Bob Dreyfuss: American Death Spiral in the Middle East

Yves here. I thought it would be useful to feature a post on geopolitics, since America’s declining standing in the world plays directly into domestic politics. The classic guns v. butter issue is a big part of the coming budget battle. One of the reasons that both parties would like to reach a deal in December is that another round of sequester cuts will otherwise kick in in January. Those as before would leave Social Security and Medicare untouched while forcing reductions in other government operations, including the armed forces. Needless to say, a powerful cohort would like to shift the pain off the military-intelligence complex and onto defenseless citizens (pun intended).

Companies and countries seem to be constitutionally ill-equipped to recognize they have a wasting asset and harvest it. In all my years of consulting, I’ve only had one client see clearly that that was what they were up against. Recognizing that made it comparatively simple to assess tradeoffs. But it’s much easier to sell “you can grow your way out of your bad position” or desperate acquisitions, no matter how low the odds of success are (note that it actually might indeed be possible to salvage a declining business, but to quote Pink: “You can be a pop star/You just have to change everything you are”. That usually includes all the management, BTW, hence the reason remarkable turnarounds pretty much never happen).

The geopolitical version of the reluctance to manage decline gracefully is devoting excessive resources to maintaining one’s international position irrespective of the societal cost. We not only seem to be following the course of the USSR before its fall, but as the article below describes, we have also made an inherently difficult situation worse by a series of bone-headed initiatives in the Middle East that have left us unable to take effective action against parties that defy us, partly due to alienating too many potential allies, party due to overreach. No wonder the NSA is so freaked out about the Snowden scandal. Extortion of foreign leaders may be the only good card we have left.

By Bob Dreyfuss, an independent investigative journalist based in Cape May, New Jersey, specializing in politics and national security. He is a contributing editor at the Nation, and has written extensively for Rolling Stone, Mother Jones, the American Prospect, the New Republic, and many other magazines. He is the author of Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam. Cross posted from TomDispatch

Put in context, the simultaneous raids in Libya and Somalia last month, targeting an alleged al-Qaeda fugitive and an alleged kingpin of the al-Shabab Islamist movement, were less a sign of America’s awesome might than two minor exceptions that proved an emerging rule: namely, that the power, prestige, and influence of the United States in the broader Middle East and its ability to shape events there is in a death spiral.

Twelve years after the U.S. invaded Afghanistan to topple the Taliban and a decade after the misguided invasion of Iraq — both designed to consolidate and expand America’s regional clout by removing adversaries — Washington’s actual standing in country after country, including its chief allies in the region, has never been weaker. Though President Obama can order raids virtually anywhere using Special Operations forces, and though he can strike willy-nilly in targeted killing actions by calling in the Predator and Reaper drones, he has become the Rodney Dangerfield of the Middle East. Not only does no one there respect the United States, but no one really fears it, either — and increasingly, no one pays it any mind at all.

There are plenty of reasons why America’s previously unchallenged hegemony in the Middle East is in free fall. The disastrous invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq generated anti-American fervor in the streets and in the elites. America’s economic crisis since 2008 has convinced many that the United States no longer has the wherewithal to sustain an imperial presence. The Arab Spring, for all its ups and downs, has challenged the status quo everywhere, leading to enormous uncertainty while empowering political forces unwilling to march in lockstep with Washington. In addition, oil-consuming nations like China and India have become more engaged with their suppliers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. The result: throughout the region, things are fast becoming unglued for the United States.

Its two closest allies, Israel and Saudi Arabia, are sullenly hostile, routinely ignore Obama’s advice, and openly oppose American policies. Iraq and Afghanistan, one formerly occupied and one about to be evacuated, are led, respectively, by Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki, an inflexible sectarian Shiite closely tied to Iran, and President Hamid Karzai, a corrupt, mercurial leader who periodically threatens to join the Taliban. In Egypt, three successive regimes — those of President Hosni Mubarak, Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the chieftains of the July 2013 military coup — have insouciantly flouted U.S. wishes.

Turkey, ostensibly a NATO ally but led by a quirky Islamist, is miffed over Obama’s back-and-forth policy in Syria and has shocked the U.S. by deciding to buy a non-NATO-compatible missile defense system from China. Libya, Somalia, and Yemen have little or no government at all. They have essentially devolved into a mosaic of armed gangs, many implacably opposed to the United States.

This downward spiral has hardly escaped attention. In a recent address to the National Council on U.S.-Arab Relations, Chas Freeman, the former American ambassador to Saudi Arabia, described it in some detail. “We have lost intellectual command and practical control of the many situations unfolding there,” said Freeman, whose nomination by Obama in 2009 to serve as head of the National Intelligence Council was shot down by the Israel Lobby. “We must acknowledge the reality that we no longer have or can expect to have the clout we once did in the region.”

In an editorial on October 29th, the New York Times ruefully concluded: “It is not every day that America finds itself facing open rebellion from its allies, yet that is what is happening with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Israel.” And in a front-page story on the administration’s internal deliberations, the Times’s Mark Landler reported that, over the summer, the White House had decided to scale back its role in the Middle East because many objectives “lie outside [its] reach,” and henceforth would adopt a “more modest strategy” in the region.

Perhaps the most profound irony embedded in Washington’s current predicament is this: Iran, for decades the supposed epicenter of anti-Americanism in the region, is the country where the United States has perhaps its last opportunity to salvage its position. If Washington and Tehran can negotiate a détente — and it’s a big if, given the domestic political power of hawks in both countries — that accord might go a long way toward stabilizing Washington’s regional credibility.

Debacle in Syria

Let’s begin our survey of America’s Greater Middle Eastern fecklessness with Exhibit A: Syria. It is there, where a movement to oust President Bashar al-Assad devolved into a civil war, that the United States has demonstrated its utter inability to guide events. Back in the summer of 2011 — at the very dawn of the conflict — Obama demanded that Assad step down.  There was only one problem: short of an Iraq-style invasion of Syria, he had no power to make that happen. Assad promptly called his bluff, escalated the conflict, and rallied support from Russia and Iran. Obama’s clarion call for his resignation only made things worse by convincing Syrian rebels that the United States would come to their aid.

A year later, Obama drew a “red line” in the sand, suggesting that any use of chemical weapons by Syrian forces would precipitate a U.S. military response. Again Assad ignored him, and many hundreds of civilians were gassed to death in multiple uses of the dreaded weapons.

