By James Petras
An understanding of US imperial policy in the Middle East requires an analysis, which centres on four points:
1) The power and influence of Israel and the Zionist power configuration over US political institutions (Congress, the Executive branch, the mass media, the two major political parties and electoral processes), their economic leverage on investment and financial institutions (state and trade union pension funds, investment banks), their cultural domination of journals, the performing arts, magazines, films and newspapers. Zionist political, economic and cultural power is directed exclusively toward maximizing Israel’s military, economic and political expansion and superiority in the Middle East even when it conflicts with other US imperialist interests.
2) The capacity of the US Empire to construct and instrumentalize Middle East client states and mercenary forces to implement US policies. The most prominent and important current instruments of US policy in the Middle East include the puppet regime in Iraq, the Abbas-Dahlan group in Palestine, the Kurds in Iraq, the Sinoria-Harari-Jumblat regime in Lebanon, the Mujahideen-e Khalq Organisation, Kurds and Sunni tribalists in Iran and the puppet Somali ‘regime’ backed by Ethiopian-Ugandan mercenaries.
3) An alliance with right-wing regimes and rulers in Jordan, Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, the Gulf States and Israel to provide military bases, intelligence and political backing for the colonial occupation in Iraq, the division of Iraq, economic sanctions and war against Iran, Hezbollah, Hamas and any other clerical-nationalist and leftist movements in the Middle East.
4) The capacity to contain, repress and limit the opposition of the majority of the US public and a minority of Congress members to the current war in Iraq and a future war against Iran . The key problem for US imperialism is the discrediting of the civilian-militarists in the White House and their increasing tendency to resort to new political ‘adventures’ and ‘provocations’ to recover support and to concentrate dictatorial powers in the President’s office.
These ‘vectors’ of US Middle East policy are increasingly challenged from within and without, are subject to sharp contradictions and face the probability of failing. Nevertheless the ‘machinery’ of imperial power is still operating and defining the nature of US Middle East policy.
The Vectors of US-Middle East Power: The Israel-Zionist Power Configuration
For the first time in the history of world empires, a tiny ethnic-religious minority, representing less than 2% of the population is able to shape US policy in the Middle East to serve the colonial interests of a foreign country (Israel), which represents less than 1% of the population of the Middle East. The Zionist power configuration in the US with several hundred thousand fanatical activists, throughout the country, can mobilize close to 98% of the US Congress on any legislation favoring Israel , even when their approval prejudices major US oil multinationals. AIPAC (the America-Israel Political Affairs Committee) with one hundred thousand members and 100 full time agents writes over 100 pieces of Congressional legislation affecting US trade, military aid and sanctions policies favoring Israel every year. In March 2007, the leaders of both political parties, Congress and the Senate and over 50% of all members of the Congress attended and pledged allegiance to the state of Israel at the most recent AIPAC convention in Washington . This was despite the fact that two leaders of AIPAC are currently on trial for spying for Israel and face twenty years in prison!
The Zionist power configuration (ZPC) includes far more than the AIPAC ‘lobby’. In the run-up to the invasion of Iraq, Zionists controlled the Vice President’s office including convicted felon Irving ‘Scooter’ Libby, the Pentagon and its ‘intelligence’ operations (Wolfowitz, Feith and Shumsky) and held strategic positions in the White House and National Security Council (Frum – author of Bush’s ‘Axis of Evil’ speech, Abrams – pardoned felon from Iran Contra scandal, now in charge of Middle East policy, and Ari Fleischer – President Bush’s spokesman). Zionists dominate the editorial and opinion pages of the major newspapers (Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and New York Times), major television networks and Hollywood . Hundreds of regional state and local Jewish federations intervene to prevent any criticism of Israel , attacking any critics, meetings, theatrical or cinema productions – successfully forcing cancelations.
