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US strategy in the Middle East #2 « Previous | |Next »
October 15, 2003

I want to pick up on the previous post about Juan Cole's article on American geopolitical strategy in the Middle East in the Boston Review. It addresses my understanding that the Imperial presidency is seeking to establish a Roman peace upon the world whilst confronting, and conducting wars with a fundamentalist Islam.

I ended my post mentioning Juan's view that the weakness of the neo-con plan for reconstructing the Middle East is the secular Iraqi Shiites as allies for the US in the region. Juan argues that this strategy wil founder on the rock of the powerful Islamic Shiite movement.

I will let Juan spell out the implementation of the neo-con plan for a stragetic shift in his own words. In the conclusion to his excellent article he writes:

"In removing the Baath regime and eliminating constraints on Iraqi Islamism, the United States has unleashed a new political force in the Gulf: not the upsurge of civic organization and democratic sentiment fantasized by American neoconservatives, but the aspirations of Iraqi Shiites to build an Islamic republic. That result was an entirely predictable consequence of the past 30 years of political conflict between the Shiites and the Baathist regime, and American policy analysts have expected a different result only by ignoring that history."

Juan then qualifies this:

"To be sure, the dreams of a Shiite Islamic republic in Baghdad may be unrealistic: a plurality of the country is Sunni, and some proportion of the 14 million Shiites is secularist. In the months after the Anglo-American invasion, however, the religious Shiite parties demonstrated the clearest organizational skills and established political momentum. The Islamists are likely to be a powerful enough group in parliament that they may block the sort of close American-Iraqi cooperation that the neoconservatives had hoped for. "

What does this setback mean in the short term? Juan says that:

"For now, the United States is back to having two footstools in the Middle East: Israel and Saudi Arabia. Iraq has proven too rickety, too unknown, too devastated to bear the weight of the strategic shift imagined by the hawks. And far from finally defeating Khomeinism, U.S. policy has given it millions of liberated Iraqi allies.....But what does seem clear is that the Iraq war has proved a detour in the War on Terror, drawing away key resources from the real threat of al Qaeda and continued instability in Afghanistan.... What really needs to be changed are U.S. support for political authoritarianism and Islamic conservatism, and acquiescence in Israeli land grabs on the West Bank. Those two, together, account for most of the trouble the United States has in the Muslim world. The Iraq war did nothing to change that."

This highlights the old contradiction in the US strategy in the Middle East: the rhetoric about democracy and freedom and the support for authoritarian regimes. So we have the blowback consequences of the imperial strategy---Muslem resistance to its hegemony--- that lead into a negative feedback loop for the US.

Juan's whole article is well worth reading. Nothing like it has been published in Australia, where there is little questioning and evaluation of that US geopolitical strategy in the Australian media.

There should be some questioning of the geopolitical strategy. Australian policy makers have lined up behind the US geopolitical strategy in the Middle East. That strategy ensures that the US will maintain regional hegemony and that any challengeto US hegemony will be blocked by force. Whatever the Americans do seems to be okay for Australia. That appears to be the official Canberra line. US policy in the region is the policy of Australia by default.

Consequently, Australia supports a unipolar world in which no state or coalition should be allowed to challenge the US as global leader, protector, and enforcer. What is to be protected in the Middle East is US power and the interests that it represents.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:44 AM | | Comments (4)


Cole is critical of 'the rhetoric about democracy and freedom and the support for authoritarian regimes'. He may simply be voicing the criticism that he doubts the leopard(US) has changed its spots, from previous Cold War expediency.

The supporters of intervention in Iraq would hold the view, that with the Cold War out of the way, Anglo pursuit of democracy and freedom can be pursued without the grubby expediency of the past. Indeed, support for the war in Iraq may well be largely predicated on this view.

If of course the majority are being 'neo-conned' as suggested, then this will become clear to the majority as events unfold. However it would not be fair to say that the failure to establish a long and lasting, democratic and civil society in Iraq would necessarily point to us all being 'neo-conned'. This would be like saying that the withdrawal of Anglo rule from Zimbabwe and the current mess, was proof that imperialism and colonialism was the right way to go.

Certainly as a supporter of democracy, freedom and self-rule and reasonable civil society for Iraq, I am not naively anticipating the production of a neat US clone as Cole seems to suggest.
It is true however, that if Iraq degenerates into another Zimbabwe after the best attempts of Anglos to produce the opposite, I like most of the UN, will probably be most reluctant to get involved in failed states' problems again.

For many, it may become a case of stuff peace-keeping and nation-building and a reliance on the policy of walls, moats and the pre-emptive strike against terror. A case of you win critics, 'We are all Israelis now!'

Juan Cole is a more complex fellow than a simpleton like me.

He supported the American intervention in Iraq though reluctantly. One of the reasons he did so was because he thought that the Shiites would get a better deal under the Americans than Saddam's regime.

Cole became critical of the US occupation because it was handled badly.

He would argue that if the US is to stay in the region then it needs to ensure that is rhetoric is matched by reality. Otherwise it is going to alienate the Arab street even more.

A democracy Iraq, which he supports, is not going to achieved through military means.
We are not being neo-conned as you suggest. Rather, the neo-con grand plan of transforming the region was not locked into the Arabic realities.

In other words they had no bloody idea what they were stepping into, once they got there they have made a big mess because of their ignorance about Arab culture, history and sensitivity.


I guess all we can say about 'the mess' is the jury is out and will be out for quite some time. Nevertheless if some decent Arab history is going to be forthcoming then perhaps a bit of their culture and sensitivity needs to be trodden on.

I had no idea my throwaway forecast that "We are all Israelis now" would come true so soon according to the learned doctor Mahatir today. In conjunction with another statement today, it would appear Australia is now a 'Jewish sherriff'. Nice to see we've been given a promotion from deputy sherriff, to really do the Jews dirty work for them. Well Dr Who, I AM going to trot out the 'R' word, you racist piece of shiite!(pardon my spelling) Now that you have decided to retire, I wish you a short silent one.

It would appear that even a future touted Labor PM in Bob Carr, might be starting to think along the same lines. Perhaps the idea that some truths are self-evident, really is becoming self-evident to those on the left who have traditionally been a bit slow on the uptake.