Saturday, January 23, 2010
There is a question of how much responsibility for pro-US dictatorships in the Middle East can be pinned to the United States. And after that there is the further question of to what degree Israel motivates whatever role the US plays in supporting these dictatorships. The relatively pro-US Middle East dictatorships I focus on here are Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. Of these, Egypt threw off colonial rule under Nasser in 1954 while Sadat brought Egypt back under US tutelage by 1978. The others remain under the royal families through which the British Empire indirectly ruled their subjects by the early 1900s. British imperial direction has in each of these cases been transferred to the United States after World War II and the United States today has just as much a vassal-sponsor relationship with these dictators as the British Empire did with the parents and grandparents of these rulers when World War II began.
The short answer to the question about US responsibility is that there has been an historical tide against colonial dictatorships that has been opposed by the United States more enthusiastically in the Middle East than in the rest of the world because these dictatorships rule populations that are hostile to the idea of Israel's legitimacy. These countries certainly would have evolved differently and faster if not for foreign intervention. It cannot be said with certainty that there would be democracies there by now. But it can be said with certainty that the US is acting as effectively as it can to prevent democracy from developing.
It is a fact that the relationship between the United States and the colonial dictatorships of the Middle East generates anger against the United States and the West. Even though it is not certain a US evacuation from the region would necessarily produce greater political freedom inside of a given time-frame, a US evacuation would certainly and necessarily reduce blame that is assigned to the US because of its relationships. So as far as, for example, the destruction of the World Trade Center, even if the United States is not responsible for imposing dictatorships on Egypt and Saudi Arabia, if those dictatorships were to continue without US support, they would not harm the credibility of or generate attacks against the US as they do now.
Let's look at Jordan. Jordan does not produce oil, what it produces is a service for the United States and West in that it has a dictator who rules a population hostile to the idea that Israel is a legitimate state, borders Israel and co-exists with Israel with limited hostility. If Jordan's King Abdullah was to change orientation and become as hostile to Israel as Syria or Iran, the United States would frantically search the ranks of Jordan's military and security establishments for a replacement and attempt, if it is at all possible, to remove Abdullah from power in favor of a different pro-Israel dictator.
The West would have a decent chance of succeeding in replacing Abdullah. Large populations often have someone in their ranks who would be willing to play that role. If Jordan's king was to institute democratic reforms that threaten that an organization hostile to Israel could take power peacefully, Israel, the US and the West would do the same.
What if the United States was not in this equation? The simplest answer is that possibly France or another supporter of Israel, or even Israel itself would attempt to play the same role. Possibly they could play the role with about equal success. In that sense, the United States is not crucial for supporting Jordan's dictatorship. On the other hand, in our world, it is the United States that issues directives to Abdullah and the people of Jordan do, reasonably, hold the US responsible.
Or maybe any substitute for the US could not as credibly threaten to find a replacement for Abdullah's leadership. Possibly a less resourceful foreign interventionist power would "fail" and power in Jordan could fall into the hands of a party with foreign policy sensibilities in line with the sensibilities of the people who are ruled by that government. Or possibly Abdullah himself would feel less pressure to remain in line, and could himself act more like Syria's Assad than Mubarak - which would in itself make Israel less viable as a Jewish majority state. Even though I cannot say without the US, the goal of maintaining a dictatorship over Jordan could not be reached, I can say the US works to achieve that goal and is responsible for that.
What if there was no structural reason that the United States opposes democratic leadership for Jordan? For example what would the relationship between the US and Jordan look like if a one-state arrangement is reached that does not have a Jewish majority but does resolve the issue of refugees and full equality of rights for Palestinians? In that case, the service the dictator of Jordan provides the United States and the West would be of no value. There certainly would not be a Western threat that he would be replaced if he was to put foreign policy under democratic control. The same pressures that have weakened colonial dictatorships around the world, including a general philosophical US and Western disdain for dictatorship, other things being equal, for the last 50 to 100 years would weaken the Jordanian dictatorship.
The rest of the region is about the same. According to multiple polls, the ruled populations of Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE do not accept the legitimacy of Israel as a Jewish state in Palestine. The United States opposes control of foreign policy in the region by parties that are democratic or in line with the sympathies and sensibilities of the ruled populations. There is an implied but very real threat that the US would replace the subservient dictators of these nations with more pliable leaders if they were to change their foreign policies. If that was to fail, the US would sanction the countries and attempt to stifle economic growth as they attempt a longer-term project of regime-change.
There is only one dispute between the people of Jordan, or of the other countries named and the US, and that is the legitimacy of Israel. The United States does not have any other reason to oppose democracy in those countries. A string of neo-colonial dictatorships throughout the Middle East is held in place by the United States for the sake of Israel and the over 100 million people who live under these authoritarian dictatorships rightly consider it a US act of unprovoked aggression against their interests.
The support the US gives its clients does take the form of intelligence cooperation, but more importantly the client-patron relationship is held in place by a threat of removal from power and of hostility from the West against their countries like that faced by Nasser and by Iran today. Palestine's Abbas is held in place the same way. He would be isolated and killed, likely more quickly than Arafat was, and replaced by another if he was to act in the interests of his people rather than those of Israel. The United States has also demonstrated a willingness to attempt to starve his people.
The dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan, UAE, Saudi Arabia and Kuwait would be very unlikely to survive without giving the West, especially the US, the service of non-hostility towards Israel. The US would not, through positive support and more importantly through imposed threats, hold these authoritarian dictatorships in place if not for the fact that they support in Israel a country that is not seen as legitimate in its region.
The United States does bear some responsibility for their continued oppression of over 100 million people, though it is slightly too much to say that the US is oppressing those people directly.
Posted by Arnold Evans at 3:32 PM