The Zionist power structure has been the leading force pushing US war plans and sanctions against Iran . They backed Bush’s invasion of Iraq . The ZPC secured US backing for Israel ’s bloody attack on Lebanon weakening US puppet ruler Prime Minister Fouad Siniora. The ZPC authored and secured Congressional legislation blocking any contact with the Palestinian unity government. They successfully lined up US congressional support for Israel ’s starvation blockade of Palestine over the last 20 months. The scope and depth of Zionist power over US Middle East policy goes far beyond influencing ‘public opinion’ – it penetrates key institutions, designs and enforces policy implementation and promotes wars, which benefit Israel .
In a word, the Zionist Power Configuration’s primary loyalty is to the state of Israel and its policy is designed to colonize the US Congress on behalf and benefit of the ‘mother country’, Israel.
The Zionists have 30 congress-people and 13 senators and lead some of the key committees in Congress. The head of the key Democratic Party Caucus is Rahm Emmanuel, a former member of the Israeli Defense Forces. Emmanuel was instrumental in having the Democratic Party majority in Congress eliminate a key clause in a war appropriation bill which would have prevented Bush from going to war with Iran without consulting Congress. The ZPC has secured the absolute, unconditional support of all presidential candidates for Israel and its promotion of a ‘war option’ against Iran . The Zionist Power Configuration succeeded in driving the US to war with Iraq but it has not been able to prevent the great majority of Americans (including American Jews) from turning against the war. The Zionist Power Configuration following the line from Israel has now made US sanctions and war with Iran its top priority. Having accomplished their goal of destroying Iraq , the ZPC are downplaying their support for the Bush regime’s policies in Iraq , to focus all their efforts on pushing the US to secure UN Security Council approval for harsh economic sanctions on Iran . The Israeli-Zionists policy of escalating sanctions have succeeded as they openly declare in their publications. Their overwhelming effectiveness in deciding US-Iran policy has even led their Israeli mentors to urge words of caution against overplaying their power.
The Zionist Power configuration’s blatant and open dominance of US Middle East policy have for the first time provoked widespread opposition among patriotic nationalists among US military officials and conservatives, as well as a growing number of academics and even among a tiny group of Jewish millionaires (Soros) and intellectuals. For the first time major debate has opened up regarding whether Israel is a ‘strategic asset’ or ‘strategic liability’ to US imperial interests. The opposition to the ZPC includes both pro-empire and anti-imperialist individuals. The pro-empire critics of Israel argue that Israel has taken over $110 billion dollars in outright grants and loans and they have privileged access to US weapons technology and compete with the US arms industry. They argue that Israeli colonial oppression in Palestine creates tensions and conflicts prejudicial to the US oil industry. They argue that the Zionist-backed Israeli war policies in the Middle East undermine the economic expansion of US financial and oil interest allied with conservative Arab ‘oil states’.
The anti-empire opponents to Zionist control of US Middle East policy argue that the invasion of Iraq led to the killing and wounding of millions of Iraqis, the killing and wounding of tens of thousands of US soldiers, has cost over $500 billion USD and has led to the destruction of US constitutional protections of civil rights. They call for the immediate withdrawal of US troops and demand the denuclearization of the Middle East, starting with Israel .
As the Zionists lead Congress by the nose toward another major war with Iran (the ‘military option’), they have to face growing resistance worldwide. Iranian allies in Lebanon , Palestine and Iraq and throughout the Middle East can attack and destroy the most important oil installations in the world – Saudi Arabia , the Gulf States – and the world’s most important oil tanker routes (Hormuz Straits). The ZPC’s fanatical extremism in support of Israel is evident in their willingness to risk a world war and world depression in defense of Tel Aviv’s ambitions to rule the Middle East and destroy its key adversary, Iran , a country of 80 million people.
The struggle against the ZPC in the US is the key to peace in the Middle East, the key to stopping the US from pressuring the Security Council, NATO and the Middle Eastern countries from committing collective suicide. Unfortunately, the US left, especially the Zionist-influenced peace movement refuses to face this reality. This leaves only one road to changing US war policy in the Middle East – outside resistance. Only mass resistance in the Middle East and elsewhere can impost heavy costs on the US economy and military, which force the American people to counter the ZPC. Only when the costs of the Zionist-influenced Middle East wars have devastated the US can we expect a major popular backlash against the Zionist power structure’s stranglehold over Congress. Only then can we hope for the beginning of a US military withdrawal from the Middle East .