The crowning catastrophe of Obama’s Syria policy came when he threatened a devastating strike on Assad’s military facilities using Tomahawk cruise missiles and other weaponry. Instead of finding himself leading a George W. Bush-style “coalition of the willing” with domestic support, Obama watched as allies scattered, including the usually reliable British and the Arab League. At home, political support was nearly nil and evaporated from there. Polls showed Americans overwhelmingly opposed to a war with or attack on Syria.

When, in desperation, the president appealed to Congress for a resolution to authorize the use of military force against that country, the White House found (to its surprise) that Congress, which normally rubber-stamps such proposals, would have none of it. Paralyzed, reluctant to choose between backing down and striking Syria by presidential fiat, Obama was rescued in humiliating fashion by a proposal from Syria’s chief ally, Russia, to dismantle and destroy that country’s chemical weapons arsenal.

Adding insult to injury, as Secretary of State John Kerry scrambles to organize a long-postponed peace conference in Geneva aimed at reaching a political settlement of the civil war, he is faced with a sad paradox: while the Syrian government has agreed to attend the Geneva meeting, also sponsored by Russia, America’s allies, the anti-Assad rebels, have flatly refused to go.

Laughingstock in Egypt

Don’t think for a second that Washington’s ineffectiveness stops with the ongoing Syrian fiasco.

Next door, in a country whose government was installed by the United States after the 2003 invasion, the Obama administration notoriously failed to convince the Iraqis to allow even a small contingent of American troops to remain there past 2011. Since then, that country has moved ever more firmly into Iran’s orbit and has virtually broken with Washington over Syria.

Since the start of the civil war in Syria, Shiite-led Iraq has joined Shiite Iran in supporting Assad, whose ruling minority Alawite sect is an offshoot of Shiism. There have been widespread reports that pro-Assad Iraqi Shiite militias are traveling to Syria, presumably with the support or at least acquiescence of the government. Ignoring Washington’s entreaties, it has also allowed Iran to conduct a virtual Berlin Airlift-style aerial resupply effort for Syria’s armed forces through Iraqi air space. Last month, in an appearance before the Council on Foreign Relations in New York during the United Nations General Assembly session, Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari undiplomatically warned Obama that his government stands against the U.S. decision — taken in a secret presidential finding in April and only made public last summer — to provide arms to Syria’s rebels. (“We oppose providing military assistance to any [Syrian] rebel groups.”)

Meanwhile, Washington is also flailing in its policy toward Egypt, where the Obama administration has been singularly hapless.  In a rare feat, it has managed to anger and alienate every conceivable faction in that politically divided country. In July, when Egypt’s military ousted President Mohammad Morsi and violently clamped down on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Obama administration made itself look ridiculous to Egyptians (and to the rest of the Middle East) by refusing to call what happened a coup d’état, since under U.S. law that would have meant suspending aid to the Egyptian military.

As it happened, however, American aid figured little in the calculations of Egypt’s new military leaders. The reason was simple enough: Saudi Arabia and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf, bitter opponents of the Morsi government, applauded the coup and poured at least $12 billion in cash into the country’s near-empty coffers.  In the end, making no one happy, the administration tried to split the difference: Obama declared that he would suspend the delivery of some big-ticket military items like Apache attack helicopters, Harpoon missiles, M1-A1 tank parts, and F-16 fighter planes, but let other aid to the military continue, including counterterrorism assistance and the sale of border security items. Such a split decision only served to underscore the administration’s lack of leverage in Cairo. Meanwhile, there are reports that Egypt’s new rulers may turn to Russia for arms in open defiance of a horrified Washington’s wishes.

Saudi and Israeli Punching Bag

The most surprising defection from the pro-American coalition in the Middle East is, however, Saudi Arabia. In part, that kingdom’s erratic behavior may result from a growing awareness among its ultraconservative, kleptocratic princelings that they face an increasingly uncertain future. Christopher Davidson’s new book, After the Sheikhs: The Coming Collapse of the Gulf Monarchies, outlines the many pressures building on the country.

One significant cause of instability, claims Davidson, is the “existence of substantial Western military bases on the Arabian Peninsula, [which are considered] an affront to Islam and to national sovereignty.” For decades, such an American military presence in the region provided a security blanket for the Saudi royals, making the country a virtual U.S. protectorate. Now, amid the turmoil that has followed the war in Iraq, the Arab Spring, and the rise of an assertive Iran, Saudi Arabia isn’t sure which way to turn, or whether the United States is friend or foe.

Since 2003, the Saudi rulers have found themselves increasingly unhappy with American policy. Riyadh, the area’s chief Sunni power, was apoplectic when the United States toppled Iraq’s Sunni leader Saddam Hussein and allowed Iran to vastly increase its influence in Baghdad. In 2011, the Saudi royal family blamed Washington for not doing more to prevent the collapse of the conservative and pro-Saudi Mubarak government in Egypt.

Now, the Saudis are on the verge of a complete break over Washington’s policies toward Syria and Iran. As the chief backers of the rebels in Syria, they were dismayed when Obama chose not to bomb military sites around Damascus. Because it views Iran through the lens of a regional Sunni-Shiite struggle for dominance, it is no less dismayed by the possible emergence of a U.S.-Iran accord from renewed negotiations over that country’s nuclear program.

To express its pique, its foreign minister abruptly canceled his address to the United Nations General Assembly in September, shocking U.N. members. Then, adding insult to injury, Saudi Arabia turned down a prestigious seat on the Security Council, a post for which it had long campaigned. “Upset at President Barack Obama’s policies on Iran and Syria,” reported Reuters, “members of Saudi Arabia’s ruling family are threatening a rift with the United States that could take the alliance between Washington and the kingdom to its lowest point in years.”

That news service quoted Saudi Arabia’s intelligence chief, Prince Bandar bin Sultan, as saying that his country was on the verge of a “major shift” in its relations with the U.S. Former head of Saudi intelligence Prince Turki al-Faisal lambasted America’s Syria policy this way: “The current charade of international control over Bashar’s chemical arsenal would be funny if it were not so blatantly perfidious. [It is] designed not only to give Mr. Obama an opportunity to back down [from military strikes], but also to help Assad to butcher his people.”

This is shocking stuff from America’s second most reliable ally in the region. As for reliable ally number one, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has visibly decided to be anything but a cooperative partner in the region, making Obama’s job more difficult at every turn. Since 2009, he has gleefully defied the American president, starting with his refusal to impose a freeze on illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank when specifically asked to do so by the president at the start of his first term. Meanwhile, most of the world has spent the past half-decade on tenterhooks over the possibility that his country might actually launch a much-threatened military strike on Iran’s nuclear facilities.

