It is becoming increasingly apparent that Trump will start a war in 2020 as his first term season finale, Greg Camp writes.
First published in September 2019.
The attack on Abqaiq, a Saudi oil processing facility, on Saturday 14 September 2019, claimed by Houthi rebels in Yemen and characterized by Bob McNally, member of the U.S. National Security Council in 2003, as something that depending on the severity of the damage had the potential to be “a massive heart attack for the oil market and global economy” is yet another illustration of how much the Middle East skews American policy, foreign and domestic.
The United States and Saudi Arabia blame Iran for this attack, and the Trump administration has been foreshadowing the idea of going to war with Iran, a story arc that returns periodically, and with American forces set to deploy to Saudi Arabia, it is becoming increasingly apparent that Trump will start a war in 2020 as his first term season finale.
I phrase things that way to illustrate the absurdity of Trump’s approach to governing and to diplomacy, but he is only the culmination of decades of interference and bad policy with regard to the Middle East. In essence, the U.S. government has chosen to support Israel no matter what that nation does and to demand a steady and cheap flow of oil without regard to the needs and rights of the people who live on top of that resource. The history of our interaction with the region is well known. I will review one example to remind us all of our relations with Iran.
In much the same way that we would later inherit Vietnam from the French, we showed up to the Great Game after the original colonial powers, Russia and Britain, had been worn down by decades of conflict. When the popularly elected Iranian prime minister, Mohammed Mossadegh, declared his intention to nationalize his country’s oil industry – his intention to dedicate Iranian natural resources for the benefit of Iranians – the United Kingdom adopted a policy of regime change and convinced the new Eisenhower administration to join in. The American motivation was for oil, for a base for electronic monitoring on the border of the Soviet Union, and generally for an opportunity to keep a country out of the communist column, no matter how illusory the threat was in fact. And after two decades of the Shah’s tyranny, the Iranians have vented their understandable rage on the world.
This is, as I said, but one example. In case after case – with more added if we include our policy choices in North Africa and Central Asia – we have imposed and propped up a series of tyrants who would identify themselves as anti-communist, no matter how much their treatment of the people they ruled over looked like what was to be found in the Communist Bloc. We should not be surprised when our message of “the boot on your neck is not a Red boot” failed to win over the “hearts and minds” of oppressed peoples. Add in the understandable anger in the Muslim world regarding Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and America’s tolerance of the same, and I am belaboring a solidly demonstrated assertion that the Middle East has hijacked American foreign policy.
Solving this will require a president who will push two key changes in our national choices: renewable energy and a multistate solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
I call for renewable energy as one necessary answer while recognizing that the United States is currently producing crude oil at historically high rates and that around half of the oil that we use comes from the western hemisphere. But we are still getting millions of barrels from the Middle East, funding nations whose stability is sustained by us, not by the popular will of their people and whose actions are frequently contrary to our interests. And we are retarding the growth of green energy. Burning carbon is a nineteenth century technology – whether we are talking about the time of Queen Victoria or of a queen of the Minoans. We have used this fuel source for millennia. The direction we need to go is toward energy generation that is indefinitely renewable, given our rapid growth in how many of us are alive and using resources today. And even if the science turns out to be wrong, domestically produced cheap electricity would lower costs to industry while allowing us to tell the authoritarian regimes of the Persian Gulf that the breadline is closed.
And then there is Israel. It is a cliché among right wingers to label anyone an anti-Semite who criticizes that country. There is a lot of history involved, and I acknowledge both the need for a Jewish state and the difficulties that corruption in the Palestinian Authority create in reaching an agreement. That being said, the Israeli government for decades has enjoyed the ability to act in any way they wished, resting in the reality that we would continue to support them – grudgingly or enthusiastically, but support nonetheless. This has made us varying degrees of Satan in the view of the Muslim world, leaving us much less capable of bringing the parties to a deal. If we want peace in the region, we have to make a different choice.
The problem is that many in the United States do not want peace. Among many evangelicals, Israel is seen as a necessary component of the apocalypse. There must be a big war, and reducing the number of lesser wars turns back that particular doomsday clock. For those more concerned with Caesar’s policies than Christ’s, the United States has given billions of dollars to Israel in military aid, a good portion of which is returned to American arms makers.
If we want a solution, we must say to Israel that future aid will be dependent on an agreement that settles all outstanding disputes with the Palestinians. This would require a large measure of toughness on the part of the president, and Congress would have to be convinced to go along, but as long as Israeli leaders like Netanyahu believe themselves to hold a blank check, they will not be motivated toward treating the Palestinians as equally deserving of self-determination.
Until we take these steps, the Middle East will remain a distorting influence on American policy. Changing this reality cannot be done with contemporary Republican control of the executive and legislative branches of our government, and it may not work with the establishment Democrats, either, but unless we are willing to accept a constant succession of wars, it must be done.🔷
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