Given the high political and economic costs of prolonged, large-scale and the extensive involvement of US armed forces in colonial wars, Washington has increased its reliance on client regimes and terrorist organizations supplying mercenary military and intelligence forces.
The massive US financing of the ‘Iraqi’ security forces to eventually replace US ground soldiers as the prime defenders of the puppet regime and US military bases is one example. Washington and Israel ’s training, advising and financing of the Kurds in northern Iraq , Iran and Syria is another example. By ‘instrumentalizing’ local mercenaries, Washington achieves several political and propaganda goals. In the first place, the use of local mercenaries creates the illusion that Washington is gradually ‘handing over’ power to the ‘local’ puppet regime. Secondly it gives the impression that the puppet regime is capable of ruling. Thirdly it can propagandize the myth that a ‘stable’ and ‘reliable’ locally-based army exists. Fourthly, the presence of local mercenaries creates the myth that the conflict is a ‘civil war’ instead of a national liberation struggle against a colonial power.
Imperialist use of the Kurds of Northern Iraq serves strategic US imperial goals in several ways. First the Kurds are utilized to repress opposition from Iraqi Arab and Turkmen anti-colonial forces throughout Iraq but especially in the North. Secondly the imperialist project to break up the Iraqi republic into three or more fragments is aided by Kurdish separatism and seizures of the oil fields in ethnically mixed regions and the contracting out exploration rights to foreign multinationals (Financial Times p.5, March 23, 2007). The US has pressured the Iraqi puppet government to allow the Kurds to engage in massive ethnic cleansing of Arabs and Turkmen in Kirkuk and other ethnically mixed cities in Northern Iraq (Al Jazeera, March 31, 2007). The US client Kurdish regime also serves as a base of operation for Kurdish separatists and commandos into Iran , Syria and Turkey (despite US denials).
US client regimes in the Middle East and the Horn of Africa have specific functions in building the US Middle East empire and serving Israeli interests. In Lebanon , the Christian Maronites and the puppet Fouad Sinoria regime are financed and armed to undermine the independent mass anti-imperial Hezbollah-led political-military coalition. The client Gulf States and Saudi Arabia provide oil, intelligence and military bases as launching pads for policing the Middle East . Egypt and Jordan provide intelligence via torture interrogation of US captured and kidnapped political and military prisoners, especially from the Afghan and Iraqi resistance. Afghanistan is headed by a US puppet ‘president’, Hamid Karzai, in alliance with Afghan narco-warlords who produce and supply 80% of the heroin sold in Europe and the rest of the world. US-backed and directed Ethiopian dictator, Meles Zenawi, intervened in Somalia to overthrow the independent Islamic Councils government and install the US puppet Mohammed Yousef. Subsequently a new contingent of African mercenaries was sent by Ugandan dictator-client, Yoweri Museveni, to prop up the Ethiopian imposed Yousef regime in the face of massive armed resistance from the Somali anti-imperialist insurgency.
A rigorous analysis of the performance of US reliance on client regimes and mercenary forces reveals numerous failures and declining support. The Iraqi mercenary army has high levels of desertion and plays a continued ‘double role’ – serving the US but providing the resistance with intelligence, arms and off-duty fighters. More important, the failure of the US policy of using Iraqi mercenaries to defeat the resistance is evident in the escalation of US combat military forces in Iraq after 5 years of colonial warfare in the spring of 2007—from 140,000 to 170,000 troops.
In Lebanon Hezbollah defeated the Israeli invasion and has increasingly isolated the Sinoria puppet regime in Beirut , even though the US secured a UN military presence in a failed attempt to isolate Hezbollah. Washington ’s massive arms shipments to its mercenaries – Christian, Druze and Sunni – in 2007 portend a new effort to provoke a ‘civil war’ to weaken Hezbollah and its anti-imperialist Palestinian allies.
