan is of no consequence whatsoever for the US foreign policy establishment.

7

Ebenezer Scrooge 10.01.11 at 11:19 pm

Salazar,
I don’t think that Abbas is interested in creating a Palestinian bantustan. The Israelis would give him one any time he asks. He wants a sovereign Palestinian state. This is what the Israelis can’t abide.

8

Andrew F. 10.01.11 at 11:51 pm

To think that a sudden US disengagement with Yemen or Bahrain would produce democracy is just as misguided as the neoconservative belief that Iraqi democracy would flourish if the suppressive hand of Hussein were removed.

We can certainly hope for the best in Yemen (a fiercely tribal nation, to the extent it is one) and Bahrain (the al Khalifa are not going anywhere, being strongly supported by the Saudis who – understandably – are concerned about Iran), but US foreign policy must be designed for the world as it is.

As to the Palestinians, the US has been strongly supportive of a two-state solution, and has given far more impetus to the achievement to that solution than a thousand successful General Assembly votes ever could. A General Assembly vote does not ameliorate Israeli security concerns, or relieve the pressure of the far-right in that country to continue building settlements; nor does it aid the Palestinians in achieving a government less fanatic and more engaged in the peace process than Hamas.

The policies of the US here, in short, are firmly and completely pragmatic. They are in the best interests of the US, and, fortuitously, also in the best interests of Yemen, Bahrain, and the Palestinians.

9

Tim Wilkinson 10.01.11 at 11:57 pm

Not necessarily ‘driving’ policy, but a common factor, and I reckon much more like an aim in itself than is commonly acknowledged, is establishing permanent fortified military bases. It’s a long-term strategic move in chess-like heuristic terms: you don’t need a clear-cut idea of how future resource wars, for example, might unfold, nor of any other specific contingency, to treat it as a good move.

The chess metaphor is familiar in this context of course from Brzezinski. As metaphors go, it’s a bit of a cheat since chess is already based on the converse metaphor. We could even use Risk as an even less metaphorical metaphor to emphasise the point that the gaining of this kind of strategic advantage comes to be treated as an end in itself – one advantage gained being the enhanced ability to invade yet more places and achieve occupation-lite over even more of the board.

It’s a simple strategem which can be embedded in almost any other wider context – identify or generate the demand for troops on the ground, gain domestic support for meeting this demand (a trivial task) then make your first move on arrival the building of bases, fortresses, citadels. Then never leave.

Gulf I – if you accept the evidence of your lying eyes and conclude that US egged Saddam on to march into Kuwait – can be seen as an operation aimed at getting bases established in K. and Saudi (and note removing the latter was UBL’s primary concrete demand – and was granted, by relocating over the border to Qatar). This also provides a reason why civil war, insurgency etc would be welcome rather than constituting an unambiguous failure.

Just about the only clear and concrete contribution of the Iraq invasion to a vaguely plausible conception of the US National interest (as opposed to that of Israel, of private actors, or of global capital in general via the spread of neoliberalism) was those bases, which surely aren’t going away. I still expect to see them in Libya in the fullness of time – and would be unsurprised to find that events were manipulated or allowed to develop in such a way as to give the new goverment a reason to request a ground force, thus bases. (See also a comment from Henry’s regime change thread, recently released from moderation.)

It doesn’t take much imagination to see how having this kind of enclave and installation is going to be useful in a wide variety of ways – launchpad, base for military ops, quietly threatening presence, insertion and extraction point for covert agents, etc. What self respecting hegemonic projector of military might wouldn’t want such a thing?

And once in place, they’re hard to shift – the diplomatic ramifications of suddenly, ungratefully, demanding withdrawal, the local economy, probably leases and contracts, the inherent difficulty of doing anything practical about fortified military installations without looking like you’re starting a war.

(Even in the UK there is still a vestigial US air force base. Keeping a pied à terre like that means no Rubicon has to be crossed should one ever want to establish a substantial presence. And no I can’t envisage a specific scenario – that’s the point of chess-like heuristics.)

10

Andrew F. 10.02.11 at 12:00 am

^ Security Council, obviously.

11

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 12:49 am

The comments above on US military policy are all valid in a way, but they seem kind of circular to me. The US maintains a strong military and lots of bases and asserts control of the Persian Gulf in order to be able to pursue its strategic goal which is to maintain a strong military and lots of bases and assert control of the Persian Gulf.

Obviously, this is in the interests of the military sector, but if the US instead pursued a policy of digging holes and filling them up again, there would be a hole-digging sector with the associated lobbyists, tame pundits, Hole Digging Policy Community and so on.

@Geo – that’s sort of true, in the sense that, given a free choice, the US always prefers investor-friendly policies (except sometimes in the US!), but that goal can conflict with others. For example, Erdogan in Turkey is probably more investor-friendly than the earlier military-backed governments, but his election was generally seen as an unwelcome development for the US. Similarly, in a whole range of countries (Pakistan, South Korea, Taiwan for example) investor-friendliness is a secondary concern for the US.

12

gordon 10.02.11 at 12:56 am

geo: “Of course it’s understood that the US generally doesn’t seek to influence the contests for power within stable First World allies…”.

Without arguing about the word “generally”, I point to the considerable US effort to prevent the Italian communist party getting elected in 1948 and US involvement (with the UK) in the Greek Civil War. More recently, there was US involvement in the constitutional coup which toppled the Whitlam Govt. in Australia in 1975. Then there is the murky history of CIA front organisations worldwide and attempts to manipulate labour unions. And though “First World allies” may exclude South/Central America, there is of course a long track record of US political interference there.

On balance, I’m not sure you need to qualify your thesis so extensively.

13

geo 10.02.11 at 1:11 am

JQ: sorry you don’t seem to think my claim merits serious consideration. Obviously, the fact that A is a primary cause doesn’t mean there are no secondary causes. Equally obviously, US p0licy does not always enjoy freedom of action; and sometimes it has to make the best of a menu of bad choices.

I listed several prerequisites for US support, which few or no regimes supported by the US have ever lacked; moreover, few or no regimes that have lacked them have ever enjoyed US support. I don’t know what you mean by “investor-friendly,” but that’s what I meant.

Taiwan and South Korea could hardly, by my definition, be more investor-friendly. Turkey, under both Erdogan and his predecessors, is likewise quite investor-friendly enough to qualify for US support, though minor differences among the parties on that dimension fade into insignificance beside the fact that Turkey is: 1) a powerful and stable country, and therefore not easily influenced; and 2) very useful as a military ally in a region where the economic stakes — eg, control of energy resources — are infinitely higher than a few export contracts with Turkish firms. Pakistan similarly has a large population and a powerful military, is located near the former US adversaries USSR and India, and must be treated exceptionally gingerly because US policy in the Middle East over several generations has made us intensely unpopular. There are no investor-friendly vs. non-investor-friendly options at play in Pakistan, Turkey, South Korea, or Taiwan, as there were in Iran in 1953, Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, Indonesia in 1965, Argentina in 1976, etc etc., so American policy in those cases has other, secondary determinants.

