Friday, February 4, 2011

Revolting Developments

I don't have much of anything to add to the comments that are already circulating through the mainstream, and alternative, media re: the chain-reaction revolts, uprisings, and demonstrations in the Arab world. These are things which were, clearly, long overdue, and should not be a surprise to anyone (even though Hillary Clinton is walking around with Eddie Cantor eyes, and looking a bit frayed, these days). And everyone seems to agree that it's surprising that all of the various kings, dictators, shahs, tyrants, etc. in the Arab world have held on as long as they have, given the propensity for restiveness in their populations. And it's even admitted that the United States has had a lot to do with this, over the past few decades – pretending to be “pro-democracy” but actually being “pro-keeping things just the way they are” for the sake of – or so it is alleged – keeping the oil flowing. So we don't really care, despite all of our pretensions, about the forms of government in that part of the world, or how democratic they are, or how repressive, or how much wealth is concentrated vs. distributed among the people. These are polite considerations that occasionally merit discussion on an otherwise slow day... but what we really care about – first, last, and always – is oil. OK, fine... I mean, oil is absolutely essential to the “American life style” -- no sense in denying it. And we can't produce enough for our own use (or the environmentalists won't let us, which amounts to the same thing), so we have to look elsewhere, and that “elsewhere” is a part of the world where, up until less than a century ago, all of the residents were filthy camel-herders living a subsistence lifestyle in a terrain about as hospitable as that of the Moon. At least that is the stereotype – deny it if you will! So we had to “make nice” with these people any way we could, and put up with their bizarre customs and revolting table manners and sexual habits, in order to mine their “black gold” -- and sure enough, they (or at least their rulers) became filthy rich as a result – but no less mysterious or obnoxious. And now we're stuck with them – or at least with anyone who happens to be in charge, and it obviously serves our purposes much better if there is an old-fashioned king, shah, dictator, or tyrant in charge than some “people's democracy” or a bunch of mullahs. Because, hey, those latter types might actually start getting hostile at the thought of “the infidel” invading and occupying their lands and buying off their leaders. And sure enough, that is what is starting to happen – although the first major instance, I suppose, was Iran back during Carter's administration (and talk about a perfect storm – an Iranian revolution and the Carter administration at the same time? Oy...). So, although it has taken a while, the idea of rising up against corrupt dictators who are aligned with the West – i.e. with the infidel – is starting to spread. And this, of course, is why our president and his secretary of state are so atypically mute as events unfold – they can hardly come out in disfavor of “the people”, but at the same time they surely wish everyone had just stayed calm and that our “friends” had remained in charge and unchallenged. But again, it's a bit late for all that – we have been propping up these clowns, and giving them a lifeline, for decades now, and it has not escaped the notice of the people, nor of the Islamic militants. And in those rare cases where we've come out in favor of some token bit of actual democracy, well guess what – the people voted into power are invariably militants, and the ones voted out of power are our puppets.

So far so good. I mean, very little of what is being said about these events is untrue. But it is misleading, in that very few commentators dare to bring up the “I” word – by which I mean Israel. It may have been all about oil up until, and through, World War II, but since then it has been a kind of hybrid foreign policy, made up partly of the lust for oil and partly of the perceived need to support and defend Israel at all costs. I frankly don't know what proportions to assign to these respective motives, and I suspect that it has tended to vary over time and across administrations. Clearly, under George W. Bush the overwhelming priority was Israel, since we'd have gotten a lot more oil, and cheaper oil, out of Iraq if we hadn't invaded (and destroyed most of their infrastructure in the process) on behalf of Israel. So while the two motives are complementary up to a point, they do tend to diverge in extreme cases. And when it comes to Arab dictators, Saddam Hussein has to count as an exception, by which I mean that, in general, those dictators are (as it turns out) more willing to compromise when it comes to tolerating Israel than their citizenry would be. Of course, they huff and puff a lot, and rattle sabers, because that's what's expected. But they have learned, by and large, that attacking Israel simply doesn't pay off, and so they've learned to live with it – not to mention the incentive a few billion dollars in walking-around money, courtesy of the U.S. Taxpayer, can provide. So any militancy they might have felt has long since been compromised, co-opted, and neutralized. They may not be quite our poodles, but they have been tamed and civilized, mostly by “aid”, and also by the realization that, hey, Israel has nukes and they don't. That's the sort of thing that concentrates the mind wonderfully.

But what about the people? The “Arab street”? Have they profited by all this oil money, or foreign aid? The answer, of course, is no – hardly ever. So they have absolutely nothing to lose by dethroning whatever tyrant they feel is holding them down, and reclaiming not only their lands but also their culture – which includes a more militant variety of Islam, which means less of a tendency to compromise on the Israel question. So all of these revolts spreading like wildfire across the Arab world are bad news for us when it comes to oil – but also bad news (to our policy makers) when it comes to Israel – not to mention bad news for Israel itself. Suddenly Daniel is in the lion's den not with toothless, overstuffed lions, but lions that are hungry and P.O.'d. Now... it's one thing when Israel senses a threat from a place like Iraq. Then all they have to do is call up a chump like George W. Bush and tell him to invade and commit “regime change”. Mission accomplished! But how does it work when the country has already overthrown its tyrant, and is now ruled by a rag-tag bunch of populist politicians and mullahs? Well, Iran is an example... and you'll notice we haven't invaded yet, even though Israel has been urging us to do so for decades. And this, in face of the hostage crisis! I mean, if any country deserved to be slapped down for having plain old bad manners, it's Iran. Not to mention Ahmadinejad and all his trash talking. But instead we've gotten bogged down in Afghanistan, which... well, it has to be pretty far down on the list of “countries that are a threat to Israel”, don't you think? And do they even have any oil? So why are we there at all? Oh, never mind...

So basically, as Arab tyrants go, so go us – our occupying troops, that is – and so goes, possibly, our oil... and so may go Israel. We can pick tyrants off one at a time, but how do we deal with 1½ billion Muslims, many of whom are right on Israel's doorstep and ready to take up daggers and start cutting Israeli throats? How do we deal, in other words, with a mass movement – a populist movement – that seems to be overtaking the Islamic world? We can't bomb them all, or shoot them all, or lock them all up in Gitmo. Sooner or later a human wave will have to overwhelm Israel... and, with each day that goes by, we become less and less able to do anything to stop it, because of our economic woes. It's no wonder Obama and Clinton are looking a bit nervous these days, since serious cracks are forming in one of the pillars of our foreign policy. “Power to the people” is the last thing we want in that part of the world.

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