The US-Israeli blockade and massacres in Palestine ( Gaza and the West Bank) since the election of the Hamas government and their use of the US client Abbas and Dahlan have failed to weaken the Palestinian national liberation struggle. Nevertheless they succeeded in provoking a mini-civil conflict.
In Somalia the resistance has re-grouped and advanced throughout the country, especially in Mogadishu where fighting has intensified around the Presidential Palace. The US-Ethiopian conquest has failed to defeat the anti-imperialist movement and to stabilize the puppet regime. With the forced withdrawal of Ethiopian colonial mercenaries it is highly likely that the puppet Yousef regime will collapse in a matter of days despite the presence of Ugandan mercenaries.
The US backing of the ‘autonomous’ client Kurdish regime in Northern Iraq and its expansionist pretension toward ‘Greater Kurdistan’ including wide swaths of Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria has created intense contradictions with its Turkish ‘allies’. A new Kurdish state carved out of Northern Iraq serves as a jumping off point for cross border attacks into Anatolia , especially by the PKK but also backed by the governing Iraqi Kurdish elite. This may lead to a Turkish invasion of Northern Iraq to destroy the PKK bases. This, in turn, could lead to a general Turkish-Kurdish war and severely weaken the US mercenary strategy in Iraq and the fragile structure of its alliance sustaining US-Middle East dominance.
The US-Israeli strategy of dividing and destroying the Palestinian resistance through an economic boycott is collapsing. Since the Mecca agreements between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, numerous European and Arab countries have opened negotiations, renewed economic aid and trade and recognized the Hamas-led coalition as legitimate.
In Lebanon , the Sinoria regime holed up in Beirut has failed to weaken Hezbollah and only exists because of US, European and Saudi financial (and military) support. The Lebanese army is divided. The UN forces refuse to disarm Hezbollah. Israel has no appetite for another invasion. Clearly the US has lost influence in Lebanon while increasing the power of the Hezbollah-Hamas-Iranian bloc.
The US effort to coalesce an alliance stretching from Saudi Arabia through the Gulf States , Jordan , Israel and Egypt has failed mainly because of Israel ’s colonial ambitions in Palestine and its military threats to all ‘Muslim’ countries. Israel ’s disastrous invasion of Lebanon forced the US client regimes into opposition to the US-Israeli policies. Israel ’s rejection of the Mecca-Palestinian pact and AIPAC’s power to force Washington to follow Israel ’s lead has alienated Saudi Arabia and several European allies. In fact as a result of US rejection of the Saudi-authored peace proposal, approved by the Arab League, the Monarchy has criticized the US occupation of Iraq and its threats to Iran . Even the Gulf mini-states, like the Emirates, have declared their opposition to a US military attack on Iran . The opposition of the US ‘Gulf Clients’ indicates the decline of US dominance and the failure of its pro-Israel policies. There can be no stable relation between US imperialism and its Middle East Arab clients, which includes an expansionist, colonial Jewish regime in power in Israel . The Zionist power configuration has successfully ensured the instability of US-Arab client relations through its capacity to subordinate US policy to Israeli interests.
The US strategy of ‘instrumentalized’ local clients and mercenary armies to police the Middle East in the interest of the US empire is failing and finds little basis for restoration under present circumstances.
Regional Alliances: Middle East Power Sharing?
The major obstacle preventing Washington from advancing its ‘Arab agenda’ – consolidating its influence over its Arab clients, organizing Arab state support for the war in Iraq, isolating Iran and expanding US oil interests – is the pervasive veto power of the Israeli ‘fifth column’, the Zionist power configuration and its control over the US Congress and its power in the Executive branch. As a result, Washington has rejected the Saudi’s ‘land for peace and recognition’ proposal to Israel ; it has rejected the Saudi’s Mecca agreement creating a unified Palestinian government; it has rejected Arab Gulf State , Syrian, Iraqi, Saudi, Russian and Chinese proposals for diplomatic negotiations with Iran and Syria .