Since Hassan Rouhani was elected president of Iran and indicated his interest in reorienting policy to make a deal with the Western powers over its nuclear program, Israeli statements have become ever more shrill. In a September speech to the U.N. General Assembly, for instance, Netanyahu rolled out extreme rhetoric, claiming that Israel is “challenged by a nuclear-armed Iran that seeks our destruction.” This despite the fact that Iran possesses no nuclear weapons, has enriched not an ounce of uranium to weapons-grade level, and has probably not mastered the technology to manufacture a bomb. According to American intelligence reports, it has not yet even militarized its nuclear research.

Netanyahu’s speech was so full of hyperbole that observers concluded Israel was isolating itself from the rest of the world. “He was so anxious to make everything look as negative as possible he actually pushed the limits of credibility,” said Gary Sick, a former senior official in the Carter administration and an Iran expert. “He did himself harm by his exaggerations.”

Iran: Obama’s Ironic Beacon of Hope

Both Israel and Saudi Arabia are fearful that the Middle Eastern balance of power could be tipped against them if the United States and Iran are able to strike a deal. Seeking to throw the proverbial monkey wrench into the talks between Iran, the U.S., and the P5+1 powers (the permanent members of the U.N. security Council plus Germany), Israel has put forward a series of demands that go far beyond anything Iran would accept, or that the other countries would go along with. Before supporting the removal of international economic sanctions against Iran, Israel wants that country to suspend all enrichment of uranium, shut down its nuclear facilities, not be allowed any centrifuges to enrich uranium, abandon the heavy-water plant it is constructing to produce plutonium, permanently close its fortified underground installation at Fordo, and ship its stockpile of enriched uranium out of the country.

In contrast, it’s widely believed that the United States is ready to allow Iran to continue to enrich uranium, maintain some of its existing facilities, and retain a partial stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel under stricter and more intrusive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Ironically, a U.S.-Iran détente is the one thing that could slow down or reverse the death spiral of American influence in the region. Iran, for instance, could be helpful in convincing President Assad of Syria to leave office in 2014, in advance of elections there, if radical Sunni Islamic organizations, including allies of al-Qaeda, are suppressed. Enormously influential in Afghanistan, Iran could also help stabilize that country after the departure of U.S. combat forces in 2014. And it could be enlisted to work alongside the United States and regional powers to stabilize Iraq.

More broadly, a U.S.-Iran entente might lead to a gradual de-escalation of the U.S. military presence in the Persian Gulf, including its huge naval forces, bases, and other facilities in Qatar, Bahrain, and Kuwait. It’s even conceivable that Iran could be persuaded to join other regional and global powers in seeking a just and lasting negotiated deal between Israel and the Palestinians. The United States and Iran have a number of common interests, including opposing al-Qaeda-style terrorism and cracking down on drug smuggling.

Of course, such a deal will be exceedingly difficult to nail down, if for no other reason than that the hardliners in both countries are determined to prevent it.

Right now, imagine the Obama administration as one of those vaudeville acts that keep a dozen plates spinning atop vibrating poles.  At just this moment in the Middle East, those “plates” are tipping in every direction. There’s still time to prevent them all from crashing to the ground, but it would take a masterful effort from the White House — and it’s far from clear that anyone there is up to the task.

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51 comments

  1. kjboro

    Thank you for this superlative overview. I would say, though, that this is no longer a question of ‘guns vs butter’. That tension was real in pre-1970s America when elected officials had at least some concern for governing.

    Today, the overriding concern is profits for patrons, albeit within some broad limits defined by concern for one’s own incumbency. This latter concern, though, doesn’t arise to ‘versus’ status except in rare cases.

    As conveyed in The Moneysburg Address run on this site some time ago, this all about ‘of the persons, by the persons, for the persons’. People do not exist in this formulation. Therefore, butter does not exist.

    1. Gepay

      I wouldn’t characterize this article as a “superlative overview” although I agree with its main thesis – the US Middle East policies are a fiasco (bacically acting as Israel’s and the US military-industrial complex’s bitch in invading Iraq). I find fault with no mention of the fact that everybody didn’t back the US because it was kind of obvious that it was the Syrian rebels that crossed Obama’s “red line”. That and the fact that Russia didn’t back off like it did when the US destroyed Libya. Instead Russia sent warships to the Mediterranean and created the possiblitiy of an escalating international incident. Interesting how even someone like Dreyfuss who in his excellent book “Devil’s Game: How the United States Helped Unleash Fundamentalist Islam” showing how the United States helped create the conditions that brought the fundamental Islamics back from obscurity and created the conditions that gave cover for a farcial “war on terror”, can’t say the obvious.

  2. Eleanor

    As the Princess Bride tells us, never get in a land war in Asia. And never, ever, ever invade Afghanistan.

    1. sue

      Richard Nixon offered similar advice regarding Middle-East to Donal Rumsfeld-
      who was Nixon’s CATERER at the time-yes, that’s from where blustering Rummy arose.

      As for “defenseless Americans” being favored compromised-devolving Social Security-Medicare, not only are they “defenseless”, they are blameless VICTIMS
      of Wall Street economic debacle.

      “Defenseless Americans” had nothing to do with construction of destruction-“Collateralized debt obligations”, “Credit default swaps”=”derivatives”, which Robert Johnson, invited to explain economic debacle to Congress placed value,
      2007, at over $600 trillion-documented here:

      http://www.nextnewdeal.net/wp-content/uploads/2009/10/raj-revised-testimony1.pdf

      http://www.nextnewdeal.net/what-congress-did-not-want-you-read-robert-johnsons-testimony-otc-derivative-market

      1. OpenThePodBayDoorHAL

        It’s all a legacy of Rummy’s formulation “you’re either with us or you’re against us”. No nations’ interests line up 100% with the US. So in the end, they’re all against us. Nice going.

  3. Ignim Brites

    De Gualle put it correctly: Nations do not have friends. Nations have interests. The United States really has minimal interests in the Middle East. If we actually had significant interests there John McCain would be in his second term. If the only interest is in being perceived as the world power, it can be said that great power can be distinguished by what it can afford to ignore.

  4. Grumpy Cat Fan

    It’s a good thing that the Saudis & the Israelis are pissed off at us.

    Both are dogmatic, secretevily manipulative and their behavior to us is more to parasite to host.

    Regarding Saudi Arabia – 18 out 19 hijackers and who funded Al Quada from the begginning.

    Regarding Israel. Present leadership is equally dogmatic as Saudi Arabia and Iran. Their dogmatism does not allow them to see a true view.

