The Middle East

Time Bomb in the Middle East: A Long Time Ticking
By Ken Schoolland, 1/29/2003

 

As the Christmas season of peace and brotherhood passes, Americans again shift their attention back to the pressing concerns of war. Debaters fall into various camps, two of which are:

  • 1) Americans have a government that must protect us from people abroad who would do us harm; and
  • 2) there are people abroad who would do us harm because our government has interfered in their affairs.

There is validity in both arguments. They are intertwined. To dismiss either view is to invite greater national risk.

In the aftermath of such a tragic crisis as 9/11, people must clamor for protective measures against terrorists who have demonstrated their horrible capacity for evil. In doing so, however, we must be careful to gain real and lasting protection, not just a temporary pause in an ever-escalating conflict.

The Investors Business Daily reported last October that the U.S. government now spends about half of the world's total military expenditure (1), yet Americans still feel greatly threatened. If half of the world's military expenditure has not left us secure, then there must be some other factors to consider.

The primary function of the U.S. government is to provide security. Yet most officials in Washington D.C. will acknowledge that there have been severe shortcomings in performance. Government intelligence and security agencies, with the abundance of wealth, personnel, and technology at their disposal, came up short in a decades-long effort to root out a terrorist network with global tentacles that probably originated in some of the poorest nations of the world.

The villains had long said they wanted this attack. The villains had attempted attacks before, even on the same target. The villains are reported to have been within the U.S. government's grasp on earlier occasions, but were not pursued. (2)

If we are to have real security, not just assurances from politicians, then we have to examine the historical context of this mess to see what kind of behavior has left us vulnerable. The seeds of a genuine solution begin with holding individuals accountable, whether they be foreign or domestic. Indeed, one may find that the interventionist behavior of some of our own politicians was a betrayal of American security and of the very principles for which this country stands.

Entangling Alliances

Our founding fathers were quite sound on foreign policy matters. George Washington and Thomas Jefferson had it right two centuries ago when they advised against entangling alliances. Jefferson declared in his 1801 inaugural address, "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none."

Why warn against "entangling alliances"? Jefferson worried about the trouble that comes with such alliances. What alliances in recent years might Jefferson have warned us against?

He would have warned against alliances with the very Middle Eastern nations that Americans currently consider to be the most serious threats in the war on terrorism. The two nations that top the list are Iran and Iraq, nations with which U.S. politicians have been intimately involved for many decades.

These nations are now considered the "Axis of Evil," vehemently opposed to the U.S. Thus, the fortune spent to promote the interests of U.S. politicians in those nations was obviously not money well spent. At least not for the interests of the average U.S. citizen. (3)

Equally conspicuous is the complete absence of Saudi Arabia from this list of threatening nations. Of the 19 terrorists who attacked the US on 9/11, 15 were from Saudi Arabia. Yet the Saudi government continues to receive the greatest measure of U.S. government support in the Middle East. Why? We all know the answer to that.

Thirty years ago the U.S. offended the Saudis by supporting Israel in the 1973 war. The Saudi's turned off the oil spigot, and no one wants that to happen again -- especially now that the U.S. is so much more dependent on imported oil than in 1973.

What was the US intervention in Iran and Iraq? It isn't a secret. The masterminds wrote books about it. Yet fewer people in the US than in the Middle East are aware that the CIA, in a 1953 mission code-named Operation Ajax, overthrew the first democratically elected leader of Iran. (4)

In 1953, the popularly elected Dr. Mohammed Mossadegh had asked the British government's oil concessionaires for a larger share of revenues, a share that American oil companies had already granted in Venezuela and Saudi Arabia. When the British government refused this split in revenues, Mossadegh did to Iranian oil what the British government had long before done to British oil: he nationalized it. In response, and worrying that Mossadegh would cozy up to the Soviets, western intelligence agencies engineered his overthrow and replaced Mossadegh with Shah Reza Pahlavi.

Iran's oil revenues were then evenly split between U.S. and British oil companies. Ah, nice for them! And Shah Pahlavi maintained his dictatorial rule for the next quarter century through the support of the CIA. The CIA even trained SAVAK, the Shah's secret police who were responsible for torturing or killing as many as 10,000 Iranian political dissidents. Not nice for U.S./Iran relations and not so nice for the dead.

The same U.S. government schools that neglected to teach students how to locate Iran and New Jersey on the map, also neglected to reveal to American students much of what U.S. politicians were doing over the decades since World War II. If government schools had been doing an effective job of preparing America's youth, they might have paused on this question: Would America's George Washington have approved of overthrowing the first democratically elected leader of another country, the "George Washington" of Iran?

Hostilities

After 25 years of U.S. supported dictatorial rule, Shah Pahlavi was finally overthrown by a fundamentalist revolution in 1979 in Iran. Understandably, suspicion and hostilities were then very great between the governments of the US and Iran. Soon thereafter, the governments of Saudi Arabia and Kuwait feared the spread of religious fundamentalism against their own autocratic regimes and provided as much as $20 billion of support to Saddam Hussein in his 8-year long Iraqi invasion of Iran. The war left more than a million people dead on both sides.