It’s always easy to refute a theory in an oversimplified version. But I think mine (actually Chomsky and Herman’s, among many other leftists) deserves looking into.

14

ponce 10.02.11 at 1:31 am

The Republicans in Congress are this week trying to cut off $200 million in aid to the Palestinians because the Palestinians asked the U.N. for statehood.

This was headline news in Britain and Israel, couldn’t find a mention of it in any American news outlets.

15

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 1:36 am

Maybe I’m misunderstanding you, geo. I assumed by “Investor-friendly” you meant friendly to foreign, and particularly US investors. On that interpretation, neither Taiwan nor South Korea has historically been particularly investor-friendly, and there hasn’t in fact been much in the way of inward FDI there.

Of course, SK policy is very friendly to the chaebols and something analogous is true for Taiwan, but why should the US care about that, particularly to the extent of backing these governments with lots of aid and military protection

It seems to me that, in terms of the original post, the demands of US investors are just one of the competing groups, decisive in some contexts, having veto points in others, and marginal in yet others. The paradigm case of a US investor driving foreign policy is United Fruit, and the same model applied for a long time in much of Latin America, but other factors such as being reliably anti-communist were more important elsewhere.

16

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 1:45 am

Of course, there’s a strong +ve correlation between “reliably anti-communist” and “friendly to US investors”, but it isn’t equal to 1.

17

Chunter 10.02.11 at 1:53 am

Even in the UK there is still a vestigial US air force base.

There are several in the UK, some of them far from vestigial.

18

geo 10.02.11 at 2:29 am

JQ: Yes, good point about South Korea and Taiwan; they do indeed require a bit of interpretation. As background, here’s Chomsky’s account in Deterring Democracy of US post-WW II planning:

The Grand Area was to have a definite structure. The industrial societies were to be reconstituted with much of the traditional order restored, but within the overarching framework of US power. They were to be organized under their “natural leaders,” Germany and Japan. Early moves toward democratization under the military occupation caused deep concern in Washington and the business community. They were reversed by the late 1940s, with firm steps to weaken the labor movement and ensure the dominance of the traditional business sectors, linked to US capital. … Moves toward a European [and East Asian] economic community, it was assumed, would improve economic performance, reconcile all social sectors to business dominance, and create markets and investment opportunities for US corporations. Japan was to become a regional leader within a US-dominated global system. The thought that Japan might become a serious competitor was then too exotic to be considered: as late as the 1960s, the Kennedy Administration was still concerned with finding means to ensure Japan’s viability. This was finally established by the Vietnam War, which was costly to the United States but highly beneficial to the Japanese economy, as the Korean War had been.

There are some surprising illusions about these matters. Thus, Alan Tonelson, then editor of the journal “Foreign Policy,” refers to the US effort to build up “industrial centers in Western Europe and Japan in the stated hope that they would soon rival the United States.” There was neither such a hope nor such an expectation. With regard to Japan, for example, Army Undersecretary William Draper, the former vice-president of Dillon Read & Co, who played a major role in efforts to revive the German and Japanese economies in such a way as to ensure the dominance of the business classes, “considered it doubtful that Japan would ever sell enough to the United States to earn the dollars needed to pay for American raw materials.” The illusions about US hopes are on a par with the belief that the United States (or anyone else) has gone to war for “the defense of freedom.”

What was true of Japan was even truer of South Korea and Taiwan: they were never expected to become economic rivals of the United States, and they were always expected to become firm props of the global capitalist order. Moreover, both countries were ruled by right-wing, strongly anti-Communist military dictatorships.

It is this global capitalist order, thoroughly integrated and under the (highly profitable) leadership of the United States, that American foreign policy has always been intended to create and sustain. Subject to modification by local and temporary circumstances, this will mean support for the most “investor-friendly” (as I defined it previously) faction within any country that has a reasonable chance of attaining and keeping power. I think this qualifies as a theory of American foreign policy, and is at least as rigorous as (and a good deal more useful than) most theories in the social sciences.

19

Andrew F. 10.02.11 at 2:41 am

Stability in the Middle East -> vital to a stable oil supply

Stable oil supply -> vital to global economic stability and US security

al Khalifa -> firmly in control of Bahrain and supported by the Saudis

Bahrain & Saudi Arabia -> important and vital respectively to stability in the Middle East

Is the advice to dump Bahrain and Saudi Arabia out of outrage for the crackdown?

To pointlessly inflame the Israeli-Palestinian situation?

To cease any cooperation with the only (barely) functioning Yemeni government in a country riven with tribal division?

We don’t need a class analysis of stakeholders to understand US policy here.

20

Kaveh 10.02.11 at 4:52 am

As to the Palestinians, the US has been strongly supportive of a two-state solution,

This is simply delusional. The only thing that is now significantly changing (harming) the prospects of a 2-state solution is massive Israeli settlement construction. Putting pressure on Israel to end settlement construction would not “pointlessly inflame” the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, except insofar as the Israeli state is hell-bent on preventing a meaningful (sovereign) Palestinian state from emerging, and would try to cause serious instability (starting a war with Iran, actually ethnically cleansing large parts of the West Bank, or whatever) as a way to prevent this from happening.

How is Bahrain vital to stability in the Gulf? Because of the naval base there? That base couldn’t be moved (not cheap or easy, of course, but still…)? US policy seems to be formulated with no regard whatsoever to public opinion in Muslim countries, even though this has a serious impact on the environment in which US troops operate in the Middle East and elsewhere, and the effectiveness of the Israel lobby (not “Israeli”–it’s mostly not actually Israeli, it mostly consists of a combination of American Jews and Christian Zionists) has virtually guaranteed that it would remain so. The occupation of Palestine and US support for same seems to have been a major motive for most of the 9/11 hijackers, if not for Bin Laden himself.

