Sunday, November 27, 2011

Capitalism, imperialism and Zionism

I want to put into one place my thoughts on what is the root cause of what, between capitalism, imperialism and Zionism. There is an argument that the Middle East is so strategically important, or has so much oil, that there is an imperialistic or capitalist impulse to station an outpost there, and Zionism is an expression of that impulse. In other words, either imperialism created Zionism, or capitalism created Zionism.

Maybe instead of "created" the argument can be that imperialism or capitalism sustains Zionism. And maybe instead of "Zionism", the argument can be that imperialism or capitalism sustains what we know of as the enforced Jewish political majority state of Israel.

Underneath that argument, I think, is the idea that international strategy, as practiced by powerful states, empires and power-blocs, is a cold and rational endeavor that should not be explained by sentimentality, emotions or individual biases.

The point of this post is to invite discussion on this topic. So I'll put my position here first.

What I believe the arguments that Zionism is an artifact of a broader phenomenon miss is that Zionism makes other things harder. Capitalist goals are more difficult for Israel's backers to achieve than they would be if there was no Israel. Imperialist goals are more difficult for Israel's backers to achieve than they would be if there was no Israel.

Capitalism first, the US capitalist class would have no problem trading with and profiting from Iran's energy reserves today. The US is foregoing substantial profits for its position with respect to Iran that no US capitalist or strategist believes will ever be recovered.

Iran is also notable in that there has been a clear contest between capitalist interests and Zionist interests in the US political system and Zionism won. An AIPAC lobbyist recounts the story here:
So we get ILSA. It passes overwhelmingly. That same year I brought some Conoco guys to AIPAC's policy conference, where half the House and half the Senate usually attend, and they knew that night that they would never win anything against us. So they began to cooperate. A lot of the oil companies realized, 'We're not gonna beat these guys in Congress, so we might as well try to tailor their activities, where we at least have some room to work.' And I was the go-between. I was the guy.
Not only or even primarily for moral reasons or to be consistent with its professed values, the United States should abandon Zionism for commercial or capitalist reasons. The Middle East would be much different if there had never been an Israel and it would be much different if the US had abandoned Zionism and advocated a one-state egalitarian resolution to the Zionist conflict at any point in its history.

But in those alternative Middle Easts, the United States, it is pretty clear to me, would be collecting more profits in the region rather than less. The huge commercial advantages that US firms enjoyed relative to the rest of the world immediately after World War II would be dissipating more slowly and would today remain larger rather than smaller if the US had not associated itself with Zionism.

Strategically again, the US' goals are more difficult to reach because of its commitment to Zionism than it would be without. The United States does have a strategic interest in ensuring that no one state gains monopoly control over all of the oil in the region. For that reason, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, UAE and Saudi Arabia have to remain in some modicum of balance, with none completely dominant over the other.

But there are other places where the US has an interest in some modicum of balance. For example between France, Great Britain and Germany, between Brazil and Argentina or between South Korea, China and Japan. Those other places are instructive in that the balance does not have to be of artificially weak states.

Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia have to, by US strategic goals, be not substantially out of balance with each other, but also - and this is the unique result of the US commitment to Zionism - each weaker than Israel, a country with fewer than six million Jews and no significant natural resources.

Other than the oil states, the United States maintains a string of pro-US colonial dictatorships in Egypt, Jordan and others that provide the US no strategic service at all other than protecting Israel as an enforced majority Jewish political state from those countries' populations.

The US can strategically tolerate popularly accountable governments in Japan, Brazil and France but cannot in Israel's region because its commitment to Zionism poses a more difficult constraint on US strategic policy in the Middle East.

It seems that from a US strategic point of view, the Middle East has worked out for the best. Again, the US was in an unparalleled position of world dominance after World War II and it had enough resources to conduct its strategic policy while bearing the constraints imposed by Zionism. That does not mean Zionism did not make it more difficult.

The United States is actively fighting against the people of the Middle East in a way that it is not fighting against the people of Europe or the people of South America. For the first time that I remember, the administration of the president of the United States, while in office, has begun to admit that it does not believe it can win that fight forever.
First, we cannot ignore the long-term population trends that result from the Israeli occupation. ...

Second, we cannot be blind to the political implications of continued conflict. ...

