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The US Middle East Policy Race To The Bottom 
By Terrell E. Arnold
Today the US policy position in the Middle East is either going down in flames or up in smoke. Use your own preferred image for this, but look closely at the situations. Start at the Middle East doorway, the eastern end of the Mediterranean, Lebanon. Here the US has been engaged behind the scenes for years in an effort to keep Hezbollah from gaining ascendancy in Lebanese politics. Meanwhile Hezbollah slowly has demonstrated to Lebanese voters that it is entirely capable of running the place honestly and has now acquired the parliamentary authority to do so.
Next door, across the Lebanon mountain ranges, for the past five years the US, until recent naming of an ambassador, has denied itself top level diplomatic access to a government of Syria that increasingly sought to find ways to work with the United States in dealing with Middle East problems. Those problems stretched across the region from Egypt to Iraq and Iran. To the south of Lebanon, the US coddled an Israeli ally that, to some at least, seemed bent on totally isolating itself or committing deliberate Hari-kiri. Farther south, beyond Gaza, the long-standing US ally, Hosni Mubarak appeared prepared to reject the aspirations of a rising young Egyptian society while using military force to suppress them.  In the rest of the region entrenched oligarchs ignored their people while slowly drifting off the target of US wishes.
Into this mire the American image has sunk deeper and deeper while in Washington DC the advocates of an American hegemony pressed eagerly toward the bow of a sinking ship. Meanwhile, its true believers press on, choosing not to see that the super power ship has been holed below the waterline, and it is sinking in a pool of growing debt. Nothing has changed, aver the sloganeers, and American power is so great that it cannot be challenged.
The Middle East paints a very depressing picture of how that power has been acquired, sustained, at times, enhanced, but is now being lost. While avid public believers in a free market, the US has never allowed those beliefs to interfere with its efforts to secure energy resources. There was a long post World War II period in which global oil prices were posted in dollars, ex Caribbean, that being the zone of the world's most important oil market. The birth of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporter Countries) in 1961 brought an end to that US-centric role in oil pricing. As the US diplomat who reported that birth to the Washington establishment, this writer confesses to not having seen at the time just how fundamentally important that new baby would be to global energy trade and to the nature of US relations with key countries of the region and the rest of the third world in the years that followed.
Two things have driven US relations with the Middle East region since that time. US energy interests and US relations with Israel have driven US relations with regional countries, at times to the exclusion of all else. To be practical, it simply has been easier (perhaps more reliable is a better term) to protect those interests by working with oligarchic/dictatorial regimes. Only recently has it been observed that US promotion of democracies in this region has been, to say the least, more propaganda than action. Failure honestly to promote democracy and rabid defense of Israel became key generators of terrorism in this period. It is perverse in this environment that the George W. Bush administration chose to take out Saddam Hussein as a dictator when he (a) was in fact better than most of the others  and (b) was recently reported to have been covertly working with the US at the time the decision to attack Iraq was made.
Both of those US interests pose distinct problems today. Respecting oil, the global size and shape of producer/exporter and buyer markets have radically changed. In that new setting, US companies are important, but newer players (Brazil, Russia, China and others) are coming along with large voices on both sides of the market. The once apparently unique loyalties to the US are fragmenting in the Middle East, especially as China now imports more oil than the US, and India is a growing factor. Sunni versus Shia Islamic interests seem to diverge much more than they appeared to in the earlier OPEC days. In addition, the diverse elements of Iranian power challenge the monolithic hierarchies of the Sunnis, while youthful awakening as now seen in Egypt threatens the traditional powers of the region. These trends pose influential and economic threats to American power in the region.  The longer we back the oligarchs the deeper we dig our own hole.
Meanwhile, Israel has been going essentially backward. Touted for years as the only democracy in the Middle East, it increasingly has emerged as the oligarchic captive of its Zionist leadership hierarchy. Its society is more and more openly racist, with its first class citizens the Ashkenazi imports from Europe, its second class citizens the indigenous and other (dark skinned) Jews (imported from Sub-Sahara Africa and Latin America to fill up space), and its obviously third class citizens the Arabs who remain as a fifth of the population of Israel. Confirming that image, current Israeli leadership has made no effort to hide its lack of interest in any peace treaty with the Palestinian people, while it covertly encourages settlers to occupy the best ground in the West Bank.
While the US has hung on as the devout booster, financial supporter and protector of Israeli interests, the task has become less and less tenable. That is mainly because the Zionist and Israeli supporting Jews and Christians place US leadership in a virtually slave relationship to Israeli wishes on Middle East matters. The recent debacle of limits on Israeli settlement construction has underscored the policy helplessness of US leadership on regional matters.
The ultimate driver of a sinking US ship of policy toward the Middle East is the regional perception, whether true or false, that the United States does not and cannot serve its own vital interests in the Middle East region because of Israel. US antipathy to Hezbollah in Lebanon is perceived to derive entirely from Hezbollah's hostility toward Israel, and the fact that Hezbollah has grown materially as a political force in the region seems not to command significant US attention. A virtually twelfth century Christian antipathy to Islam seems to be one of the key factors in official US rejection of Hamas. These problems are the most important foreign policy issues to jangle US domestic politics and they affect adversely the President's freedom of action.
The increasingly harsh reality factor in this picture is the rapidly changing importance of the United States in world affairs. That US leadership is not focusing nearly enough attention on this trend should bother Americans much more than any failures of Middle East policy. We cannot work our way out of this with military forces financed by foreign borrowing.  We simply need to be thinking seriously about our future roles in the coming international system and acting to assure them, because if we don't, others will do it for us.
The writer is the author of the recently published work, A World Less Safe, now available on Amazon, and he is a regular columnist on rense.com. He is a retired Senior Foreign Service Officer of the US Department of State whose overseas service included tours in Egypt, India, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and Brazil. His immediate pre-retirement positions were as Chairman of the Department of International Studies of the National War College and as Deputy Director of the State Office of Counter Terrorism and Emergency Planning. He will welcome comment at
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