    Let them find another host to be parasites in, and lets see if that host treats them as well as us, or they come prpepare with some good anti-parasitical medication.

    1. sue

      Here’s an informative read, on Middle-East; Robert Fisk’s, “The Great War For Civilization”:

      http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1400041511 ($4.66-free shipping)

      Having read Fisk’s lifetime documented historical, one can truly peruse Middle-East political actions-especially if also viewing Adam Curtis’, “The Power Of Nightmares”.

      Here’s a link people likely missed, regarding who is “parasitic” of whom:

      http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2011/05/25/114759/wikileaks-saudis-often-warned.html

  5. ohmyheck

    Phillip Faruggio – When Will You Say “Enough is Enough”?

    http://www.thepeoplesvoice.org/TPV3/Voices.php/2013/11/03/when-will-you-say-enough-is-enough

    —The masters of this Military Industrial Empire are not only doing their best to scare the shit out of us with “declining budget cuts putting our Army at risk”, but they are sounding the alarm that we are going to get another war sooner than not! They further tell us that plans to reduce the number of active duty soldiers from a wartime high of 570,000 to 450,000 (as planned by 2017) is “too small and too risky”. Now this is not from some comic book story. No, this is really being hyped up to get YOU out there on board with the propaganda to NOT cut our bloated and obscene military spending (close to 600 billion of yours and mine hard earned dollars)—

    —Cut military spending 25% a year NOW. If we took the almost $170 billion yearly we would save and send part of it back to our states and their cities to help erase budget shortfalls, imagine what could be accomplished? Translated: Enough money for our public services, our local police and other first providers, our schools and libraries, our infrastructure repair (meaning more economic stimulus a.k.a. JOBS). Along with cutting the obscene military spending, if we closed most of the 800+ bases worldwide and brought everyone home, we could refill our domestic bases with personnel, which would help stimulate the local economies.—

    I’d like to think that, after reading Mr. Dreyfus’ article, that what Mr. Farruffio is saying will happen whether the US Gov’t likes it or not. Eventually, it may not have a choice….(wishful thinking)…

    1. Banger

      A few months ago I would have said that such cuts would be absolutely impossible–now, I believe there is some hope. If some principled voices in the mainstream media really run with this and if a few prominent politicians strike up the call for major cuts in our absurdly costly imperial presence around the world then there would be popular support of this project because the USG is now in disarray and we would mainly be fighting the contractors who directly profit from these ventures. I think one place to start is a truth commission on how the wars have been fought in the past decade and how, in my view, they were frauds from the start meant to part us from our money and had little to do with “national security.”

    2. sue

      Clinton’s assumed “balanced budget” existed largely upon the basis of cutting military R & D-research and development. This from insider-Military Industrial-Congressional Complex.

    3. Cynthia

      The biggest deterrent to American aggression has always been the body bags. Send in troops, bring home body bags, news guys take pictures, American public says ‘enough.’ But unfortunately, drones have removed the body bags, and with that, any fear.

      1. Procopius

        I get what you’re saying, and I think it’s a valid point as far as it goes, but I think the real problem is with the “all volunteer army” concept. With the reduction in the size of the forces to less than half a percent of the population (I’m guessing, it’s probably lower), the body bags don’t matter that much to most people. They say, “Oh, how tragic,” but it isn’t the child of somebody they know so it doesn’t really affect them emotionally. Look at the history of the U.S. military. They were despised most of the time except during actual war. That changed briefly after World War I, but by the Depression the old attitude was back. It wasn’t until World War II and the Cold War draft army made a significant part of the population really connect with the military. No, the drones are another level of disconnect, but it’s really the lack of personal involvement as well as the lack of real national interests involved that leaves the population apathetic.

  6. Banger

    Very good overview of the situation; however, I have to add that we have a problem calculating U.S. interests in the region. The U.S. in a state of dissolution. Competing interests inside Washington are fighting it out in the corridors of power, within the Pentagon, within the intel community, within Congress–all bureaucracies are split within by infighting, the pursuance of narrow interests, flat-out corruption and then, of course, there are the various cabals of consultants who have increasingly taken over parts of government not to meet the needs of the American people but to pad their bottom line. In a way, I claim that there is really no government but a loose assemblage of moving plots, cabals and so on that temporarily grab the microphone. All this should now be obvious to anyone with half a brain–the Syria misadventure which showed dramatic infighting within the WH and the absurd spectacle of the Obamacare website are examples of this–we won’t even mention the sequester and the fact that the only principled people in Congress are the nut-jobs on the right.

    If there is no real government and the policy controls shift from one faction to the next there is also no such thing as U.S. interests. My interest and that of most people if they understood it is to cut military adventures and spending and start to reform this government so that it is functional–arguing about foreign policy is a waste of time at this point.

    Of course, my plan would be to dissolve Congress, put in a caretaker government approved via a national referendum (who would head and run this gov’t would take too long right now to describe), set up a truth commission to set the records straight as to what actually happened since 1963 so there would be some context to hold a new Constitutional Convention that would correct such things as the Electoral College, two Senators from empty spaces, re-creating a Civil Service, creating a system of justice that reflects the Bill of Rights and makes it impossible for the rich to escape justice and the poor to populate jails and so on.

    1. susan the other

      If the neocon goal in 2001 was to destabilize Middle East, it has succeeded. But to what end? We are not “going in” to take control; Israel seems unable to accomplish any control; the Saudis are distancing themselves from us as fast as they can because civil unrest is getting dangerous for them. Russia is making new alliances with them. And we would rather deal with Iran now than all the rest with their Byzantine politics and hatreds. France has stepped up in Libya, Mali, Algeria to maintain their old imperialist interests. Who is going to try to control Sudan, Somalia, and Kenya, etc? The British have their old interests along the east side of Africa but they aren’t making the news. But everybody from the Arabs, to China, to the US to the old imperialist Europeans are trying to nail down a piece of Africa. So it suits them that Africa and the Middle East are in a state of chaos.

      So it is possible that the country that stands to gain the most is the US. We rid ourselves of all of those crushing military expenses, say goodbye to Saudi oil, retool our own oil industry and let Europe, India, Russia and China step up. What will happen then? China and India will get the oil they need to jump start their own domestic consumption and we will benefit from trade. If we can manage to find a factory that hasn’t been offshored to China, that is. The things I do not like about this possibility are the new “free trade” treaties which threaten sovereign nations and the overproduction which will devastate the environment in order to meet the growth needs of China and India. Don’t like that part at all. Unless we export conservation, sustainability, and environmental cleanup. That might be good. I can’t think of another explanation for our behavior for the last decade.