And then finally, we must recognize that the ever-evolving technology of war is making it harder to guarantee Israel's security. ...
Looking again at Iran, a plausible-sounding argument can be made that the Shah was trading oil on what for technical reasons, were the best prices he could get. But there was no explaining his relations with Israel. Just as there is no explaining Mubarak's or Tantawi's maintenance of the blockade of Gaza or Jordan's or Saudi Arabia's coordination of their policy regarding the Palestinians with the US and Israel.

Looking at the Cold War, again remembering that the US entered the Cold War with tremendous material and strategic advantages, there should have been no contest for the allegiance of the most religious region in the world for the side that believes that the public sphere should coexist with the separate religious sphere against the side of militant athiests.

Religion should have been one of the US' most powerful weapons for use against the USSR in the Middle East. Zionism instead turned it into a weapon the USSR could use against the US. Nasser, speaking before an audience of trade unionists, justified his relationship with the Soviet Union not in terms of the advancement of workers (and this was a trade union audience) but in terms of the Soviet Union's offers of assistance in overcoming Zionism.
We must know and learn a big lesson today. We must actually see that, in its hypocrisy and in its talks with the Arabs, the United States sides with Israel 100 per cent and is partial in favour of Israel. Why is Britain biased towards Israel? The West is on Israel's side. General de Gaulle's personality caused him to remain impartial on this question and not to toe the US or the British line; France therefore did not take sides with Israel.

The Soviet Union's attitude was great and splendid. It supported the Arabs and the Arab nation. It went to the extent of stating that, together with the Arabs and the Arab nation, it would resist any interference or aggression.

Today every Arab knows foes and friends. If we do not learn who our enemies and our friends are, Israel will always be able to benefit from this behaviour. It is clear that the United States is an enemy of the Arabs because it is completely biased in favour of Israel. It is also clear that Britain is an enemy of the Arabs because she, too, is completely biased in favour of Israel. On this basis we must treat our enemies and those who side with our enemies as actual enemies. We can accord them such treatment. In fact we are not States without status. We are States of status occupying an important place in the world. Our States have thousands of years of civilization behind them -7,000 years of civilization. Indeed, we can do much; we can expose the hypocrisy - the hypocrisy of our enemies if they try to persuade us that they wish to serve our interest. The United States seeks to serve only Israel's interests. Britain also seeks to serve only Israel's interests.
West ended up militarily overpowering Nasser's Egypt by using resources from its member countries but we should not lose sight of the fact that but for Zionism, the West need have no more reason to defeat Egypt than it ever had to defeat Brazil in war.

Zionism makes dictatorships like Iran's Shah or those of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Kuwait and others necessary from a US strategic point of view while at the same time provides a clear, easy to understand and nearly universally agreed-upon popular criticism of the stooge dictatorships the US needs. This is an intrinsically unstable arrangement and US strategists have the luxury of tolerating more stable arrangements everywhere else in the world.

The place where US strategic policy is most likely to go wrong, the place where the most strategic, diplomatic and military efforts must be exerted to prevent US strategic objectives from failing is the Middle East. Because of Zionism.

So I still believe the best explanation for US support of Israel is that US Jews form the heart of an effective lobbying group on Israel's behalf. Because of this lobbying, the United States pays a far higher price to achieve its capitalist and imperialist objectives than it does elsewhere in the world and that it would if it advocated a South Africa-style one state resolution to the conflict over Zionism.


Lidia said...

Interesting questions. My 2 cents

1) Zionism is my sore point. But I always see Zionism (i.e. Jewish state on Palestine land) as a part of boarder picture of colonialism. Rhodesia is a good example. 

2) Imperialism generally means toppling not-obedient rulers and putting puppet ones in their stead. Brazil was a victim of USA imperialism's backed coup. 

3) Just now USA is escalating their pressing on China. Some of USA meddling in the ME (imperialism) is tied not only to defense of "Jewish state" but also to curbing ambitions of China (and Russia) - for ex, in Iran. 

4) I agree that the case of USA/Israel is more complex than, say, USA and aparteid SA. But USA supported aparteid SA as well. 

