Global Shifts: The Middle East in U.S. Geopolitical Strategy
The current worldwide financial and economic crisis that started in the U.S. reflects the turmoil global capitalism has been in since 2008. Previously, the U.S. had been able to export the crises generated by capitalist production relations to other countries, while the U.S. remained relatively immune to their devastating effects on populations around the world. However, the injection in the production process of new technologies built around electronics ultimately made it less certain that the U.S. could continue to escape economic devastation. The recent instability in the heart of global capitalism is proof that it is no longer possible for the U.S. to do so.
The current economic crisis has been a long time in the making. It is a consequence of replacing human labor with computer-based production (robotics and such). The more human labor is removed from the production process the less demand is generated as workers can no longer pay for the goods produced. This explains why the capitalists engineered various financial instruments to extend credit in order to boost the demand for goods, while at the same time creating the fiction of a world of abundance, at least in the U.S. Meanwhile, poverty increased in relative and absolute terms across the globe, the U.S. included. The bubble of economic prosperity had its day of reckoning when it was no longer possible to conceal the fact that this prosperity was illusory, built on what were essentially Ponzi schemes that had no backing in real production.
What exacerbated the problem was the way in which the federal government intervened to save the capitalists and their system. Both the G. W. Bush and Barack Obama administrations bailed out the big banks and other financial institutions. This led to an increase in the already high national debt without significantly helping bail out the working class and low- and middle-income people generally. The U.S. capitalists claimed that the policies they implemented through the capitalist State were to put the economy and society back on the prosperity track. However, the main reason the capitalists engineered those bailouts was to recover profits, while giving them time to figure out a way to stabilize private property relations and the dominance of the ruling class over politics and society.
The increasing use of electronic technology in production has resulted in more permanent layoffs, led to shrinking demand, and made the capitalist crisis ever more intolerable. More workers are being left out in the cold, with no place for them in a shrinking economy. The imperative for capitalist expansion has become even more urgent at a time when other middle capitalist powers (such as the BRIC countries, Brazil, Russia, India, and China) are expanding or struggling to maintain their share in the global market. In such a climate of crisis, the war danger is becoming more pronounced, especially when the U.S. is armed to the teeth and has no compunction about maintaining its dominance through the use of force.
The Middle East in U.S. Geopolitical Strategy
It is clear, therefore, that U.S. global strategy is tied to its political economy. The U.S. ruling class has sought to dominate global capital unilaterally and prevent competitors from developing a serious threat to the U.S. global economic and military position. Since the fall of the Eastern Bloc and the USSR soon thereafter, the U.S. has increasingly perceived the European Union, China, and India as potential threats to U.S. global domination. In this regard, the U.S. strategy has been to divide and conquer: seek more cooperation with India in preparation for a potential showdown with China.
The Middle East is critical to this vision of maintaining dominance while expanding. Oil is essential for economic activity. Denying competitors easy access to Middle Eastern and Central Asian oil (not to mention Venezuelan and African oil) is of utmost importance to US geopolitical strategy. A weaker Russian federation (both economically and militarily) is also crucial to U.S. interests. The U.S. has worked hard to establish military bases in Central Asia for that purpose, as well as to improve its strategic military position in relation to China.
Israel has been a strategic ally of the U.S. in the Middle East region since at least 1967. Since the 1991 Madrid peace conference, which came on the heels of the U.S. war in the Persian Gulf, U.S. strategy concentrated on improving its already favorable position in the area, both politically and militarily, by seeking peace agreements between Israel and individual Arab states. That process accelerated after the 1993 Oslo Accords. Arab states seized the opportunity to meet with Israeli representatives since the Palestinians were portrayed as being on the verge of entering into a peace agreement with Israel on the basis of the Oslo Accords. Arab states had hoped to end the Arab-Israeli conflict and generate stability in the region. For those states, peace agreements with the Zionist regime have been the sine qua non for their unhindered participation in global capitalism.
It appeared as though, to a large degree, things had been developing as the U.S. intended. The U.S. had essentially secured Iraqi oil, the second largest oil reserves in the world, through the 2003 invasion of the country, while Israel had contained the Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The next thing to do was to work for an agreement between the Palestinians and Israelis that would open the door for Israel to the rest of the Arab world through peace treaties. This would improve Israel’s position both militarily and economically and perhaps become dominant in the region, something that would be favorable to U.S. interests.
U.S. Actions Fuel Animosity in Region
However, the consequences of U.S. actions in the region and its support for Israel were the creation of a ground swell of animosity toward the U.S.