21

Kaveh 10.02.11 at 5:24 am

geo @18: I think ‘your’ theory makes sense for Latin America, and I’m persuaded about E Asia, but I don’t think it works well for the Middle East. Even if you consider the war industry to be a big part of “investors”, it seems like their interests might be in conflict with those of other investors. Rather than a monolithic business/capitalist community that carefully evaluates all foreign policy questions and weighs in on all of them, producing outcomes that are on average better for investors as a whole (or a few politicians who try to make policies based on that goal), policy seems to be driven disproportionately by a very small number of interests who have very high incentives to lobby for certain policies. Like private contractors in management of the Iraq occupation; the Israel lobby in Israel & Palestine, the invasion of Iraq, and rhetoric about the Iranian nuclear program; and United Fruit in Central America. There are apparently non-trivial barriers to entry in lobbying, so even if business as a whole in the Middle East would probably be better off without the invasion of Iraq, without Israeli settlement expansion, &c., most businesses don’t have enough of a stake to want to engage in lobbying at all (the same coordination problem citizens face), and the few that do have such an interest often end up being the ones largely responsible for the policy.

In what sense were policies like the invasion of Iraq, or extreme unconditional support for Israel, really investor-friendly? Did 81 members of Congress go to Israel because of US business interests, or the war industry, or was it the more direct effect of campaign contributions by highly partisan pro-Israel donors? The (mis)management of Iraqi reconstruction, de-Baathification, &c. could be described as failed efforts in producing an investor-friendly environment (e.g. US oil companies did very badly in post-invasion Iraq, oil production is not doing all that well in general) but I think it leaves too much unexplained to treat these as simply random failures, without paying attention to why so many neoconservatives were brought on board to do these things in the first place.

22

geo 10.02.11 at 5:49 am

Kaveh: Rather than a monolithic business/capitalist community that carefully evaluates all foreign policy questions and weighs in on all of them, producing outcomes that are on average better for investors as a whole (or a few politicians who try to make policies based on that goal), policy seems to be driven disproportionately by a very small number of interests who have very high incentives to lobby for certain policies.

Yes, I strongly agree and having been making exactly this argument in previous posts against John’s contention that US policy in the Middle East is unintelligible because it does not seem economically rational from the point of view of the business class as a whole. In fact, this sentence of yours — “There are apparently non-trivial barriers to entry in lobbying, so even if business as a whole in the Middle East would probably be better off without the invasion of Iraq, without Israeli settlement expansion, &c., most businesses don’t have enough of a stake to want to engage in lobbying at all (the same coordination problem citizens face), and the few that do have such an interest often end up being the ones largely responsible for the policy” — states my argument better than I managed to in those posts.

23

geo 10.02.11 at 5:51 am

Sorry, in the first sentence, should be “have been making.”

24

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.02.11 at 7:07 am

@22, the ‘small but highly motivated interests’ hypothesis.

There’s something unconvincing about your theory. Why do some highly motivated interests (labor unions, anti-abortion groups) only get promises, while some others (Zionists, military) get exactly what they want?

I don’t think you should reject the notion of central planning (pursuing the general class and, albeit less and less, national interests) out of hand. There are permanent government agencies (like the CIA, the state department) and semi-official organizations (like the CFR) that develop strategic plans for the government. These plans may negate some lobbying efforts and amplify others.

25

bad Jim 10.02.11 at 7:22 am

I can’t find where I read the suggestion that the U.S., by flagrantly violating the human rights of Muslims throughout the war on terror, made human rights a permissible and increasingly salient point of discussion in countries where human rights had not only not been respected but where the very topic had been considered a Western affront.

Guantanamo led to the Arab Spring? Stranger things have happened.

26

bad Jim 10.02.11 at 7:28 am

Turns out it’s easier to Google than to read the paper I had in my hand: Mark Danner in the NY Review, After September 11: Our State of Exception

Egyptians, forbidden to talk about Egyptian torture, could freely discuss, analyze, and condemn American torture, and thereby initiate a discussion of human rights and dignity that was a motivating element in the early upheavals of the Arab Spring.

27

ed 10.02.11 at 9:00 am

How about a post on Occupy Wallstreet?

28

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 9:53 am

Geo, at this point I think we are in furious agreement. US policy is certainly intelligible in terms of the interests, ideological lobbies and beliefs (for example, about the critical importance of Middle Eastern oil) that drive it. That doesn’t make it coherent in the way I would want to use the term, but it’s certainly explicable.

Coming back to the main theme of the post, it’s surely in the long-term interest of the US (and the US ruling class) as a whole to be on the right side of the movement to democracy (though Andrew F’s defence of the pro-dictatorship line is probably more representative of thinking in the FPC). What we are seeing in the examples I listed are policies driven by short-term imperatives, such as the need to avoid a fight with Netanyahu in an election year, and the incapacity to re-evaluate the War on Terror in the light of AL Qaeda’s obvious decline.

29

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 9:55 am

@Ed A good suggestion – quite a few CTers have been talking about this on Twitter and Facebook, without having enough for a post. But maybe what we need is an open thread.

30

bert 10.02.11 at 10:24 am

bq. “Can you think of any other exceptions?”

Eisenhower’s response to the Suez crisis?
It’s going back a few years, but has some renewed Arab Spring relevance.
If you increase the role of national bias in George’s investor-preference model (in a way Chomsky would be entirely happy with), it fits quite well of course. American capital completing the work of World War 2 in uprooting the remnants of a competing European system of exploitation.
But there’s also a Cold War strategic context – a story of patrons and clients and bloc allegiances and proxy wars – that exists alongside the more straightforward transmission mechansim of aggregated investor preference.
And there’s also an explanation based around the UN system – upholding the rights of sovereign nations under international law – which is worth discussing if only as a bedtime story read to children.

31

zamfir 10.02.11 at 10:54 am

Going on with Tim Wilkinson’s chess-move metaphor: I thought the whole obsession with the middle east was such a case of ‘useful without already knowing how’. In ww2, it turned out highly important to cut off Japan and Germany from oil. So ever since the US wants to be able to cut off oil to potential rivals, before those even start thinking of becoming rivals.

That seems a reasonable coherent strategy, and one that is arguably beneficial to more people in the US than elites alone. Within that strategy different factions pursue their own ideas and goals, but they have more chance of getting their desires if those can be fitted in the ‘control of the middle east’ picture.

32

christian_h 10.02.11 at 2:56 pm

Henri (24.): I think it isn’t difficult to see why labour unions don’t get their way specific business lobbies do – it’s class. I’d think most of us here (excepting Andrew F.) would agree. Why a specific group within the ruling class gets to influence policy on an issue more than another group is, I’d say, usually a complicated question that may not have an entirely satisfactory answer. Trying to answer it, it is not sufficient just to evaluate the economic impact on sections of capital of the specific policy question itself – the impact eg on systems of control or stratification within Western societies themselves, but also issues that aren’t strictly economic like perceived cultural affinity or shared historic experience as colonial settler states surely come into it.

