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US strategy in the Middle East « Previous | |Next »
October 14, 2003

Juan Cole has a great article on American geopolitical strategy in the Middle East over at the Boston Review. It is big picture stuff and it pulls a lot of things together.

Juan says that:

The ambitious aim of the American war in Iraq—articulated by Richard Perle, Paul Wolfowitz, and other neoconservative defense intellectuals—was to effect a fundamental transformation in Middle East politics. The war was not—or not principally—about finding weapons of mass destruction, or preventing alliances with al Qaeda, or protecting the Iraqi population from Saddam’s terror.... In response to this challenge [the events of September 11] the Bush administration saw the possibility of creating a new pillar for U.S. policy in the region: a post-Baathist Iraq, dominated by Iraqi Shiites, which would spark a wave of democratization across the Middle East."

Juan then provides a historical context. He says that from 1970 until the end of the Cold War:

"U.S. policy in the Middle East was based on three principles and two key alliances. The principles included fighting against Communist and other radical anti-American influences; supporting conservative religious and authoritarian political elites; and ensuring access to Middle Eastern petroleum supplies. The two principal allies were Israel and Saudi Arabia. The centrality of the anti-Soviet pillar to regional policy...helps explain the others."

With the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, Paul Wolfowitz and other national security hawks later grouped in the Project for a New American Century saw the principal security challenge to the United States to lie with the anti-American Middle Eastern states, including Iraq, Syria, and Iran. After some hesitation the Bush administration remained committed to standing behind Israel and acquiescing in the substantial expropriations of Palestinian land by the Sharon administration.

It was the other central pillar, Saudi Arabia that remained in doubt. Juan says:

"The hawks came to see an Americanized Iraq as a replacement for Saudi Arabia...The two key alliances were now to be with Israel and a Shiite-majority “secular” Iraq. Saudi Arabia would be marginalized and the allegedly pernicious effects of its Wahhabism fought... Iranian Khomeinism was still seen as an enemy, along with its allies, the Hezbollah in Lebanon and the remaining wing of the Baath in Syria. All three were seen as threats to Israeli expansionism, so their elevation in the firmament of evil dovetailed with the U.S. decision to acquiesce de facto in hard-line Israeli policies of settlement expansion. Iran and Syria were to be forestalled from developing biological or nuclear weapons, from cooperating in this endeavor with the East Asian Communists, and from interfering in a final settlement of the Palestine issue on whatever terms Israel found favorable. Fighting al Qaeda, which one would have thought would have the highest priority in the new policy, actually appears as a minor and subordinate consideration, relegated to a sort of police work. And mollifying outraged Muslims by pressuring Israel to return to the 1967 borders was out of the question."

The weakness of the plan is the secular Iraqi Shiites as allies for the US in region.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 2:57 PM | | Comments (2)


I don't usually disagree with Cole, but I think this scenario is unlikely. A US truly committed to that policy would have hit the ground running in terms of post-war reconstruction. The reconstruction plan would have been well in place. Instead, we've had six months of chopping and changing, confusion and difficulties that could have been avoided. A lot of this failure and difficulty has been down to inter-agency fighting in the US, Pentagon vs State, which again undermines the notion that there was a unified 'plan'. As far as I can see, the closest it gets to Cole's scenario is that the idea was that they would remove Saddam and the rest would fall into place. But that hardly seems worthy of the title 'plan'. At the very least, if this was their plan, it was badly planned. But I certainly agree, it wasn't about WMD.

Maybe there is a big gap between plan and implementation

I do think that he has got the geo-political strategy bit right though. Israel and a post-Saddam Iraq are the pillars of the US power in the Middle East; and that Israel expansionism is to be supported by the US.