U.S. policy in Iraq was so myopic that instead of stabilizing the country the security situation quickly deteriorated and in a relatively short time the resistance against the U.S. occupation multiplied. The 2007 surge in troops was touted as a successful strategy to bring stability to Iraq, but the security situation remained tenuous and the political situation untenable, as witnessed in the current political crisis in which Iraq is still without a government six months after the March 2010 Parliamentary elections. While the U.S. withdrew most of its troops by the end of August 2010, there are still 50,000 US troops, thousands of mercenaries (private contractors), and a huge diplomatic and intelligence presence in the country.
The ratcheting up of US pressure on Iran to terminate its nuclear program has raised the stakes for a wider regional conflict. Through the directive called the Joint Unconventional Warfare Task Force Executive Order, signed September 30, 2009, the military has sanctioned an unprecedented expansion of covert military activity throughout the world and particularly the Middle East region, including the insertion of secret operations units to enter Iran to gather information for a future military operations. (“U.S. Is Said to Expand Secret Actions in Mideast,” New York Times, May 24, 2010).
Israel’s repression of the Palestinian population in the occupied territories and its actions in the region have exacerbated the animosity felt against the U.S. in the Middle East.
The Hizbollah attack on Israeli soldiers and the taking of two Israeli soldiers prisoners on July 12, 2006 unleashed Israeli terror across Lebanon. Despite the devastation it caused, Israel failed to dislodge or destroy Hizbollah. Further, in preparation for disarming and rendering Hizbollah useless as a fighting force with political presence in Lebanon, Israel was unable to isolate it from the Lebanese population. Similarly, despite its devastating attack on Gaza in December 2008 and January 2009, Israel failed to remove Hamas from power.
The recent meeting between Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA) Mahmoud Abbas in Washington, D.C. not withstanding, Israel continues with its plans. It is continuing to build more colonies (euphemistically called “settlements” in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, with the expressed intention of remaining permanently in the Jordan Valley and unilaterally (i.e. without negotiations) imposing a fait accompli on the PNA, and, as the recent comments of Israeli Brig-Gen. Eyal Eisenberg indicate, destroying Hamas as an effective force. (“Outgoing Gaza Division commander: Next War Will be Harsh”, Ynet News Online, September 24, 2010; Tanya Reinhart, Israel/Palestine: How to End the War of 1948, 2005)
These developments bode ill for the situation in Iran, Iraq, and the Palestinian occupied territories (the West bank and the Gaza Strip). But they also indicate that the U.S. will occupy Iraq and remain engaged in the region for a long time to come.
The U.S. has expanded the war to Pakistan beginning with G. W. Bush, and Barack Obama has escalated the war in Afghanistan. These developments are further proof that the U.S. capitalists are prepared to use war to save global capitalism and maintain their dominance over it. The long history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East after WWII and its direct engagement in the region since 1967 (and more recently since Desert Shield in 1990) demonstrate the centrality of the Middle East to U.S. global strategy.
All these machinations by the U.S. and some of its allies to save global capitalism have generated significant resistance globally. That resistance has followed three main trajectories: (1) the social democratic regimes (anti-imperialist but not necessarily anti-capitalist) in Latin America (Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador are examples); (2) anti-globalization grassroots organizations (anti-capitalist but essentially unorganized given the huge task ahead of them), primarily represented through the World Social Forum and U.S. Social Forum; and (3) resistance movements in the Middle East (primarily nationalist or Islamist, which implies that they are not anti-capitalist, even though they are anti-imperialist). (For more on this, see Ibrahim G. Aoude, “Global Shifts, the Imperial Project and Resistance in West Asia,” paper presented at the World Congress for Middle East Studies, Barcelona, Spain, July 2010).
In the Middle East resistance to the imperial project has taken multiple forms: working within the system while engaging in civil disobedience (Egypt is a prime example); armed resistance against Israel while engaging in the political process as an effective political force (Hizbollah in Lebanon); maintaining armed resistance under siege conditions (Hamas in Gaza); and armed Nationalist and Islamist resistance forces that engage in the political process (Iraq). All these movements have been able to survive because of their deep roots in their respective populations.
So it has been the resistance to U.S. (and Israeli) occupation in the region that has thus far played a crucial role in frustrating the realization of U.S. strategic goals in the region despite the devastation. Resistance in the Middle East has been critical to frustrating U.S. strategic goals on a global scale as well.
But this diverse and growing resistance lacks a vision of building cooperative societies as part of a global system that could meet the needs of humanity.
Tasks of the Revolutionaries
The tasks of the revolutionaries are rather clear: recognizing the war danger and its origins and the role of the U.S. in global capitalism, it becomes critical to see the relationship between the domestic and international policies the U.S. is following. The need to impart that realization to workers in political motion is paramount. Rallying the social forces that have no or little stake in the capitalist system would be the first step in organizing to defeat a vicious capitalist system that has perpetrated crimes against all of humanity.
This article originated in Rally, Comrades!
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Rally, Comrades ! May/June 2011