The U.S. usually condemns such invasions, but not this one. On the contrary, the U.S. supplied at least a billion dollars of military support to Saddam Hussein's invasion of Iran. (5) In those days, Saddam Hussein's murderous tactics were known and excused.

When the Iranians tried to block the oil trafficking that was financing Saddam's war machine, the US sent a naval fleet to guarantee "freedom of the seas," a policy that even resulted in an airborne Iraqi attack that killed 37 American sailors on the USS Stark.

The killing of American sailors was excused because, at that time, Saddam Hussein was the ally of US politicians and their desire to crush Iran. Now, American sailors are being asked to risk their lives to enforce a blockade against Iraq, the opposite task for which the 37 American sailors died in the 1980s. It was also during this time that the U.S. government was secretly supplying the Iranians during the infamous Iran-Contra affair.

Saddam Hussein was "America's ally," like Noriega, Mobutu, Suharto, Papa Doc, Samosa, Pinochet, Marcos, and others before him. It is doubtful that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson would have approved of any of these alliances. Why? Not only were these alliances immoral, but they increased, not diminished, the risk to American security. It brings to mind the quip of Will Rogers: "When you get into trouble 5,000 miles from home, you've got to have been looking for it."

On the Brink

So now what? Isn't it all water under the bridge? No. Many Americans are in denial about the messy role their own politicians have played in foreign policy with their tax money. It is important to realize that seemingly benign foreign policy actions on one day can have dangerous repercussions for Americans twenty or thirty years down the road.

It isn't a "blame America first" conspiracy to challenge these policies. It is holding politicians accountable for their own behavior because they are the ones who claim to act on our behalf, as our representatives, spending our money, endangering our security. Americans must be as skeptical of politicians on foreign policy matters as they are of politicians on domestic matters. At this moment in time, it seems that nothing can be said in this forum that will have any affect on the likelihood of war in Iraq in the near future. I would say that the outcome, on the side of either war or peace, is beyond our immediate control.

God-speed to those brave soldiers who are called upon to disarm this time-bomb. If only that tyrant Saddam Hussein had not been so generously armed in the first place. If only wiser policies over the past half century had made it less likely to place those good soldiers in harm's way.

And, of course, good luck to the innocent civilians who may well fall as "collateral damage," as in all such wars. Good luck at tracking down that former U.S. ally of the 1980-88 war in Afghanistan, Osama bin Laden and his terrorist comrades. And may wiser policies not contribute in any way to a generational wave of terrorists in the future...as seems to be the case in Palestine/Israel today.

If we are to be a part of a long term solution, however, it is critical that we expose the folly of past foreign policy alliances. Good luck to us at holding all the responsible parties accountable, at least in the history books if in no other way, for their role in this sorry mess.

The Long View

How could the future find a new course? What would Washington and Jefferson do? What innovation might be considered?

1) Announce that the provisions in the U.S. Constitution for Letters of Marque and Reprisal would be activated to bring privateers and bounty hunters to hunt down Osama bin Laden and his entourage. (6) This would engage the full force of market innovation and efficiency in supplementing the nation's security measures.

2) Prepare to repeal U.S. taxpayer subsidies for companies operating abroad. If, for example, oil companies have to bear the full insurance and protection costs of operating abroad, they will be much more careful where they operate and with whom they do business. By building the full insurance and protection costs of these products into the price of oil, consumers will have incentives to use alternative foreign and domestic sources of energy.

3) Announce that U.S. interventionism in the affairs of foreign nations would come to an end. This would not only end the perpetual manipulation of foreign governments by skullduggery and bribery, but would also bring nations the prosperity of open trade.

4) The above measures would increase domestic security while making possible the announcement of a grand reduction in both government expenditures and taxes -- just the medicine an ailing economy needs.

Regardless of the specific proposals, our nation would do well to hold firm to the fundamental principles freedom and responsibility. Jefferson's advice is still sound: "Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations -- entangling alliances with none."

References

(1) "World Defense Spending," Investor's Business Daily, October 18, 2002

(2) Ijaz, Mansoor, "Clinton let bin Laden get away," Honolulu Advertiser, December 7, 2001

(3) "How Americans See The 'Axis of Evil'," Investors Business Daily, February 13, 2002

(4) "Iran coup mastermind Kermit Roosevelt dies," Honolulu Advertiser, June 11, 2000, see also, Solberg, Carl, Oil Power, pp. 196-7

(5) Representative Henry Gonzales, Chairman of the House Banking Committee, made these revelations in a televised interview, "The Chairman," 60 Minutes, CBS, November 11, 1992, Also, Dobbs, Michael, "U.S. Had Key Role in Iraq Buildup Trade in Chemical Arms Allowed Despite Their Use on Iranians, Kurds," WashingtonPost.com, December 30, 2002

(6) Gvosdev, Nikolas K. & Cipriano, Anthony, "Patriotism and profit are powerful weapons," Honolulu Advertiser, July 21, 2002, also see the Fred Foldvary article on this at: http://www.progress.org/archive/fold232.htm

Ken Schoolland is a member of the Board of Directors of the International Society for Individual Liberty. See its Web site at: http://www.isil.org/