I have one problem with Chomsky’s long-standing model that geo advances: to an extent, it begs the question. Whether a foreign government is friendly to US investors is not a fixed property of that government; its lack of friendliness toward US capital could as much be a consequence of US enmity as its reason. For example, the theory might well explain why the US supported the Shah in the 70ies, but it is far less useful as an explanation for why it couldn’t come to a mutually profitable accommodation at least after the death of Khomenei, similar to the very profitable (for US capital) relationship with China.

33

geo 10.02.11 at 3:03 pm

bert @ 31: Yes, Chomsky himself makes that point about Suez: “American capital completing the work of World War 2 in uprooting the remnants of a competing European system of exploitation.”

John @28: If comments 4 and 13 don’t state a coherent theory of American foreign policy, then I guess I’ll never be a social scientist. Just to guide my theory-formation in the future, can you offer some examples from the social sciences of coherent theories about large and important real-world phenomena?

34

Kaveh 10.02.11 at 3:49 pm

Henri @24 Well at least with the examples you gave, labor unions and the anti-choice lobby, there are comparably strong interest groups with the exact opposite agenda, and even then, it’s not like either of them has been without their successes. There isn’t any effective pro-Palestinian lobby in the US, and the anti-war movement is there, and probably it exercises some influence, though not as much as it would like–hence increased use of drones to kill, and even as warm bodies are kept off the battlefield.

geo @22 So the investors we’re talking about are ones who can overcome the high cost of entry. That makes sense to me. But characterizing them as, essentially, investors (implying they’re motivated by money) rather than simply as interest groups seems like an unnecessary limitation. The large bulk of evidence seems to say the Israel lobby is mostly ideological/cultural in its motives, not a business lobby at all, and it is extremely important throughout the past 20+ years, and while not without eat grfinancial clout, I don’t think that clout and its use in this way can be reduced simply to “class interest”.

35

Hidari 10.02.11 at 4:25 pm

‘Coming back to the main theme of the post, it’s surely in the long-term interest of the US (and the US ruling class) as a whole to be on the right side of the movement to democracy .’

Yes, but American politicians have a slightly idiosyncratic definition of the word ‘democracy’. Here for example is Chris Christie telling us like it is:

‘Around the world– in the Middle East, in Asia, in Africa and Latin America
—people are debating their own political and economic futures–right now.
We have a stake in the outcome of their debates. For example, a Middle East
that is largely democratic and at peace will be a Middle East that accepts Israel,
rejects terrorism, and is a dependable source of energy.’

So there you have it.

http://www.reaganfoundation.org/PDF/chrischristiespeech.pdf

36

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.02.11 at 4:27 pm

There isn’t any effective pro-Palestinian lobby in the US

Not ‘pro-Palestinian’, but merely anti-Zionist. Surely there must be one, and it’s got to be a strong one too, unless the Saudi, Egyptian, Jordanian, Indonesian, Malaysian, etc. governments, plus those US generals always complaining about counter-productive ME policies are all secret Zionists.

Yes, there has to be one for sure, but where is it?

37

Watson Ladd 10.02.11 at 4:28 pm

Hidari, it seems to me that no democracy would ever pick a fight with a nuclear power because of the costs. Christie is arguing that democracies will act in certain ways. I don’t think its a definition of democracy that he is offering up.

38

geo 10.02.11 at 4:53 pm

Kaveh: Of course, in order to isolate meaningful regularities and make meaningful predictions, theories simplify. Real-world decisions are made by calculating costs and benefits. A theory of decision-making in a certain area will try to identify and rank those costs and benefits. The purpose of the whole enterprise is to give the citizenry some understanding of what its government is doing and why, and in particular, to convince the citizenry that the proclaimed purpose of American foreign policy — the freedom and welfare of the domestic or world population — simply never figures in making policy, but only in marketing it.

Yes, it might be profitable to allow more trade with Cuba, but if a non-business-dominated society were seen to flourish by other developing countries, they might be moved to emulate it. The contagion must be isolated, even at some cost. To some extent, this may explain the failure (if there was such a failure) of the US to try to recoup economic ground in Iran. In the Middle East, the question to ask about the pro-Israeli bias of US foreign policy is whether support for Israel has traditionally undermined or furthered what the theory suggests is the overriding goal of US policy in the region: control of its energy resources by reliable, cooperative client regimes. I think that after Israel decisively defeated Egypt in 1967, the US saw Israel as a potentially valuable ally against secular Arab nationalism, which threatened American control in the region. The US drastically increased aid to Israel and proceeded to orchestrate an Israel-Iran-Turkey military alliance — all of them hosting a very strong US military presence — that helped keep the lid on radical Arab nationalism. At the same time, the US supported and subsidized regimes in Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, and elsewhere in the region that forcefully suppressed both democracy and (with the partial exception of Iraq) economic nationalism.

This all seems to me consistent with the general thesis that the business of US foreign policy is business. If support for Israel becomes sufficiently bad for business, then I would expect that support to weaken. There are already hints, like Petraeus’s leaked statement that blind US support for Israel was complicating his job.

And of course, none of this means that US foreign policy can’t be influenced, even eventually realigned. The Israeli lobby has shown the way: organize, educate (if that’s what you can call what it does), lobby, raise and spend money, pressure politicians. It will be harder for us, since it will mean a fundamental change in structures of institutional power, but tactically (and hopefully with more scruple), the left should definitely follow the Israeli lobby’s splendidly successful example.

39

flyingrodent 10.02.11 at 4:54 pm

no democracy would ever pick a fight with a nuclear power because of the costs.

Like bombing Pakistan, for instance?

40

christian_h 10.02.11 at 4:55 pm

Geo, I think JQ argues that US policy in the Middle East itself isn’t coherent – not that the theory you advance lacks coherence.

41

Ellis Goldberg 10.02.11 at 5:06 pm

@ Bad Jim; I read Danner too but I find his argument weak. Egyptians, by the end of the Mubarak period, were no longer particularly forbidden to discuss torture or other failed government policies either in the privately-owned print media or in the electronic media. It wasn’t like the Nasser period or even the Sadat era. The state media, of course, continued to lie and obfuscate but unlike the 50s-80s they were no longer the only source of media. Beside the issues of Khaled Said (and the relevant websites including but not limited to that of Wael Ghonim) and police brutality (including the famous video of the sodomizing of a citizen), groups such as the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights (dating back tot he 90s) and the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (the late 2000’s) as well as others existed and issued reports, undertook to document abuses, etc. One thing that was certainly happening was that Egyptians (among others) increasingly took issues of human rights into their own hands rather than allowing the state to portray them as foreign interference and several Islamist trends also became interested in human rights if only in a limited way to protect their own membership. Although I’m not Egyptian, I must also say that like many Egyptians I find the nearly ceaseless American desire to find the roots of the “Arab spring” in American policy (positively or negatively) somewhere between risible and offensive. Or both.

