Why Are We in the Middle East? A quick take.

US military bases in the Middle East. Afghanistan is not considered part of that region.

For a long time, oil was the lure to involve the U.S. in the affairs of the Middle East. An equally important factor in our presence there was to protect the newly established state of Israel. But since the end of the Cold War in 1980, the Middle East has become the battleground in our proxy war with Russia.

Oil

About 20% of the U.S. oil supply comes from the Middle East, largely Saudi Arabia. You can fill in the blanks about how that fact has affected our foreign policy—trillions in military spending, nearly 40,000 American deaths, and moral compromise are just a few.

Consider the outcome of walking away from the Middle East’s oil. At the worst, we’d lose 20% of our oil supply, although other suppliers wait in the wings making such an outcome rather unlikely. But let’s consider it.

Reduce your travel by 20%. Reduce your consumption of goods and services by 20% because these items are dependent on vehicles fueled by oil. Reduce your travel by common carrier such as busses, airplanes, boats. Reduce your use of plastics, since virtually all plastic currently produced derives from petroleum. Reduce your use of chemicals from prescription drugs to fertilizer.

Ethylene and propylene are the two dominant petrochemicals: in 2016, the U.S. produced over 26 million tons of ethylene and over 14 million tons of propylene. Ethylene is primarily converted into polyethylene (the most common plastic, used in thousands of applications), but is also used to make other plastics such as polyvinylchloride (PVC, for pipes and home siding) and polystyrene (used as a general plastic and as Styrofoam for insulation and packaging). Propylene is mostly converted into polypropylene for fibers, carpets, and hard plastic; some propylene produced during oil refining is used to make compounds that are added to gasoline to improve performance. Both ethylene and propylene are used to make many other chemicals and materials with many uses, including specialty plastics, detergents, solvents, lubricants, pharmaceuticals, synthetic rubbers, and more.

Fertilizers – hydrogen derived from methane (the main ingredient in natural gas) is combined at high temperatures with nitrogen extracted from air to make almost all of the ammonia in the world (a small amount of ammonia is produced using other sources of hydrogen such as propane, naphtha, or gasified coal). About 88% of U.S. ammonia consumption is used as the nitrogen source for fertilizer. Other important uses of ammonia include household and industrial cleaning products, refrigerants, and in the manufacturing of plastics, dyes and explosives.

Pharmaceuticals – almost all pharmaceuticals are made from chemical feedstocks manufactured from petrochemicals and their derivatives.

Many detergents and other cleaning products are made from petrochemicals.  Similar cleaning products made from plant oils are now widely available, although these products are often also produced using substances made from petrochemicals.

Road asphalt consists of roughly 95% crushed stone, sand, and gravel; the remaining 5% is a thick, dark oil known as asphalt or bitumen, which occurs naturally in some rocks but is also produced by oil refining.[1]

Other sources of oil to take up the 20% loss from Middle East oil? Consider Venezuela, where U.S. meddling in their political affairs has reduced the government to chaos and the people live in desperate poverty. [This is the Middle East of the future, complete with terrorists who hate us and don’t have to travel far to find us.] Oil supplies in Venezuela are estimated to last another 350 years. Surely that’s enough to get the U.S. through another fifty years or so, enough time for us to figure out viable alternatives to oil.

Israel

As for Israel, currently U.S. taxpayers are spending over $3 billion a year in support of Israel. Most assume this is to provide security for a small Jewish nation in the face of threats from the Muslim nations surrounding it. But that’s not it.

Were Israel’s security interests paramount in the eyes of American policymakers, U.S. aid to Israel would have been highest in the early years of the existence of the Jewish state, when its democratic institutions were strongest and its strategic situation most vulnerable, and would have declined as its military power grew dramatically and its repression against Palestinians in the occupied territories increased. Instead, the trend has been in just the opposite direction: major U.S. military and economic aid did not begin until after the 1967 war. Indeed, 99% of U.S. military assistance to Israel since its establishment came only after Israel proved itself to be far stronger than any combination of Arab armies and after Israeli occupation forces became the rulers of a large Palestinian population.

…In the hypothetical event that all U.S. aid to Israel were immediately cut off, it would be many years before Israel would be under significantly greater military threat than it is today. Israel has both a major domestic arms industry and an existing military force far more capable and powerful than any conceivable combination of opposing forces. There would be no question of Israel’s survival being at risk militarily in the foreseeable future.

…the continued high levels of U.S. aid to Israel comes not out of concern for Israel’s survival, but as a result of the U.S. desire for Israel to continue its political dominance of the Palestinians and its military dominance of the region.

There are other reasons than military for the billions of dollars sent by the U.S. to Israel each year. At the top of that list is religion, specifically evangelical Christians who believe Israel plays a pivotal role in the ‘second coming.’