      1. Banger

        First, the neocon idea was to assert US power in the ME for three reasons: 1) full control of ME oil would make U.S. hegemony permanent which is one reason they oppose any shift to alternative energy; 2) they believed, correctly that U.S. culture was hopelessly divided and moving towards materialism and hedonism–they felt that the situation was desperate and we needed a new Pearl Harbor event to galvanize the country into the sort of unity it achieved during WWII and without this sense of common purpose the country would fragment; and 3) they believed the countries in the region are unable to rule themselves and need a strong hand to force those countries into some form of capitalist democracy. I believe the neocons were and are true believers who honestly want a better world for all mankind–they may be the only organized group in Washington politics that honestly believes in “doing good.” The fact is that their vision failed because American society was too far gone and the government to incompetent, divided and corrupt to rule anyone as Iraq showed us in technicolor. Saddam was a benevolent humanitarian compared to the brutal, stupid and corrupt rule of the USG. Are the Iraqis better off without Saddam? The correct answer is Hell no!

        You missed my main point which is there is no U.S. interest in the region because there is no real government in this country–we are fragmenting as the neocons predicted. Their mistake was to believe there were enough virtuous people who cared about the country to be able to rule an Empire–when the time came they were not to be found–in short those people fell for illusions.

        1. susan the other

          I do take your point about our fragmented government. But I can’t think of any good examples of going to war with another country to take over its government and doing it successfully. Dedication fizzIes when it does not attract more dedication. Ironically, the only comparison I can think of is telling a joke and nobody laughs. Imagine what it would be like if some hapless militaristic nation decided to take over this country.

  7. steve from virginia

    I realize this is not an Yves Smith article but a Tom Dispatch version but …

    … as usual, here is a geopolitical article about the US that does not mention energy/petroleum.

    – The US relationship with the Middle East — particularly Saudia — is that between junkie and pusher.

    – The US relationship from here on out will orbit around declining oil consumption as the US goes bankrupt. Slow or fast, bankrupt it is. There is no escape from it. Our precious/stupid economy monetizes capital destruction. Wealth redistribution schemes, new tax- or pricing regimes, Keynesianism, NGDP targeting, MMT … none of these things will save us from the consequences of our gluttony.

    Not even electric cars …

    – The US promotes instability (as a positive virtue). Notice that MENA countries in distress are either at- or past peak crude production: Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen … also Argentina and Mexico! Iran and Iraq are questionable … so is Saudia. The US itself is well past peak despite ‘fracking’ and the related Wall Street scamming/lies.

    Cultivating instability in- and among energy producers is a tactic to outmaneuver declining net energy (difference between exports and domestic consumption). Keep in mind all energy consumption is exportable, even if new production does not occur, when countries blow up their consumption declines to near-zero … it can then re-emerge elsewhere.

    – Any US policy is going to orbit around getting the gasoline for American SUVs and gigantic pickup trucks. However the gas can be had is acceptable to Americans and their leadership. This country is run for- and by the automobile industry and the constellation of industries that support it. Getting gas by any means includes the use of commandos, drones, proxies, jihadis, suicide bombers … nerve gas and … anything and everything else.

    – Keep in mind, finance/asset price bubbles, currency unions (euro), off-shoring labor and massive credit expansion are energy price hedges. The West has known about the onrushing depletion-related energy shortage(s) and accompanying increase in real crude prices since October, 1973. US peak oil occurred in 1970. We have been grasping at straws for a long time.

    – The only outcome is conservation, one way or the other it is going to occur, easy way or hard way.

  8. myshkin

    Great read. It had occurred to me some time ago that the pyrrhic, Cold War victory left the US brand of empire quite as hollowed out and teetering as the collapsed Soviet colossus. This article covers intriguing facets of Middle East maneuvering that main stream analysis and the establishment foreign policy consensus would like to ignore and discredit at the same time.

    It opens with an astute passing reference to the unintended effects of sequestration on favored military vs. disparaged, non discretionary Medicare and SS spending and the revealed dichotomy of American interests as defined by policy and elite policy makers; a commitment to funding the activities of the corporate-empire complex by diverting revenue from the prime and legitimate purpose of the state, the welfare of the citizenry.

    It points to the damage and hopeless situation empire builders here and elsewhere leave behind in regions of interest and how paradoxically unfortunate it is for resident populations to find that their homelands are sites of valuable resources that TPTB desire. Also the folly of steadily undermining the UN and turning it into a dysfunctional, vestigial appendage of global governance/dominance while pursuing the delusional hope of a world Pax Americana, not so discreetly accompanied by the sinister, doppelganger, the global American empire, tragically and frighteningly characterized by the emerging features of the end game of the Twentieth Century’s American global hegemony.

    Surely not all but likely the most recent tragic chapter of the region can be assigned to American policy. History is replete with previous empires trampling upon the aspirations of the locals and laying the groundwork for contemporary illustrations of what by now should be the well understood and expected disasters of war that result when distant imperial interests are the formative hand in regional relations.

    Though the US has loaded up on the side of the crazy, odd couple, Israel and Saudi Arabia, the Iran / US alignment that logic points to is compelling and echoes the pivotal importance of Persia to the region.

    1. Cynthia

      Israel and Saudi Arabia – two theocracies united in their attempts to get the US to do their work for them. With ‘friends’ like these, who needs enemies?

    2. Cynthia

      What drives the Empire is the search for ever increasing wealth and power for the imperialist elites. The power elites accomplish their aims through economic and military dominance and both economic and military war. These two power bases are mutually reliant on the other. When one weakens so does the other, the weak link being the economic structure of empire. The rest of the world’s nations in growing rebellion know the weakness of the Empire’s economic basis which is indenture through debt by use of the debt created USD. Happening today those opposed to Empire are slowly moving to disentangle themselves from the Empire’s economic system.

      Eventually the Empire’s power elites will see the writing on the wall that their economic power to command is no more and that the use of military power to retain power, even in their own eyes, would be the immorality of conducting the destruction of all life on the planet in a final nuclear holocaust that they may not be able to command. I see a peaceful transition to a multipolar world where the masses of humanity will attain more freedom of action to face the problems of the planet as the Empire dissolves. The people of the planet are slowly awakening to our oneness, rejecting the feudalistic nature of the Empire. We have more in common with the Palestinian family man than the banker in our home town.

      1. Clive

        I echo your thoughts Cynthia; in the language of the theosophists, whatever manifests itself on this Earth plane will cease to exist if it does not, in the end, assist humanity fulfil its plan. Money will vanish from that face of the Earth if it has outlasted its usefulness.