42

Watson Ladd 10.02.11 at 5:10 pm

flyingrodent: If the Pakistanis actually protested we wouldn’t be doing it. Then again reach is a great advantage. Israel can reach Cario any day.

43

nick 10.02.11 at 7:02 pm

geo–I believe that your response to jq’s last confuses a coherent theory with a coherent policy; 28 denies not that you have the former, but that the US has the latter…..

44

J. Otto Pohl 10.02.11 at 7:03 pm

I do not think the policy overall is incoherent. Rather it is subject to a hierarchy of priorities. Support for Israel basically takes precedence over everything else due to the control of the Israel lobby over this aspect of US foreign policy in both houses of congress, the presidency, and the mass media. Attempting to secure the flow of oil to the US from places like Baharain by supporting pro-US and anti-democratic governments is a very distant second priority after unconditional support for Israel. Finally, opposing Islamic militant groups is third. The administration likes it when these three interests line up, but when they don’t they come in the order of Israel, oil, then anti-terrorism.

45

geo 10.02.11 at 7:19 pm

Thanks, nick (and christian), but I’m not sure I agree. When John claims that he’s agreeing with me that “US policy is certainly intelligible in terms of the interests, ideological lobbies and beliefs (for example, about the critical importance of Middle Eastern oil) that drive it,” I don’t actually feel agreed with. The sentence of John’s just quoted is a tautology and has zero explanatory value; it’s equivalent to saying: “Well, yes, actions are intelligible in terms of whatever causes them.” What else could possibly cause any policy besides the “interests, ideological lobbies and beliefs … that drive it”? The phases of the moon?

To say “your explanation doesn’t convince me that X policy is coherent” is equivalent to saying “you haven’t advanced a coherent explanation of X policy.”

Again, the “favorable investment climate”/”globally integrated economy” theory of American foreign policy is hardly original with me, and I’m used to seeing it not taken seriously in the academic/journalistic mainstream. I’m a little surprised (and disappointed), though, that it’s not more popular on Crooked Timber.

46

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 11:06 pm

Geo, I’m taking the theory seriously in the sense that I take that theory or some variant to be the default, and I think that is true of the academic mainstream, particularly the current referred to as ‘international realism’

If I were trying to explain Australian foreign policy, for example, it is fairly clearly described as follows
(a) Back the US whenever possible, while minimising costs (for example, support US wars, but seek to minimise cost to Oz in blood and treasure
(b) Seek to avoid any conflict with China
(c) Support stability in Asia/Pacific (where stable formerly meant durable dictatorships, but is now generally favorable to democracy)
(d) Subject to all of the above, do the right (liberal internationalist) thing
All of that can be explained in terms of an overriding defensive goal of minimising the chance of an attack from the north, and ensuring the aid of a great and powerful friend in the unhappy event, with a secondary objective of promoting economic interests.

I could do much the same for China.

By contrast, the US (esp in Middle East) and Russia strike me as countries where policy is driven by a set of conflicting reflexes rather than any coherent goals.

47

John Quiggin 10.02.11 at 11:10 pm

On the methodological issue, it is surely a coherent explanation of a process to say that it is entirely stochastic (that is, in the way in which I’ve used the term, the process is ‘incoherent’).

For example, if I say that the physics of a standard coin toss are sufficiently chaotic that unobservably small changes in initial conditions are sufficient to reverse the outcome, that seems like a perfectly coherent explanation of the observed data.

48

Barry 10.02.11 at 11:39 pm

Watson Ladd: “If the Pakistanis actually protested we wouldn’t be doing it. “

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=palestinian+protests

So far, your record of no truth whatsoever holds.

49

Andrew F. 10.03.11 at 2:27 am

John, what do you view as the contradictions inherent in the three actions you noted in your post? I’m not seeing them.

50

John Quiggin 10.03.11 at 2:38 am

@Andrew – the apparent motives collide with each other. For example, support for dictators and autocrats helps to promote the growth of Al Qaeda. Unconditional backing of Israel undermines the goal of reliable access to oil that presumably justifies the basing of the 5th Fleet in Bahrein. And, to the extent that the US has some interest in being seen to promote democracy, doing cosy deals with dictators undermines that.

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Andrew F. 10.03.11 at 3:37 am

Okay, but then I think you’re deriving general principles (support for dictators, or unconditional backing of Israel) from highly specific actions that really aren’t driven by those principles.

For instance, with respect to Bahrain, it’s not that the US thinks autocracy is the way to go. It’s that the US has limited influence over the form of government that emerges in Yemen or Bahrain, and consequently the US must work within those limits. Bahrain is important strategically due to its location as well as the naval base. Saudi Arabia, which views Iran as its biggest threat, will never allow a Shi’ite driven protest it views as influenced by Iran to topple the al Khalifa.

So the US must act with the understanding that the al Khalifa will continue to rule. It therefore will urge restraint and humanity in dealing with the protests – though to some extent this may fall on deaf ears – and it will so urge precisely because of the concern you highlighted.

But neither will it simply withdraw all deals with Bahrain, because doing so will achieve nothing at the cost of relations with the Saudis and with Bahrain, and to the advantage of Iran.

US opposition to a UNSC resolution is not the same as unconditional support for Israel. The US opposes such a resolution precisely because it renders a permanent settlement more difficult, and the achievement of a permanent settlement is important to stability in the region.

Remember, in the wake of recent remarks and actions by Erdogan as well as Egypt, that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in that region, and that this isolation, should it continue, is actually dangerous in itself. Measures designed to increase that isolation, while not allowing us to enter a larger number on the progress side of the ledger, are simply counterproductive to a goal of regional stability.

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stubydoo 10.03.11 at 3:41 am

I think John Q’s introduction @48 of the coin flip analogy marks a pretty big innovation in the argument. I’m not sure if I’m interpreting right, but this thread started out as a kind of debate about “coherent” vs “incoherent”, but coherent is actually a pretty hard word to pin down. Now though John Q gives us a more scientifically tractable word – “stochastic” i.e. random or unpredictable.

Is the idea that US Middle-East policy is stochastic? I think its an intriguing one.

I guess the causal mechanism being that having an issue which is salient enough for a sustained period allows the political ecosystem to support multiple powerful and motivated interest groups, each one with a decent chance at winning “on any given Sunday” (to use the American Football based saying).

