Wednesday, October 14, 2009

America and the Middle East: Part 4 - What Can Be Done?

What do we need from the Middle East?

Well, when you get right down to the nitty, it’s pretty simple:

1. We need oil
2. We need passage through the Suez/Red Sea and Strait of Hormuz chokepoints
3. We need political stability and a degree of U.S.-tolerance to get #1 and #2.

Let’s take ‘em in order:

#1: Oil is fungible. Middle Eastern countries need to sell oil as much as we need to buy it. If we pay them what they ask – or bargain them to get what we want to pay – we’ll get oil.

Mind you – this item reminds us that it is never in a nation’s best interest to be held economic hostage for a resource. Japan’s immolation in 1945 should remind us of that:

Emperor Hirohito: Take Indonesian oil, you said! Sleeping giant, you said! It’ll be like taking pocky sticks from a baby, you said!

Prime Minister Tojo: So sorry! Please excuse! Regrettable incident! Ow! Ouch!

Hirohito: Stupid fuckwit! The Yankees should have put those bombs up your ASS!

Tojo: Owww! Yes, so sorry! Aieeee! Excuse, please! Owowowow!!

So, instead of sending gas-guzzling Hummers and Abrams to drive around Ramadi, it seems to me that we’d be better served figuring out how to build a 65-mpg Hummer. Or, better still, a Hummer that runs on something else we have a lot of. Chipmunk droppings? Hydrogen fuel cells? This is still a work in progress. But anyone with a functioning brain has figured this out already. That leaves out the Republican and 89% of the Democratic political leadership of this country. So whether we’ll get there is a true tossup.

#2: A little trickier. We basically need political stability and some neutrality from 13 nations to do this: seven for the Suez/Red Sea (Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Eritria, Somalia and Yemen…

Ismail Omar GUELLEH: Don’t forget ME! I got 100% of the vote last time I got reelected! The freedom-loving people of Djibouti love me! That’s why they vote for me! Twice! Even the dead vote for Guelleh, here in freedom-loving Djibouti!

…oh, yeah, and Djibouti. Sigh)

and six for Hormuz (Iraq, Kuwait, Iran, Saudi, the UAE and Oman). This isn’t really a separate issue because it leads directly to point 3:

#3: Political stability. Back in the good old days we just bought the sons-of-bitches and they either stayed bought or they got what was coming to them.

PM Mossadegh: I’ll say!

Nowadays, though, the old colonial tradition of a paid-for-puppet-and-compliant-masses is wearing thin. The Arab “street” is being increasingly radicalized by groups demanding political power. Because of the forced marginalization of political Islam, these groups are often – mainly – radical and Islamic.

Sheik Nasrallah: My ears are burning. Hey – you talkin’ about ME? Hee hee, you silly American dogs, you…

For the radical Muslims, America has a whole bunch of strikes against it. They can be cooked down to two main categories: cultural and political. Let’s start with the easy one: our “way of life” versus theirs.

Our way of life, both social and political, demands that people with other points of view get a say. Demands that people whose ideas and behaviors you ma not like get ot do them so long as they don’t physically interfere with your life. Demands, basically, they you get on with doin’ your thang and let me get on doin’ mine.

Theocracy (the government-of-choice of Islamic and Christian fundamentalists everywhere) says that there’s only one point of view, and you know what that is:

Reverend Dobson: God says that Hillary Clinton is the Whore of Babylon. And progressive income taxes are Satan’s tool. Oh, yeah, and Playboy magazine is the instrument of your damnation. Praise the Lord!

Mullah Khameni: Yeah, what he said!

Our way of life allows a massive outpouring of all sorts of stuff, particularly stuff that offends the sort of people who feel that every time homos have sex Baby Jesus cries (or Muhammad weeps or something…) and that women’s bodies should be covered up, like, with massive walls, and kept locked away for Daddy to play with. This is an anathema to the fundies of all stripes and will keep us at odds with the Islamic conservatives for decades to come.

We’re not going to win that argument by out-shouting the mullahs, Sistani or Dobson or Khameni, whatever... Just remember that the Soviets officially banned Playboy and monster trucks and blue jeans, and look what happened to them. I’m pretty upbeat on this one. We’ll probably win the “culture war” with Islam because nobody wants to listen to Pakistani rap, see Saudi action movies, read Yemeni romance novels or wear Sudanese sneakers…

The political problem is something else. Right now we’ve got a lot of people in a lot of nations in the Middle East that have a pretty large lump stuck in their craw. And that’s our friend Israel. They see Israel – and with some justification – as an utterly non-Arab, non-Islamic invader forced into “their” part of the world by European colonial promises like the Balfour Declaration and the Sykes-Picot Agreement and now maintained by raw American military muscle. An eternal poke in the eye from the same people who are pissing them off by exporting that bimbo Brittany Spears and her talentless jerk of a husband to the oppressed masses of Islam;

KFed: Word! Mess with my Family (and you’re Through)! Yo!

Allah wept.

The thing is, I personally don’t see a way to finesse this one. Diplomacy is the art of giving a little here and taking a little there until both sides think they’re putting one over on the other. Deal is – both sides here want exactly the same thing. They both want a country, each in their own image, in exactly the same place. And, just as importantly, the Arab countries realize that they can keep trying until they win. And they only have to win one. Israel has to win every single fucking time.

So the U.S. doesn’t really have any good options: stand behind Israel and you will be at odds with the Muslim nations until…until…I don’t know until when. But a long, long time. Distance ourselves from Israel and anticipate the horrific spectacle of an Islamic ethnic cleansing if the IDF ever fails to hold against an Arab attack.

We’re screwed, in other words. And I haven’t the faintest idea how to un-screw ourselves. Go back in time and unsay the Balfour Declaration. Un-do Truman’s recognition. Make the whole problem go away before it began. Other than that, we’re stuck on the same old treadmill, grinding away endlessly, making more Islamic enemies every time we box up an F-18 or a cluster bomb or an artillery round to ship to Israel...

There’s an old joke that has Gorbachev, Reagan and Menachem Begin suddenly called before the Lord, who announces that He will tell them any one thing about their nations.

Gorbachev asks “When will the final triumph of the Communist Party bring peace and prosperity to the Soviet Union?” God whispers the answer and Gorbachev begins to weep.

Reagan asks: “When will Big Government and the Welfare State wither away in America?” God whispers the answer and Reagan begins to weep.

Begin asks: “When will your nation Israel enjoy final peace within its borders.

God begins to weep.


  1. Actually, the answer is straight forward:

    1) Announce that the U.S.A. will stop shipping arms and ammo to Israel in 5 years time.

    2) Announce that all citizens of Israel will be eligible for a green card, as long as they set up shop in northern Utah. This offer expires in 5 years time.

  2. AEL pretty much has the solution.

    The Israelis are slowly beginning to realize that they aren't going to get to stay in the Holy Land forever. There are just too many political, economic, and demographic trends against the moderates (who could probably negociate some sort of a deal in the long run) and too many trends favoring the crazies on both sides (warfare is becoming cheaper and decentralized, the crazies have larger families and keep assassinating the moderates, etc.).

    Best case for the US is to cut off weapons shipments to Israel, get the moderates and the nukes out of the region and tell both the Arabs and the Jews that we're turning our backs on them and we will deal with the survivor of the coming war.

    Very sad but war is going to keep coming regardless of what we do and the Israelis are eventually going to lose one and that's all it takes to end the fracas.