Based in part on a messianic theology that sees the ingathering of Jews to the Holy Land as a precursor for the second coming of Christ, the battle between Israelis and Palestinians is, in their eyes, simply a continuation of the battle between the Israelites and the Philistines, with God in the role of a cosmic real estate agent who has deemed that the land belongs to Israel alone–secular notions regarding international law and the right of self-determination notwithstanding.[2]

Compared to the influence of the Christian Right, the role of Jewish interests is minimal but not without power. Not to discount the lobbying from the arms industry, which contributes five times more money to congressional campaigns than pro-Israeli groups. Those who argue for a continued close relationship with Israel cite trade benefits to both nations, but there’s nothing in that trade which requires a continuing U.S. payout of billions of dollars in foreign aid annually.

Military Presence

The U.S. role in the Middle East has become increasingly intractable and tenuous, with no end in sight. Virtually all the terrorist hatred of the U.S. leading to acts like 9/11 and their determination to destroy our nation results from our overwhelming presence in their backyards.  We might point to groups like the Kurds whose existence is under threat from Turkey as justification for our continuing military occupation of Middle Eastern nations, but is that really what it’s all about?

No, I don’t think so. Consider the money.

According to data compiled by the Forum on the Arms Trade from the U.S. Foreign Military Sales program, some $25.5 billion in deals have been agreed with nine countries around the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) so far this year (2019). That compares to just $11.8 billion in 2018, marking a 118% year-on-year rise. …Globally, U.S. arms sales have increased by 42% this year, to a total of $69.7 billion, the highest level since 2010.

Arms sales are often an issue in Congressional deliberations, but the current president encourages it. Over half of those sales goes to the Middle East, often ending up in the wrong hands.

President Donald Trump has often made arms sales a central element of his relationship with Gulf rulers and has vetoed Congressional moves to block the trade. This is despite evidence of how arms sold to the UAE and Saudi Arabia have at times ended up in the hands of Washington’s opponents. Analysts say the large arms sales of recent years from the U.S. and other suppliers have been a critical factor behind the rising instability around the Middle East.[3]

The role of the U.S. in military activities, foreign aid to Israel, and arms sales is responsible for the current trillion dollar deficit and an unconscionable moral failure in our nation’s leadership regarding the Middle East. We need to get out of our proxy war against Russia and stop the flow of money and arms. Our role in North Africa, Afghanistan, and other foreign hot spots also deserves strict reconsideration.

 

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[1] https://www.americangeosciences.org/geoscience-currents/non-fuel-products-oil-and-gas

[2] https://ips-dc.org/why_the_us_supports_israel/

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/dominicdudley/2019/12/16/arms-sales-middle-east-soar/#54a63bfbfea8 

This Land Is Mine

map-story-of-palestinian-nationhood

As you may have noticed, I have an opinion on just about everything. I’m moderately well-read and yet readily admit I’m no expert. With that disclaimer in place, I’m about to wade into a controversial subject: Israel.

You’d think that Jewish people suddenly gaining the support of Western nations in establishing the State of Israel after 1948 would be thankful, grateful, and humbled. After all, their return to the Middle East after centuries of diaspora involved shoving aside a mixed Palestinian population that had enjoyed occupancy of those lands for more than a thousand years.

Supporters of Israel would say that Palestine didn’t really exist all that time, that the lands now contested by Israel had never been a Palestinian state. But that’s not exactly true.

  • Palestinians in Ottoman times were “[a]cutely aware of the distinctiveness of Palestinian history …” and “[a]lthough proud of their Arab heritage and ancestry, the Palestinians considered themselves to be descended not only from Arab conquerors of the seventh century but also from indigenous peoples who had lived in the country since time immemorial, including the ancient Hebrews and the Canaanites before them.[1]

In other words, before the 1948 effort to establish a new Zion, people of Christian, Islamic, and Jewish faith lived peaceably side by side.

I grant that a traumatized population of Jews needed a safe place to call their own. The so-called Zionist movement among Jews had gained strength since the late 1800s. After World War II, the time seemed right to create such a place amid the political chaos and horrors of concentration camps, and as the most recent controlling power over that region, Britain agreed to portion an area for this purpose.

The question of who has ‘rights’ to the lands designated now as Israel and Palestine quickly runs into quicksand of epic proportions. Britain had no more legitimacy in its occupation of that region than anyone else, so whatever it did stands on shaky ground. Before them, the Ottoman Turks controlled it and before that a series of strongmen and empires dating far before the Romans.

Does the Jewish claim hold any greater merit than the Palestinian claim?

Short answer: No.

In fact, if the same argument were used in the United States, Native Americans have the right to reclaim the entire continent because, after all, they ‘owned’ these lands for thousands of years up until four hundred years ago. For much of the land mass, Native ownership continued until less than two hundred years ago. Europeans committed genocide to gain control, just as many of the Jewish faith have been slaughtered over the centuries. Does that mean that foreign nations, working together, should come into the United States, champion the Native claim, and forcibly remove people from their farms and cities in order to return some of these lands to the Natives?

I’ll let you think about that for a minute.

Like it or not, lands of this planet change ownership. The Celts invaded the British Isles which were then invaded by the Romans then later invaded by Angles, Saxons, and other Germanic tribes, and then by marauding Danes and Norse until an amalgam began calling itself England. There’s no turning back the clock to some theoretical golden age of Israel when the Jewish faith controlled some portion of the Levant any more than Florida can be returned to the control of the Seminoles. So why do those currently in control of Israel’s politics think they have the right to seize ever more Palestinian lands?