Along the lines of the helpful description of Australian policy, what about the policy of Britain toward the Middle-East, as it has evolved over the years? Is it coherent like Australia, or does it suffer from what happened for the U.S.?

53

gordon 10.03.11 at 7:15 am

Foreign policy payoffs don’t necessarily have to be foreign. There can be big payoffs in terms of domestic political success regardless of the success or otherwise of a foreign policy as foreign policy.

I remember how poorly Bush II was doing in the polls until the attack on the WTC, after which his approval rivalled God’s. Prof. Quiggin will remember the 2001 Australian Federal election, where the providential arrival of a bunch of asylum-seekers on a freighter which had rescued them at sea was played for all it was worth for a domestic political success. Having some foreigners to hate can be very useful politically, and if you’re big and powerful enough even a foreign policy which is apparently chaotic in purely foreign policy terms can be tolerated for the sake of the domestic political payoffs it provides. Such payoffs might also include creating extra opportunities to channel public money to your supporters.

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Z 10.03.11 at 8:45 am

By contrast, the US (esp in Middle East) and Russia strike me as countries where policy is driven by a set of conflicting reflexes rather than any coherent goals.

I think this is a good point to keep in mind. There has been a time , I think, when efficient and rational planners devised a coherent international policy for the US (along the lines described by Geo, or Chomsky, or themselves). However, I am not sure this is still as true now as then, mostly because I think there has been a sharp decline in US efficacy and general level of American elites. The Afghan and Iraq wars, for instance, or the refusal by the US to do anything to stop Israeli settlements do look like they are reflexively planned, this time along the lines of: “Hey, this once used to work, let’s do it again”.

By the way, I think that this is not an uncommon evolution for declining superpowers (compare the way France got its colonial empire with the way it lost it, for an example).

55

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.03.11 at 9:16 am

Z, you (and others here) see all this as incoherent, but how can you judge without knowing their goals and priorities? Your assumptions about their goals and priorities are not necessarily correct.

56

soru 10.03.11 at 10:42 am

@56: well yes. For example, in Stross’s Laundry Files books, the invasion of Iraq was a coherent strategic move as it eliminated Saddam’s secret occult weapon program. Noone in the serious mainstream of the foreign policy community would want to see Cthuga summoned.

In other words, you can never _really_ rule out there being a single secret and consistent explanation, given sufficient secrecy. It’s just that sometimes observed behaviour better matches a different model, without any heroic assumptions.

57

Z 10.03.11 at 11:21 am

Henri, no, I think you are misinterpreting my position: after all reflexively planned reactions do exhibit coherence. To be crystal clear: I largely subscribe to the interpretation of US* foreign policy described here by Geo and Kaveh-i.e, that it follows closely the perceived interests of some tiny segments of the elite with a disproportionate influence on such matters-but with the caveat that I think the general architecture of US* foreign policy has been designed a few decades in the past and that, like any grand design, it shows some inertia, so that some decisions at least are taken not because they make sense even in terms of the aforementioned interests but because the individuals and institutions crafting current policies are functioning with an outdated or invalid understanding of the world.

Interestingly, this could be described under the words of “central planning out of hand”, (or power-hungered tempered with self-deception, in Chomsky’s favorite version) which you seem to defend yourself so I am not sure what we disagree about.

*US because we are talking about the US here, but similar remarks presumably hold quite universally. Certainly, in order to understand French politics towards Africa, a good amount of central planning out of hand seems necessary.

58

Barry 10.03.11 at 12:32 pm

Andrew F: “For instance, with respect to Bahrain, it’s not that the US thinks autocracy is the way to go. “

As has repeatedly been pointed out by vast throngs of people, the base position of the US is closer to ‘yeah, dictators!’ than ‘yeah, democracy!’.

“It’s that the US has limited influence over the form of government that emerges in Yemen or Bahrain, and consequently the US must work within those limits. Bahrain is important strategically due to its location as well as the naval base. Saudi Arabia, which views Iran as its biggest threat, will never allow a Shi’ite driven protest it views as influenced by Iran to topple the al Khalifa.””

And such considerations applied to Iraq, but that didn’t stop the US from invading it.

59

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.03.11 at 12:57 pm

Z, right, but you’re talking about “a sharp decline in US efficacy and general level of American elites”, and what I’m saying is that it’s still possible that there is some George Kennan-like genius out there, sitting in a state department cubical, writing grand strategy plans and scenarios, and in such a way that what we here perceive as incoherent and random looks perfectly logical and consistent. It’s just that we don’t know his angle.

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Kaveh 10.03.11 at 1:33 pm

gordon @54 Foreign policy payoffs don’t necessarily have to be foreign. There can be big payoffs in terms of domestic political success regardless of the success or otherwise of a foreign policy as foreign policy.

I would think that for very large, powerful states, foreign policy is typically more motivated by domestic concerns than by foreign ones. This has been argued about Late Imperial China’s tribute/trade system (in a nutshell, the principle that all foreign trade should be conducted under the guise of tribute paid to the Chinese state by foreign rulers). I think the US is in a similar position, in that various domestic constituencies pose more political threat to individual parties/politicians than most foreign entities can; few foreign entities pose enough threat to the state as a whole to have a uniform effect on the various domestic constituencies.

61

Tim Wilkinson 10.03.11 at 2:04 pm

JQ: The US maintains a strong military and lots of bases and asserts control of the Persian Gulf in order to be able to pursue its strategic goal which is to maintain a strong military and lots of bases and assert control of the Persian Gulf. Obviously, this is in the interests of the military sector, but if the US instead pursued a policy of digging holes and filling them up again, there would be a hole-digging sector with the associated lobbyists, tame pundits, Hole Digging Policy Community and so on.

Well, yeah – there are plenty of reasons why colonising the rest of the world is not just an arbitrary move – it’s just that they needn’t be carefully worked out in each case. The strategy is not tied into the politics at every step (it is strategy not tactics). And while there are plenty of particular aims and goals, the one that is clear and constant is projecting military might everywhere possible. And that’s because it’s seem as a universal means to just about any other end you can think of. But this is such an article of faith that the whole thing has pretty much become a fetish.

Also JQ it is surely a coherent explanation of a process to say that it is entirely stochastic

It may be, especially if you put probabilities on the distinct outcomes so as to get a statistical covering law. But for a single event or small number of events, calling them (or some notional common underlying process) stochastic, with no clear sense of what the alternative possibilities are or how likely they are is not much of an explanation. Especially when the events are clearly complex – potentially decomposable into diverse causal influences. Compare a psychologist ‘explaining’ human behaviour as stochastic, because there’s no way of bringing all the data under a manageable set of covering laws.