The US has completely failed to construct a ‘power-sharing’ NATO-style alliance in the Middle East (except with Turkey and Israel ) for several reasons. First, the overwhelming majority (ranging from 80-95%) of the Arab population reject such an agreement and it would undermine the little authority which the client regimes still have. Secondly, the US offers nothing in ‘compensation’ (quid pro quo) for Arab support in exchange for defending US imperial supremacy – not even pressure on Israel to concede semi-arid territory of the West Bank to the Palestinians. Thirdly the power structure of a US-Middle East alliance is so asymmetrical – the balance of power so skewed in Washington ’s favor – that there is little bases for negotiations and sharing of costs and benefits. Fourthly, because of the inequality of power, some governments (like Saudi Arabia ) with a wealth of economic power are fearful of being absorbed by the US . As a result, rather than a formal Middle East US-Arab alliance, there are bilateral agreements and specific concessions, such as military bases ( Oman , Saudi Arabia and Turkey ), intelligence and torture/interrogation agreements ( Syria , Egypt and Jordan ) and petroleum distribution agreements (Gulf States-Saudi). These bilateral agreements provide Washington with significant leverage and influence but not the formal control of wealth (because of Arab state ownership of oil) nor the use of local military forces for promoting US and Israeli regional supremacy.
The US ‘alliance’ with Israel is based on a different kind of asymmetrical influence and benefits. Because of Israeli-Zionist power over US political institutions, the US can only pursue policies, which further Israeli strategic interests in the Middle East . The asymmetry of power in Israel-US relations is evident in the costs and benefits of economic, military, political and diplomatic relations. The US pays ‘tribute’ of over $3 billion USD a year (mostly in outright grants) to Israel, a country with a per capita annual income of $25,000 (as of 2006), higher than 25% of the US population! Israel receives free entry to US markets, unhindered and unlimited immigration to the US, tax exemptions on the purchase of Israel bonds, the most advanced US military technology which allows Israel to successfully ‘out compete’ the US military industrial complex in major arms markets such as billion dollar sales to India, Africa and in the US! Israel runs a massive 100,000-member Zionist lobby influencing US policy: Washington does not have a single pro-US lobbyist in Israel .
During the Reagan years, to cover up Zionist influence in shaping US policy to serve Israeli interests, key lobbyist and indicted spy suspect, Steve Rosen promoted the idea that Israel was a ‘strategic asset’ of the US in the Middle East (Edward Tivnan, The Lobby, Simon and Schuster, NY 1987, page 180) – the line now parroted by ‘Left’ Zionists who downplay the role of the Lobby.
In other words, the so-called US-Israel alliance subordinates Washington ’s foreign and diplomatic policy and military resources in the Middle East to the needs of ‘Greater Israel’ because the Zionist power configuration has greater political leverage in the Congress than the petroleum and arms industries, the military and even the President.
The US-Turkish alliance is asymmetrical: Turkey supplies the US with military bases, allies itself with Israel (despite majority popular opposition), supports the US war against Iraq at an enormous loss of trade and tax revenues. In exchange, Turkey faces a US-sponsored separatist Kurdish state on its border with Iraq , which permits cross border attacks by Kurdish armed insurgents. US policymakers have given the highest priority to satisfying Kurdish territorial demands as a mechanism to secure Peshmerga military support in repressing Iraqi national resistance. Turkish demands for US control over Kurdish expansionist claims over Anatolia are ignored. Washington believes that the Turkish government will submit to the US alliance with the Kurds. The White House dismissed Turkey’s threats to invade de facto ‘ Kurdistan ’ as inconsequential. Given the Turkish government’s pursuit of European Union membership, Washington believes that Ankara will refrain from any military intervention into Northern Iraq .