In short, imperialism(capitalism) is not only for short-term financial gain. A lot of people argued before 1914 that the war is impossible because it would be very bad for profits. Not only different capitalists (or different capitalist states) could win while other lost
in the same war, but sometimes some loss is needed to prevent much greater loss. And, after all, imperialists could simply miscalculate :)

I sure agree that USA support for "Jewish state" costs are great. But who is paying for them? Big oil? They still seem not to go broke. Average Americans? Do they have a say in USA politics anyway? 

Of course, the role of the Zionist lobby is very out of usual. But it could not be so without some basis in USA politics that, as I see it, predated Zionism. 

lysander1 said...

An excellent analysis, Arnold. Thanks for that.

"Because of this lobbying, the United States pays a far higher price to
achieve its capitalist and imperialist objectives than it does
elsewhere in the world and that it would if it advocated a South
Africa-style one state resolution to the conflict over Zionism."

That is probably true and if so we can thank heaven for small favors. There is a class of American policy makers who are entirely comfortable with American imperialism but view Israel as dead weight that hinders US objectives. When in office, they have to be very quiet about their feelings, but in retirement they can be more open.

Pat Lang is the perfect example. In is blog he spends a lot of time pointing out how Israeli influence is forcing the US to conduct policies harmful to itself. This is all to his credit and I commend him for doing so. But when you get to the specific policies, he does not seem entirely out of line with what Israel partisans would want.

Regarding Egypt, he was a defender of Mubarak, and subsequently Omar Suleiman (whom he knew personally and apparently respected) he seems to be sympathetic to the military junta now ruling. On the other hand, he was big advocate for intervention in Libya. He continues to advocate for intervention in Syria, he seems quite at ease with the ruling classes in Saudi Arabia and Jordan, he was pro-Green during the post election protests in Iran. In other words, his position in practical terms seems to be quite complimentary to what Israel advocates would want.

Why that is is an interesting question. Israel does indeed make US policy harder. But as to your points about not needing to subject Saudi Arabia, Egypt, etc under puppet rule in the absence of Israel, I'm not sure I agree. It is entirely plausible that the US would support the House of Saud, Hosni Mubarak, King Abdullah, etc. They would not feel as emotional about it. But they would still be doing it.

To corroborate this, we can look at US policy elsewhere, where there is no Israel. You mentioned Brazil, so let us start with that. In 1964, the US strongly backed a military coup that overthrew the elected president. It also helped to overthrow elected governments in Chile, Guatemala, Cuba, etc. Probably every government in South America was overthrown at one point. Advocates of American power would argue these were needed to fight the USSR. If so, what then explains the US backed failed coup against Hugo Chavez in 2002? Or the successful coup in Honduras in 2009? Or the invasion of Nicaragua in 1936? Or the Monroe doctrine in 1825? What is the reason behind hostility to Cuba today?

Point being that the US as a hegemonic power seeks, whenever possible and practicable, to implant friendly, even submissive governments whenever it can. In the absence of Israel, it would likely still want to do so in the middle east.

It would not be entirely the same as now. For one, it would probably be easier to do. Also, the US might be more practical about it. For example, if it saw overthrowing Iran as impossible, then it might seek to reach a compromise. There would not be massive congressional opposition to a reconciliation.

Another difference is that while the US conducted undemocratic policies in secret in South America (no one bragged publicly about sponsoring a coup) in the middle east today, presidential candidates compete with one another about who will bomb Iran more (Ron Paul being the exception, god bless him)

Just some food for thought.

Arnold Evans said...

I agree with Chomsky that the US has been successful in the Middle East as in, for example South America.

My question and disagreement with Chomsky is over the question: has Israel made US success in its region more difficult or less difficult.

For that narrow question, I think the answer is more difficult.  And if my answer is correct then Israel is a burden the US carries despite its capitalist and imperialist agenda, not because of it.

Beyond that, while the capitalist and imperialist agenda is harmful to people all over the world - Israel makes the US agenda more intensely harmful to the people of the Middle East than it would be if there was no Israel.

Do you disagree with that?

Not to say the US without Israel would be a benevolent force on the world.  It would not.  But it would be in some ways, especially in Israel's region, less intensely malevolent.

I guess that leads to the question, is it reasonable to be concerned with Israel when even a post-Zionist world would have the US and the West still harming people all over the world, including, though less intensely, the people of the Middle East?