Z (a ref to the Costa Gavras film?): I think there has been a sharp decline in US efficacy

Note that ascribing failure implies the existence of clear goals, constraints or interests, just as much as ascribing success does. What is it about Iraq and Afghanistan that counts as a failure?

If things appear to be going badly wrong for a long time, there’s a pretty good chance that this is because no-one in a position of power actually gives a toss (or they even approve).

Failing to destroy the Taliban might well be explained well enough by the fact that no-one of any importance is actually particularly bothered about doing so. That no-one has constructed effective incentives for achieving it, and no one will change course as a result of failing to achieve it.

And that might well be because it doesn’t actually figure – not positively, anyway – in any of the the three planks of foreign policy identified on this thread, all present since the reopening of the Cold War in 45: 1. the military game of Risk which is concerned not with details like the Taliban but with establishing bases, fortified areas, effective control over hard targets; 2. geo’s geopolitics: ‘spreading freedom and democracy’ i.e. investment-friendly conditions, neoliberal constitutions, debt; 3. Domestic opinion: khaki elections, permanent state of low-level emergency, Strauss/Orwell etc.

62

Uncle Kvetch 10.03.11 at 2:33 pm

Remember, in the wake of recent remarks and actions by Erdogan as well as Egypt, that Israel is becoming increasingly isolated in that region, and that this isolation, should it continue, is actually dangerous in itself. Measures designed to increase that isolation, while not allowing us to enter a larger number on the progress side of the ledger, are simply counterproductive to a goal of regional stability.

Israel’s increasing isolation is a direct and utterly predictable result of the actions of the Israeli government. It certainly doesn’t seem to concern Netanyahu much — at least not so much that he’s abandoning any “counterproductive” measures.

I fail to see why it’s up to the US to protect Israel from the consequences of its own behavior.

63

Frank in midtown 10.03.11 at 5:23 pm

For the underlying philosophy I think the US is with T.Paine. Paine was almost beheaded in France for being a royalist, because he believed that democracy could not be forced on a people not ready. Our policy is support the incumbent government even if we don’t like it because they have the government they deserve, and because we are not heartless bastards we provide aid in the hope that someday they will deserve democracy. Modifications of the underlying philosophy are explained by A. Smith and his whole crooked merchants taking by fiat that which they can not acheive through competition.

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Kaveh 10.03.11 at 5:26 pm

@62 If things appear to be going badly wrong for a long time, there’s a pretty good chance that this is because no-one in a position of power actually gives a toss (or they even approve).

I sympathize with this approach–I believe cui bono thinking tends to be unfairly maligned. Nevertheless, this reminds me of a recent discussion on CT about German bankers and the economic crisis, and the conclusion some people drew (which rings true to me, though I’m not a student of economics or banking), which is that sometimes you just get a lot of “smart” people succumbing to mass delusions that cause them to act collectively and consistently against their own (material) interests.

I think there may be a lot of that going on in US foreign policy: an institutional culture in which certain mass delusions are deeply rooted. The problem of the US’s Israel policy is the clearest example of this–however useful “managed chaos” caused by armed conflict in the Middle East is to the strategy of projecting military force as much as possible, I find it very, very hard to see how a truly massive spike in oil prices caused by a revolution in Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be a horrifically bad thing for investors, however you define “investors”. I find the argument that Israel policy is all orchestrated or tolerated by the MIC or “investors” highly unconvincing, not just because it seems to do more harm than good to “investment”, but especially because when you actually look at how the “lobby” operates up-close, it really really doesn’t look like the MIC has anything to do with most actions associated with it. The mother of one of my third-grade classmates being invited to give the class an “informative” presentation to the class that mostly consisted of valorizing Israel’s military history (‘how brave!’ ‘how clever!’ ‘little Israel…’) might have been abetted by state-level school policy, but I think her being invited had a lot more to do with the fact that she did a lot of volunteer service at the school, and passionately cared about Israel. And likewise, the cancellation of the recent exhibit at the Oakland Children’s Museum, and the vicious retaliation within the Jewish community against a lot of Jews who speak up for the wrong side–it’s hard to see the hand of the MIC there, and a lot of what actually constitutes the actions of the “Israel lobby” is happening at a very individual, low-scale, personal, less-organized level. In other words, it’s a cultural-political phenomenon, much more than an economic-political one.

But the Israel lobby is just one particularly visible case where there is a clear cultural explanation for policies that don’t seem to make sense materialistically (or that require somewhat heroic assumptions to fit into predominant models). I’m sure there are other more subtle cases where we might see a prevailing culture of militarism, or anti-brown/yellow/black prejudice, give a very different form to strategies in pursuit of an investment-friendly global environment than they might otherwise have.

In the debate about “political balance” in academia, it’s often mentioned that most of the CIA and military are Republican. Do we really know all that well how educated Republicans think? What books they read? (I mean, yes, we do, up to a point, on this blog especially, but it seems to happen more WRT economic policy, debating libertarians…)

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Barry Freed 10.03.11 at 5:58 pm

Not to be glib about it but educated Republicans who read (anything besides the latest Glenn Beck or Bill O’Reilly or the like) are a dying breed and sadly lacking in influence.

66

Henri Vieuxtemps 10.03.11 at 8:40 pm

however useful “managed chaos” caused by armed conflict in the Middle East is to the strategy of projecting military force as much as possible, I find it very, very hard to see how a truly massive spike in oil prices caused by a revolution in Saudi Arabia wouldn’t be a horrifically bad thing for investors

It’s not a “managed chaos”, it’s a garden variety protection racket: Israel acts as a mad dog, and the US is needed to protect the neighborhood.

And why would there be a revolution in Saudi Arabia? It’s a relatively prosperous country, it doesn’t look like its population is unhappy.

67

Kaveh 10.03.11 at 11:09 pm

@66 Maybe “read” was the wrong word, but I would ask, what do Republicans who work for the CIA or the military get their info from? MEMRI, CAMERA, National Review, and Weekly Standard, maybe? But there must be more to it than that.

@67 Stranger things and all that, but it doesn’t seem to me like an accurate description of regional politics to say that the US is permissive of Israeli aggressiveness because of the high value of arms sales/gifts to Saudi, Egypt, &c. I agree we can’t totally rule out the possibility of some mastermind behind everything, but it seems like explanations that are based on stuff we see in front of us which actually does explain the phenomena we observe ought to take priority.

Saudi doesn’t seem to be about to have a revolution, but the right events could easily change that, and surely if there are ultra-powerful interests orchestrating a master-plan on behalf of investors, this is something they should have worried about.