        Of course, it may take many, many lifetimes to get to that point. The body of humanity can chose to either co-operate with the plan for it, or else it can resist. If it resists, it will eventually bring about the very forces needed to end its imprisonment in the illusion it is labouring under.

        Meanwhile, I’ve got dinner to put on the table.

    3. sue

      “Persia in the region”-history including ex-author-university professor Mossadegh, CIA overthrow of his democratically elected presidency-implant by CIA of Shah of Iran-American puppet dictatorship, overthrown by Ayatolla Khomeini, including student uprising-capture of American Embassy.

      Has it occurred to others that U.S. operative role in world since 911 has involved complete Israelization of U.S. international policy?

      To whose advantage do we suppose this leads?

    4. ohmyheck

      How much will be conserved, if the US Military were using much less oil? As I understand it, a rather large chunk of US “oil consumption” is by the US Military. It takes alot of energy to keep those jets flying and those battleships chugging around the globe.

      All of that to keep US and global oil companies feeling secure, the gulf open, and no one from putting the squeeze on business.

      If we took all that military consumption out of the equation, how well would the oil supply fare, until alternative energy options could be freed up? (thinking Darth Cheney here and his evil kibosh on alternative energy options…)

  9. Jim Haygood

    Speaking of nuclear pariah states, Dreyfuss’s essay makes equal sense after substituting one I-word for another:

    The United States is ready to allow Israel to continue to enrich uranium, maintain some of its existing facilities, and retain a partial stockpile of enriched uranium for fuel under stricter and more intrusive inspection by the International Atomic Energy Agency.

    1. Cynthia

      Israel’s war-plotting is an undeniable act of criminality. Warmongering flies in the face of the Geneva Conventions, the Nuremburg protocols and the UN Charter. It is a criminal enterprise.

      In a just and orderly world, Israel would be recognized for what it is: a nuclear rogue state, bent on military conquest, that should suffer an immediate world-wide economic embargo. This racist, apartheid, expansionist state is wildly out of control and must be stopped.

      1. sue

        I see it has “occurred to others”. Parallel wondering whether 911 obvious cover-ups lead in similar direction?

  10. allcoppedout

    We all need constitutional reform Banger. There were plenty of people about in the former Soviet block who knew the political trick wasn’t communism or capitalism, but rather some means to prevent incompetent and corrupt elites running countries.
    All I would ask anyone reading this to remember is that a fair number of us predicted this outcome long before boots hit the ground. I mean no ‘we told you so’ on this (most in here surely knew) – but rather fear TPTB knew too and wanted this outcome (mess). They have recently driven the potential war zone through the middle east to north Africa and the far east, blinking only at the exposure of the false flag in Syria on chemical weapons.

    The deep truth in all this is very little work is now needed to fund decent living standards for all and we have become so stupefied we confuse this work with “capital”. They need to keep us scared of war (each other) to keep up this central myth on what it is that gets invested.

    1. susan the other

      Right. I feel like they are playing their last trick right now with TAFTA and the TPP. But the rationalization for “free trade” is being shredded by Yves and others at a pretty brisk pace. Nice.

      1. Chauncey Gardiner

        Bob Dreyfuss said: … “In addition, oil-consuming nations like China and India have become more engaged with their suppliers, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, and Iraq. The result: throughout the region, things are fast becoming unglued for the United States.”

        In a related vein, I wonder to what extent the TTP and TTIP agreements that are currently being negotiated in deep secrecy, despite being fundamentally flawed in terms of the discordant strategic geopolitical and economic objectives of their various authors, represent a belated and misguided effort to offset the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO)?

        I expect this will be one of the lines of spin the authors of these agreements will take to try to sell them politically.

  11. steve from virginia

    An article about the Middle East and America and not a word about energy.

    The US relationship to this part of the world is that of the junkie to the pusher. These countries are nothing but a gas-pump to us.

    Now we are bankrupted by our own waste and surprised that there are ‘difficulties’.

  12. readerOfTeaLeaves

    I tend to read on the Internet in much the same way that I read a novel: it might be true. Then again, it might not. Take the following with a very large grain of salt…

    Back in August 2013, following reports of WMD/gas used in Syria, the Sic Semper Tyrannis (SST) website had quite a number of very interesting threads. SST is operated by a retired US military-intel officer, who is fluent in Arabic and has spent years in the Middle East. (Like NC, the SST site attracts an erudite and engaged group of commenters.)

    If the information on that site, and related sites (including Al-Monitor: The Pulse of the Middle East), have any basis in truth, then the following events quite likely occurred. If so, they paint a somewhat more fascinating picture than this post conveys.

    If it is true that Bandar bin Saud met with Putin in late July 2013 and issued a veiled threat that (Bandar) would unleash Islamic (Chechnyan) fighters to create chaos at the upcoming Moscow Olympics, then it would explain some of the strange events of this fall.

    Putin was reportedly furious at Bandar and the Saudis for threatening him. (Good on Putin, BTW.) And that gave Putin a strong motive to get involved in the WMD/gas business in Syria.

    And now, the plot seems to thicken: the US reports about the gas used on civilians in Syria all blamed Assad’s forces. But there was no proof. And after 2003 and missing WMD in Iraq, a lot of us went “hmmmmmm…?!!”

    Apparently, people who know about these things can trace down the origins of gas, and the canisters, et cetera.
    So why wasn’t there proof?

    What if the gassing of civilians in Syria were *actually* perpetrated by rebels, either through ineptitude (they didn’t know what they were dealing with or how to handle the materials), or as a ‘false flag’?

    Who is the biggest funder of those rebels? Bandar.
    And where do some of those rebels apparently hail from? Chechnya.

    To summarize: we appear to have Bandar funding Chechnyan Islamist rebels. And we have reports that Bandar was threatening Putin that they’ll be unleashed against the Moscow Olympics. And we have a mystery surrounding WMD in Syria.

    Whoops.

    Meanwhile, in the US foreign policy sphere, there appear to be a number of influential people, who are convinced that the US has to intervene on humanitarian grounds whenever civilians are in danger. (The SSTers refer – derisively – to these people as ‘Girl Scouts’.)

    Consider a situation in which small nations with large interests — who hate, hate, hate Iran and its satellite Syria — want the US to come in and intervene militarily in Syria. They’ve tried persuading Obama and the US military to intervene in Syria, but the US seems wary of yet another Middle Eastern quagmire.