My answer to that is also yes. But that starts veering towards personal choice.  I can respect a person who says his or her fight is against capitalism and imperialism, not against one particular aspect of it, even if that is an unusually destructive one.

Arnold Evans said...

For one, it would probably be easier to do. Also, the US might be more
practical about it. For example, if it saw overthrowing Iran as
impossible, then it might seek to reach a compromise.

For me that means Israel is making it harder, not easier.

If the US cannot be practical in its pursuit of its strategic and capitalist interests because of Israel, then that is my point.  Israel is a constraint, not an asset. 

I argue though, that constraint to the US translates to otherwise unnecessary suffering and death for the people of the Middle East.

Arnold Evans said...

I sure agree that USA support for "Jewish state" costs are great. But
who is paying for them? Big oil? They still seem not to go broke.
Average Americans? Do they have a say in USA politics anyway?

For me, the US in 1950 had a huge industrial base that had not been destroyed by the war that destroyed or at least heavily damaged every other major industrial base in the world.

The US at that time had a huge lead.  A lead that has not dissipated fully over the next 60 years.

So anything the US had done, we'd be able today to say didn't cause any US industry to go broke.  If the US had attempted to occupy China, we'd say for some long time that even if it was a mistake, it didn't cause the US to go broke.

The US has not collapsed yet.  So I'm not arguing that Zionism has caused the US to collapse.  My only argument is that the US is not as well off, in its own terms, as it would be if it did not commit to Zionism.

If the US would support the Saudi dictators anyway, it could support them more easily and comfortably if the US relationship with Israel didn't make cooperation with Americans into an act of betrayal against the Arab people and Muslim religion.

Lidia said...

Of course, I agree that the support for Zionism is neither  easy no pleasurable for USA :(  After all, the standing ovations for Netaniahu put USA rulers into ridiculous position.  

amspirnational said...

Re Pat Lang

The local Palestinians I know, however, are not (mildly surprising to me) excited one way or another about Assad keeping power, nor were they fans of Khaddafi. On the others, they would agree with your sentiments.

lysander1 said...

Yes I agree. Israel does make colonial ventures more difficult, (but I sort of see that as the silver lining.) My point was that even in the absence of Israel, the US would still likely strive for a colonial relationship, much as it did in Latin America. Perhaps not to this extent, and probably not with the degree of hostility evidenced now. And Iran would be like Brazil. Meaning the US would seek a compliant government if practical, (as in Brazil, 1964) But would accept it as is if not (Brazil today)

lysander1 said...

Most Palestinians I know say the same thing. One who went to medical school in Syria and thus lived in Damascus for 6 years absolutely hates Assad and the entire government. Syrians I talk to are divided by sectarian lines (which is what worries me greatly) Syrian Christians I've met are very pro-Assad. I have not knowingly met any Aliwites.

Overall, I can't support Assad's continued rule, but I'm very worried about the aftermath. There are many malevolent forces surrounding Syria who will gladly destroy it.

Kooshy said...

I completely agree the two interests coincides, although the burden make the policy implementation more difficult but at the same time at least made US’s  regional presence( mediator)  more overtly legal with help of client states to control or shape regional opinions. Beside the extra burden away from home keeps the burden of noise from a powerful and rich minority quite at home for making the operations agreeable to home population.

Pirouz_2 said...

Arnold I am afraid I made a mess in writing my last comment (I think I coppied and pasted it twice) if you wish you can delete it and I will re-post it again.

Arnold Evans said...

I have a pretty poor connection to the internet right now.  If you post a cleaner copy in the same place, I'll delete the old one when disqus is more responsive.  But I could read it what you wrote.

I would say that the US was in a very strong position in 1950, and the fact that Israel did not cause the US to be forced out of the Middle East by 1990 does not mean Israel was helpful rather than a burden the US successfully carried.

I don't think there was any year that the US' Middle East goals were easier to reach because of Israel - other than the goal of sustaining Israel.

In 1950, the threats to the US everywhere were anti-Western nationalism and alignment with the US' Soviet rivals.

Those were threats all over the world, but Israel made those threats even more acute in the Middle East.  Israel inflamed nationalism and made alignment with the USSR, which again, was militantly athiest, much more palatable for people who did or could hold power in the region.

The US advanced its capitalist and imperial objectives despite the additional difficulty that Israel added.