Nevertheless there is reason to believe that the Kurdish guerrilla strongholds in Northern Iraq are receiving arms, money, recruits and a ‘green light’ from the ‘autonomous’ Kurdish government. It is likely that the conflict in Anatolia will intensify now that the Kurds have the financial backing from the US military in Iraq and oil revenue from recently seized well sites.. There are few doubts that US arms to the Kurds in Iraq are passed on to the Kurds in Anatolia . The question is whether and how long the Turkish military will continue to submit to the US-Kurdish strategy in Northern Iraq and its spillover effects in Anatolia or whether Ankara will launch a full-scale military incursion against the Kurdish ‘revolutionary’ supporters of ‘democratic colonialism’ as the PKK has referred to the US imperial army occupying Iraq.
The 21st Century Experience of US Empire Building in the Middle East
A serious analysis of US empire building strategy must take account of the changing tactics and unchanging rigid strategic goals. Washington launched the invasion of Iraq unilaterally; confronted with intensified resistance Washington turned multi-lateral seeking support and mercenary forces from European allies and Third World clients. As the national liberation forces gained the upper hand, Washington recruited a large contingent (50,000) of overseas professional mercenaries and 200,000 Iraqi collaboraters. At first Washington brought over ‘exiled’ Iraqi politicians to form a puppet regime; then it backed the conservative Shia clan leaders; then it recruited heavily among the Kurds. As each imperial ‘tactic’ failed to defeat the resistance, Washington increased its occupation army and its Iraqi colonial army. But each escalation increased domestic opposition. Each tactical alliance created new antagonisms with Sunni, Baathists and Turkmen. Major military allies and client regimes began to retire their forces from the US dominated ‘coalition’ in the face of an inevitable defeat.
Facing increasing military isolation in Iraq , declining public support in the US , Washington ’s response is to increase the militarization of the Middle East and prepare a new war against Iran . Washington believes that an attack on Iran will mobilize the entire Zionist power configuration (from hundreds of local Jewish federations to Washington lobbies), which will exercise control over Congressional behavior, the two parties (especially the Democrats) and the mass media. The White House believes that an attack on Iran will serve to rally the American people behind the President, arousing chauvinist fervor and increase Bush’s popularity. The White House believes it can engage in an air and sea war in which the US air force can destroy Iran ’s defenses without suffering serious US casualties. Washington believes it can isolate the conflict to Iran and subsequently attack Syria, Hezbollah and facilitate the Israel’s ‘final solution’ of the Palestinian question.
Washington’s policy of permanent warfare is a wild irrational gamble comparable to Hitler’s attack on Russia following its conquest of Poland and parts of Western Europe . New wars in the face of failed wars can only lead to greater defeats, greater domestic rebellion and wider wars.
Launching an attack on Iran means facing a country three time larger than Iraq with a highly motivated army easily capable of crossing the frontier and attacking US ground troops in Iraq , in alliance with pro-Iranian militias in Baghdad and elsewhere. Secondly the regional configuration of Arab countries is already highly polarized against the US , unlike the period prior to the US invasion of Iraq . Thirdly Iran has powerful allies in Lebanon , Iraq and throughout the Muslim world who will retaliate against US strategic assets and clients. Fourthly, Iran can easily target the Hormuz Straits and major oil installations in the Gulf States , Saudi Arabia , Iraq as well as Iran – leading to massive shortages of petroleum and quadrupling of oil prices.
However a US attack against Iran goes in the short run, ultimately the US loses: The military losses will be felt throughout Iraq, the oil catastrophe will reverberate throughout the world, the political consequences will be greater polarization against the US-Israel axis throughout Europe, Asia and of course, the Middle East. The result will be the final demise of the Bush regime and the total discredit of the Zionist-controlled Democratic Party. A major economic recession will incite open class and national conflicts. Once again, an imperialist war may be the midwife of revolutions: the Russian Revolution followed World War I, the Chinese Revolution followed World War II; will World War III lead to a new revolutionary cycle?
-James Petras, a former Professor of Sociology at Binghamton University, New York, owns a 50 year membership in the class struggle is an adviser to the landless and jobless in Brazil and Argentina and is co-author of Globalization Unmasked (Zed). His new book with Henry Veltmeyer, Social Movements and the State: Brazil, Ecuador, Bolivia and Argentina, was published in October 2005. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org