68

Kaveh 10.03.11 at 11:18 pm

Quick correction, maybe it’s unfair of me to assume Henri’s explanation in #67 supposes a highly-orchestrated master plan such as he proposed in #24? But it does seem to presuppose more hidden motives than the stochastic/investor-friendly model where we replace “investor” with “interest group”, noting that the various interests/investors have some things, but not everything in common, and pure class interests don’t always come out ahead.

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gordon 10.03.11 at 11:32 pm

Henri Vieuxtemps (at 67) is sanguine about Saudi Arabia.

“it’s a relatively prosperous country” – with youth unemployment (ages 15-24) at 39.5%
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-12637765

“it doesn’t look like it’s population is unhappy” – In March, at the height of the Arab Spring, the Saudi Govt. announced a lot of job creation (mostly in the security forces), pay rises, a housing programme and what amount to cash gifts to students and Govt. workers. That doesn’t happen without a bad conscience and worry about unrest.
http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/mar/18/saudi-arabia-job-housing-package?INTCMP=SRCH

Certainly it’s difficult to point to overt dissatisfaction in a country as repressive as Saudi Arabia, but here’s a BBC evaluation:

“In 2003 suicide bombers suspected of having links with al-Qaeda killed 35 people – including a number of foreigners – in the capital Riyadh. Some Saudis referred to the attacks as their own 9/11.

“Since then, demands for political reform have increased, as has the frequency of militant attacks, some of them targeted at foreign workers. The security forces have made thousands of arrests.”
http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-14702705

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derrida derider 10.04.11 at 3:41 am

“[US ME policy is] not a “managed chaos”, it’s a garden variety protection racket: Israel acts as a mad dog, and the US is needed to protect the neighborhood.” – Henri@67

This strategy is used far more widely than people realise; China has long used NK this way: “Oh those crazy communists – we can’t do a thing with them. Mind you, you wouldn’t want (say) Japan to remilitarise because that would really upset them”. And in the past the US has even used this in nuclear poker – “Of course, if the USSR invaded Germany we would be too rational to try and stop it with a nuclear exchange. But then I can’t speak for the Brits or the French”.

The big risk, of course, is that the mad dog really does turn out to be mad.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.04.11 at 8:15 am

Quick correction, maybe it’s unfair of me to assume Henri’s explanation in #67 supposes a highly-orchestrated master plan such as he proposed in #24?

No, it’s not highly-orchestrated. Zionist militancy is not orchestrated, it’s simply its nature. So, for US strategists to decide to turn Israel into a client state, arm it, and exploit the tensions, well, it seems rather trivial. The intensity of propaganda in the US could be explained by the experience with South Africa, where the anti-apartheid movement defeated the establishment.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.04.11 at 8:31 am

Gordon, so students are unhappy, fair enough. But Saudi Arabia is not a poor country, they have resources, and, as your links show, the establishment flexible enough to respond to radicalization with both the stick and the carrot.

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gordon 10.05.11 at 1:22 am

Henri Vieuxtemps (at 67), wouldn’t that be true of virtually anywhere there isn’t an actual revolt in progress? Wouldn’t it be true of the US?

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gordon 10.05.11 at 1:24 am

Sorry, my 75 should have said “Henri Vieuxtemps (at 74)”.

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Kaveh 10.05.11 at 2:10 am

@73 The intensity of propaganda in the US could be explained by the experience with South Africa, where the anti-apartheid movement defeated the establishment.

Maybe I misunderstand what you mean by propaganda, but if you mean the Israel lobby (in the broadest possible sense) in general, it mostly doesn’t consist of government agents of any kind. It’s not simply representative of Jewish-Americans as a whole, but it’s a largely organic phenomena: to the extent that it does have a strong relationship with the state of Israel, it does so with a tremendous degree of complicity from a certain (substantial) portion of the Jewish community in the US. It simply doesn’t seem to be the case that pro-Israel bias in the media is dictated by the government. If anything, the prominence of neocons in the government is a result of the Israel lobby. There has been a lot of journalism showing this in the past 5 years, I haven’t seen much contrary evidence, but if there is contrary evidence (that is, showing that the govt is behind a lot of the pro-Israel messaging/bias), I would really like to see it.

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Henri Vieuxtemps 10.05.11 at 6:12 am

Enthusiastic supporters for almost every conceivable point of view are out there, and the establishment media create filters, so that correct messages get amplified, and the incorrect ones suppressed, discredited, ridiculed, etc.

And since it’s called “lobby”, the same is certainly the case with lobbying: politicians are free to choose to be influenced by some lobbyists, and refuse to listen to others. That’s probably decided on the highest level of the party apparatus.

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OwenG 10.05.11 at 1:18 pm

I wont nitpick again. It is an interesting reference.

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Andrew F. 10.05.11 at 11:24 pm

Kvetch @63: Israel’s increasing isolation is a direct and utterly predictable result of the actions of the Israeli government. It certainly doesn’t seem to concern Netanyahu much—at least not so much that he’s abandoning any “counterproductive” measures. I fail to see why it’s up to the US to protect Israel from the consequences of its own behavior.

Well, it’s partly a function of Israel’s behavior, no doubt. But that isolation only makes it more difficult to achieve a lasting resolution to the Palestinian issue, and, more broadly, to the issue of permanent and complete regional acceptance of Israel’s existence. Israel’s settlement policy is certainly foolish, but the UNSC won’t bring us closer to its end.

That said, imho the US does have a longstanding strategic relationship with Israel – the only liberal democracy in the Middle East – and that relationship weighs in favor of accepting some additional costs in the pursuit of more primary US interests in a stable supply of oil and in fostering an inhospitable environment for international terrorist organizations.

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anon 10.06.11 at 12:51 am

Henri Vieuxtemps on 10.02.11 at 4:27 pm asked:

“There isn’t any effective pro-Palestinian lobby in the US … Yes, there has to be one for sure, but where is it?”

Those of us who actually live in the US recognize the pro-Palestinian lobby here is called the Main Stream Media, Academia and Hollywood.

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(different) anon 10.06.11 at 3:34 am

Based on US policy, apparently those ‘lobbies’ have little to no leverage in Washington.

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Uncle Kvetch 10.06.11 at 12:59 pm

But that isolation only makes it more difficult to achieve a lasting resolution to the Palestinian issue

Israel has demonstrated absolutely zero interest in a “lasting resolution to the Palestinian issue,” and a hell-bent determination to maintain and reinforce the status quo.

Let me guess — you’re one of those people who still talks about the US’s crucial role as an “honest broker” in the I/P conflict, aren’t you?

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