    If one wanted to suck the US into a war against Syria, a good way to do it would be to use WMD to cause civilian deaths — because all of the do-gooder ‘Girl Scouts’ in the US foreign policy bureaucracy would then be duped into doing your dirty work, while believing themselves to be protecting humanitarian principles. (We Yanks excel at this kind of soft-hearted, messianic do-gooderism, and are consequently liable to be duped by people who view the world rather differently.)

    The SST blog, and other sources, raised very serious questions about who might have wanted to create an incident that would suck the US into doing other people’s dirty work in Syria.

    That raises seriously murky issues: would a third party actually be brazen enough to create a ‘false flag’ incident in Syria in order to suck the US into yet another war? (Okay, rhetorical question…)

    And now a sidebar —
    Anyone who takes about 15 minutes to go to any reputable site and look at demographic stats for the Middle East will get an eye-popping view of a populace that is mostly young, mostly in child-bearing years, and increasingly urban. Also, mostly poor and under a lot of resource pressure (arable land, water, fuel). IOW, the Saudis and everyone else are sitting on a demographic powder keg.

    So back to our ‘story’ about Bandar.
    Consider that Bandar was up to his eyeballs in Iran-Contra. It appears that over the past three decades, much of his power has derived from making sure that Iran remains a pariah to the West. (Because if the West can’t get Iranian oil, then we’re dependent on the Gulf States.)

    If Iran is no longer a pariah, then that has implications for Bandar, as well as Israel and also the Gulf States.
    But also, if Bandar seriously pissed off Putin, then that also has other implications for Bandar and the Saudis.

    As for Netanyahu… there’s a personality that a good novelist could probably make into quite a riveting tale. He does not appear to have adapted to a post-Arab Spring world, and he continues to do his utmost to manipulate US foreign policy. (Let us Yankees not forget that it is only a bit over one year since we were treated to the spectacle of Mitt Romney in Jerusalem, wearing a yarmaluke, and standing next to Sheldon Adelson, and spouting whatever foreign policy his advisors were whispering in his ear. And his advisors were mostly Bush 43 re-treads.)

    But what if both Netanyahu and Bandar have both ‘worn out their welcome’ on the world stage…?

    And what if they are now being pissy, and blaming the US – and Barak HUSSEIN Obama — for all the things going wrong in their lives? After all (much like financiers), egotistical men used to wielding power would rather blame the US than look in the mirror and contemplate whether they bear any personal responsibility for the messes in which they now find themselves. (These people are probably far better at projection than at self-reflection.)

    So: Putin is pissed at Bandar. Putin steps in on the Syrian WMD business in bold fashion. And in the background, the new Iranian president is being feted at the U.N.

    As for the US, for generations we’ve sold off our Ambassadorships to campaign donors. How robust is our State Department? What fraction of budget does it have compared to the military budget(s)? How many federal employees does the US have who have who are fluent in Arabic and the languages of the Near East? How many US diplomatic employees have actually lived in the Middle East, know its foods, traditions, neighborhoods, clan structures, and cultures? Probably far too few.

    Whether Obama kept the US out of Syria intentionally, or whether through sheer bungling, it may well have been a masterstroke.

    Clearly, those parties who wanted the US to do their dirty work in Syria are now pissed that the US failed to do their bidding. That doesn’t mean that the US is ‘spiraling’ out of control, nor does it mean the world as we know it is coming to an end.

    It means that people who have had a lot of influence for decades are now finding they can’t control events. Things change. Life goes on. This may well be a good thing.

    1. Banger

      The politics of the ME are even murkier and more confusing today than they have ever been. What Bandar actually said to Putin is anybody’s guess but clearly something must have happened. Russia denied the story as would be expected. The Saudis are miffed that their terrorist gangs in Syria will not benefit from massive NATO air strikes. Putin is the goto statesman in the world and Obama is ruling a country that is deeply divided culturally and has an even more divided power-elite which feature rapidly changing factions and an increasingly corrupt and incompetent federal bureaucracy.

      For me the main takeaway from all this stuff is that the mainstream media is going so deep into fantasy, propaganda and PR for the various factions in the oligarchy that fewer people take them seriously. The only mainstream outlet to even mention the Bandar/Putin story was a blog on the CS Monitor site even to discredit it. The method the U.S. Media uses now is to airbrush history of any offending unorthodox facts that don’t fit the narrative of the particular posse they favor.

      1. Synopticist

        “The method the U.S. Media uses now is to airbrush history of any offending unorthodox facts that don’t fit the narrative of the particular posse they favor.”

        So true, but also so for the UK media. They still manage to mostly get away with it, which is both surprising and depressing.

    2. Cynthia

      Saudi Arabia has been producing a huge amount of a finite resource for 60 years, and is nearing the bottom of the barrel. Ignore what they claim and watch what they do. They are desperately searching for natural gas so they can free up for export the oil they currently burn in power plants, and are redeveloping fields they mothballed years ago due to difficulties in production or low oil quality. They are even actually talking about drilling for offshore, subsalt oil! That will be VERY expensive oil IF it ever gets produced at all.

      The Saudis are trying to compel the US to finish off regional rivals (Iran, Syria) before their declining production reduces their influence.

    3. sue

      How many are aware Assad is a “Baathist”, as was Saddam Hussein-neighbor?

      Answer many of your questions with documented, footnoted history, here:

      http://www.thriftbooks.com/viewdetails.aspx?isbn=1400041511

      One could create worldview of Middle-East from Robert Fisk’s on the ground-lifetime in Beirut, historical; “The Great War For Civilization-The Conquest of The Middle-East”.

      Of course Fisk also wrote for British media.

  13. ++good paxspeak

    This is probably just how you have to write to get through The Nation’s glavlit department, but this article has a whiff of the US propaganda miasma. You can tell because legal considerations go down the memory hole, once the law is no longer useful as an offensive weapon. The diplomatic laugh line that Assad used chemical weapons on his people!!!! gets picked up without question in a critical national security article. However, the attack is not a crime anymore, it’s just some wog thumbing his nose at Obama, ha ha ha. The effect is to fixate the discussion on the US failure as a policy misstep. There was also a little issue of the pros and cons of the crime of aggression in sending armed bands and irregulars into Syria, and of illegally threatening use of force. That figured into the debacle, as I recall. What was Putin doing while he was aiming and cocking his swarm-targeted Sunburns? He was beating Obama over the head with the UN Charter.

    Same with Iraq. Obama didn’t fail to convince Iraq to allow US troops. Obama failed to convince Iraq to grant them criminal impunity.

    It’s not the screwup, it’s the crime. Obama fought the law and the law won.