More to the point, why would any American think we had a legitimate dog in this fight?

Yet, hearing the slander issuing from the assumed incoming president against President Obama (no doubt using words put in his mouth by his Jewish son-in-law and Christian radicals swarming into his nascent inner circle), you’d think that any criticism or restriction of continuing Jewish invasion of Palestinian lands was an act of treason on our part.

It’s way past time for the United States to join United Nations efforts to chastise Israel for its aggression.

You’d think a people long stigmatized by reputations for greed, insularity, and arrogance would be cautious about validating those prejudices by acting in exactly that way. But what else does the world see but Israeli settlers bulldozing Palestinian orchards and homes to make way for illegal settlements?

  • Three large clusters of traits are part of the Jewish stereotype (Wuthnow, 1982). First, Jews are seen as being powerful and manipulative. Second, they are accused of dividing their loyalties between the United States and Israel. A third set of traits concerns Jewish materialistic values, aggressiveness, clannishness.[2]

The U.S. agenda with Israel isn’t just a benevolent hand-up to downtrodden people devastated by the Holocaust. The mostly silent force behind the U. S. involvement in Israel are certain American Jews and Christians who, based on the Bible, believe that prophecies preordain that Israel will return to Jewish control in the end times, presaging the second coming. It has become a fanatical belief for some Christians (Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton, for example) that Israel must be protected at any cost.

  • We are living in exciting times when we can witness Bible prophecy being fulfilled before our very eyes. Many of these prophecies relate to the Jewish people and their nation. [See Christian Prophecy]

Aside from the push to implement Christian prophecies (an easy tool of wealth-driven politicos to gain support of credulous voters) and self-serving blather about Israel being the shining light of democracy in an otherwise benighted region, it’s highly likely that some of the U.S. agenda is far removed from benevolence and derives from our thirst for oil. We’ve covertly overthrown legitimate governments in retaliation against oil-rich Middle East nations trying to control their own natural resources.

  • In 1951, Mohammad Mosaddegh was elected as the prime minister [of Iran]. He became enormously popular in Iran after he nationalized Iran’s petroleum and oil reserves. He was deposed in the 1953 Iranian coup d’état, an Anglo-American covert operation that marked the first time the US had overthrown a foreign government during the Cold War.[3]

So much for the shining moral light of democracy.

Other reasons for our support of Israel might be that our money buys cooperation in a place where an imperialist nation like us needs a friend. Spying, meddling, and otherwise keeping oil-rich nations off balance improves the U.S. advantage and assures the continuing flow of oil. After all, why pump domestic when we can use theirs first?

Surely a complex hidden U.S. agenda includes strategies about Russia, China, and other powers that border the Middle East. If there must be conflict, let it happen there, far from our shores. It’s easy to see why we might hesitate about getting too tough on Israel.

Our annual tithing of foreign economic aid to Israel tops $347 for every man, woman, and Jewish child, courtesy of the American taxpayer. In 2013, the last year for which data is available, we gave Israel $2,943,230,000 in military aid alone, more than twice as much as any other country on earth.[4] We’ve ensured they have the latest in modern weaponry and nuclear technology.

When is it ever enough? America’s diplomacy toward the Middle East has favored Israel to the point that we tolerate their continuing arrogance in pushing into Palestinian lands, thus earning us the enmity of Islamic extremists. After all, suicide bombers didn’t spring fully formed from the forehead of Zeus.

While events in the Middle East may be based in part on territorial disputes and conflicts of cultures, the oil markets, and other political and economic realities, underneath it all is religion. At the heart of that is Judaism and its use by Jews to define themselves as a justified and holy people no matter how much blood is on their hands. As the old song goes, “This land is mine, God gave this land to me.” [An astute cartoon rendering of this song says it all.]

Why should the age of a religion be a criterion by which to judge its righteousness and therefore its legitimacy in world affairs? But then, when did righteousness have anything to do with it?

There’s nothing wrong with groups of people holding onto traditional religious beliefs and practices. That is, until those beliefs and practices lead to violence, until individuals, states, or churches use religion to justify taking power and wealth by force. But if religion justifies taking land to form a nation, where is the Catholic nation? Or the Buddhist nation? Or, for that matter, a nation of Wiccan?

Herein lies the inherent evil of religion and with it the current threat to our future. If we’re not careful, the incoming Trump Administration—led by a man who won’t learn or think and given over to his zealot minions to run—will plunge us headlong into World War III.

Over Israel.

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Latest development: Dec 29 comments by US Secretary of State John Kerry on how Israel is committing suicide.

Don’t like the headline map? Check the comments pro and con.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Palestinians

[2] From https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stereotypes_of_Jews#cite_ref-26, citing Schneider, David J. (2004). The psychology of stereotyping. Guilford Press. p. 461.

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Iran#Contemporary_era

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/United_States_foreign_aid