    1. Yves Smith Post author

      Ooops, I saw but neglected to mention the chemical weapons propaganda. That sentence is very weirdly phrased, which is often a sign of tortured negotiations with the editor. So it might have been written differently and the author had to concede to editing.

    2. optimader

      “The diplomatic laugh line that Assad used chemical weapons on his people!!!! gets picked up without question in a critical national security article.”

      Toms Disp./Inspector Dreyfuss disappoints me on this one.

      Since the day this event was revealed, this has been the “pig in the poke” meme to support the narrative to blunder into yet another World Policing mistake.

      From what I’ve read, the provenance of residuals can establish mfg process, kitchen yogurt machine quality or state sponsored Heisenberg quality (in the case of the latter, one might ask, which state?? Is this what Ambassador & parttime secret agent-man Stephens was trying to hoover up when his weapons deal blew up at the Consulate, err.. Diplomatic Mission…err. CIA safehouse?)

      In anycase absence of publicized evidence suggests its own conclusion, and this business of establishing and identifying the nerve agent provenance swirled down the memory hole with authority.

      Beyond that, this small deployment event would have been an utterly stupid and un-strategic move by Assad, a guy you might not want to go on vacation with, but certainly no idiot –and certainly not someone posturing then or now as a despot ready to play his dad’s legacy Personal Armageddon card..

  14. Ken Ward

    Not the least service Dreyfuss performs in this article is to draw his readers’ attention to Chas Freeman’s latest speech. Freeman has few rivals among former US officials in the sophistication of his analysis of the Middle East and of US foreign policy in general.

  15. Hugh

    I enjoyed the author’s depictions of Karzai and Maliki, but much of the rest of the piece remains suffused with neocon perspectives.

    All kinds of societal, sectarian, and demographic forces are tearing apart the Middle East. As a result, the empire/kleptocracy we live in is moving from the policy goal of control to one of containment. And while the author seems somewhat nostalgic for the empire’s previous policy of control, that policy was always rife with inherent contradictions. As Cynthia notes, when your two biggest allies in the region are Israel and Saudi Arabia, who needs enemies? One is a militaristic apartheid state, the other a repressive dictatorship that has reduced its interior tensions for the last few decades by exporting them, in the form of terrorists and radical madrassas, to the rest of the world. It was not an accident that Osama bin Laden and 15 of the 19 9/11 hijackers were Saudi. Just as it was no accident that about half of the suicide bombers in Iraq were also Saudi. Or that the Saudis are bankrolling al Qaeda rebels in Syria and encouraging their homegrown radicals to go and, hopefully, get themselves killed there.

    The neocons completely misread Iraq, but their focus on it was driven by their belief that Saudi Arabia was too unstable and likely to blow up and that Iraq would be a good substitute for it. Iraq had oil, was a good site for permanent American bases, and had an established secular government. It was Saudi Arabia without Saudi Arabia’s problems. This was, of course, so divorced from reality as to amount to a psychotic break, but that was very much part of the neocon mindset that they could exert effective control over a country they had a less than zero understanding of.

    While Iraq was a disaster and continues to be for the Iraqis, other than the loss of lives and treasure, well, that and the fatigue to its forces, the US got off its invasion and occupation surprisingly lightly. It didn’t get control of the oil, but control of oil is overrated. Oil is fungible. So as long as some oil is flowing from Iraq, it’s all good. And the US retains its bases in Kuwait, Qatar, and Bahrain. So it continues to have a dominant presence in the Gulf. And if the opening to Iran reduces tensions between the US and Iran, this would reduce our imperial need for a large presence in the Gulf.

    Both the Saudis and Israelis oppose any such rapprochement because it reduces their leverage over us and increases Iran’s standing as a regional power. Hence all the tantrums in Tel Aviv and Riyadh.

    What Iraq should have taught US neocons, and really hasn’t, is just how unstable the Middle East is. With the possible exception of Egypt, the system of monarchies and dictatorships form a thin veneer over tribal, sectarian, and ethnic conflicts, that once that veneer is removed boil to the surface. We saw this in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, again in Gadhafi’s Libya, currently in Assad’s Syria, and for some time in Yemen. There is no nationwide civil society and civil institutions once the old regime is gone. And while Egypt is, as I said, an exception to this, it nonetheless is being torn apart by its kleptocratic class, of which the military forms an important part, and enormous demographic pressures. So while it has civil institutions, these are unlikely to be strong enough to survive the varying pressures put upon them. Mubarak, Morsi, and the current military junta have all blown it, just in different ways, and their failures are just adding to the pressure on the civil society.

    And then there is the festering sore that is Israel. Its political spectrum runs from the establishment fascist to the far flakey fascist. Here I am using fascist in the sense of nationalism and militarism run amok. Israel has benefitted enormously from its alliance with the US, but for the US this alliance is mostly about high costs and negative impacts on our imperial interests. As we shift or lurch to a policy of containment Middle East and the Israel Lobby’s power wanes here at home, so does the importance of Israel. With its 200 nuclear weapons, it can chart its own course without us aiding and abetting its activities, activities which almost always run contrary to our interests, kleptocratic, imperial, or other.

    The American empire was always mostly fiction. Perhaps most empires are. The empire and the system of monarchies and dictatorships simply cast conflicts into a particular mold, for a while, the Cold War, Arab nationalism, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, for example. But they left unaddressed and unresolved older conflicts, now demographics, climate, and bankrupt and decaying political orders are pushing back to the fore. Maybe the US could have used its influence over the last 50 years to try to resolve those issues or at least to strengthen the institutions of civil society in Middle Eastern countries, but, caught up as we are in kleptocracy and empire, it didn’t try and it might not have succeeded anyway.

    1. optimader

      Lemonade from Lemons! at least we’re opening up new markets! The war allowed us to flush out all that fmr SU hardware and start them in a fresh direction.

      http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130812/DEFREG02/308120012/

      Oddly this does not mention the F16-Q aircraft (upgradable, just get your foot in the door) being provided as to support their internal “anti-terrorism program”.. That one is just too much!

      http://gulfnews.com/news/region/iraq/us-will-help-iraq-fight-terror-1.1249402

      But hey, These sales help keep the F-16 production line open until 2017..
      As Nuclear “negotiations leverage”, I wonder what Iran would pay for the F-16 Kill Switch?

  16. pretzelattack

    just a quibble, i don’t think it has been established that assad used chemical weapons. please correct me if i’m wrong.

  17. ChrisPacific

    I think that’s the first time I’ve seen a Pink quote in an economics blog article. Well done.

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