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Why Paris Reveals the Horror – and the Hypocrisies – of Global Terrorism

Why Paris Reveals the Horror – and the Hypocrisies – of Global Terrorism

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

23 November 2015

Originally posted at Occupy.com on 17 November 2015

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The world was shocked and horrified at the terror inflicted upon Paris on the night of Friday the 13th, 2015, when ISIS-affiliated militants killed well over 100 civilians in one of the world’s most iconic cities. An outpouring of grief, solidarity, support and condolences came in from across the world. The tragedy, and tyranny, of such terror cannot be underestimated, but it should also be placed in its global context: namely, that the chief cause of terrorism is, in fact, terrorism, and that the chief victims are the innocent, wherever they may be.

While ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks, following attacks the group undertook in previous days in both Beirut and Baghdad, it is worth remembering and reflecting on what led to the development of ISIS itself. The so-called Islamic State had its origins in the Iraq War, launched by the United States and closely supported by the United Kingdom in March of 2003. After overthrowing Saddam Hussein, a dictator once favored by the U.S., the occupying powers struggled to deal with a growing Sunni insurgency against their military occupation. In response, the U.S. helped create death squads in Iraq that further fueled a sectarian conflict between Shi’a and Sunni communities, which likewise fueled a growing regional rivalry between Shi’a Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia.

The resulting civil war in Iraq killed hundreds of thousands, and the U.S. aligned itself even more tightly with Saudi Arabia, a country the West considers to be “moderate” in comparison to both Iran and Syria, yet it was the primary financier of al-Qaeda. The broader aim, in Iraq and across the Middle East, was to support the regional hegemony of the West’s allies – Saudi Arabia and other Gulf Arab dictatorships – against their chief rivals, Iran and Syria. If it meant supporting the countries that supported al-Qaeda and other terrorist groups, so be it.

After all, it has never been much of a secret that the Saudis and their Gulf neighbors were the major financial backers of global terrorists; even then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton admitted as much in a memo leaked by Wikileaks. Nor was it a secret that Saudi Arabia was responsible for more destabilization and terrorism inside Iraq than Iran, which nonetheless received most of the blame.

The Saudis and the Gulf dictatorships are U.S. and Western allies, with immense oil riches that have made them some of the largest investors and shareholders in Western banks and corporations. Iran and Syria, on the other hand, are not.

Al-Qaeda did not exist inside Iraq until after the U.S. invasion and occupation. Over the years, since the war and occupation began, the group has undergone a number of name changes and transitions. One such evolution of the group is the al-Nusra front. And another is now known as the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Origins of the Current Terror

When the Arab uprisings began against Western-supported dictators back in late 2010 and early 2011, the U.S. and its key Middle East allies faced an unprecedented crisis. The longtime French and U.S.-supported dictator of Tunisia, Ben Ali, fled his country in January of 2011. The following month, it was Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak, a “family friend” of Hillary Clinton’s, who had to leave.

The Saudis and other Arab dictators were furious that the U.S. could toss one of its major regional clients aside, fearful that if Mubarak could be removed, any of them could be next. Thus, Saudi Arabia and other Arab dictators led a counter-revolution against the Arab Spring, pouring in money to support dictators they considered friendly (such as in Jordan), sending in troops to violently crush uprisings (such as in Bahrain), and arming rebel groups and terrorists against long-time foes in an effort to take advantage of the uprisings and undermine their rivals (such as in Libya).

In Libya, NATO led a war against long-time dictator Colonel Gaddafi in cooperation with many extremist rebel groups, including al-Qaeda. France and Britain were the main proponents of the war against Libya, which is hardly surprising given that both countries have hundreds of years of experience invading, occupying, colonizing and waging war against peoples of the Middle East and Africa. The war in Libya was of course a monumental disaster. While it removed a dictator long despised by both the Western powers and the Gulf Arab dictators, its ultimate effect was to plunge the country into civil war and chaos, terrorism and collapse.

Meanwhile, the weapons looted in Libya during the war began making their way into neighboring Mali and the more-distant Syria. As the arms crossed borders, so too did terror and warfare, and the French weren’t far behind. In early 2013, France launched airstrikes in Mali, leading to a ground invasion that ended in 2014. Around the same time, France also military intervened in the Central Africa Republic.

In 2013, Western powers including France, the UK and U.S. began increasing their participation in the Syrian civil war, which was already a full-blown regional proxy war pitting Syria’s government, led by Bashar al-Assad allied with Iraq and Iran, against Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Jordan and Turkey. The Gulf dictatorships armed and funded religious extremist sects to fight against the Syrian government, and were aided in this process by Western countries.

The U.S., France and Britain provided training and support to so-called “moderate” rebels inside Jordan to fight against the Syrian government. The CIA has been involved in arming and training Syrian rebels at least since 2012, in close cooperation with Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. The official line stressed that the CIA’s efforts aimed to prevent weapons from getting into the hands of extremist groups like al-Qaeda – yet virtually all of the rebel groups it was aiding inside Syria were hardline religious extremists.

Even as reports emerged that secular and moderate rebel groups had all but collapsed, the CIA continued to funnel more sophisticated weapons (in cooperation with Saudi allies) to these mythical “trustworthy” rebel groups. France was not far behind in delivering arms to Syrian rebel groups.

Around the same time, an internal CIA study noted that in its decades of experience arming insurgencies against regimes that the U.S. opposed, the agency’s efforts had largely failed. The main “exception” to the litany of failures, ironically, was when the CIA armed and trained the Mujahideen in Afghanistan against the Soviet Union. That “success,” as we now know, led directly to the creation of al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

A Plan Backfires

With all the support given to Syrian rebel groups in the form of training and arms, those same groups quickly became enemies of the West that had armed and trained them. This includes ISIS, whose rise was fueled by U.S. involvement in both Syria and Iraq, and who is funded and supported by key U.S. allies in the region such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Turkey.

In fact, a report prepared by the Defense Intelligence Agency in 2012 predicted the rise of ISIS, noting that such al-Qaeda-affiliated groups were the “major forces driving the insurgency in Syria,” and added that they were being supported in their efforts to take over large parts of Syria and Iraq by “western countries, the Gulf states and Turkey.” Further, the document noted, this was “exactly what the supporting powers to the opposition want, in order to isolate the Syrian regime.” A former Pentagon official who ran the DIA even suggested that the U.S. not only didn’t “turn a blind eye” to its support of such groups, but that “it was a willful decision.”

Here is the takeaway: the Syrian civil war, combined with the effects of the Iraq war, Libyan war and other conflicts in the region that were fueled by Western powers and their regional allies, has resulted in the massive refugee crisis Europe faces today, as millions of civilians flee the conflicts plaguing their nations while Western powers continue to pour weapons and money into them. Conflict and terror has bred further conflict and terror.

Yet when terrorism hits inside Western nations, like it did Friday in Paris, the reaction by Western governments is fairly, and tragically, typical. The Paris attacks occurred less than two months after France began launching air strikes against ISIS inside Syria, and have already prompted calls for a more aggressive strategy against ISIS in the future. So what can we expect as a result? Simply, more terror.

In short, if the objective is to oppose or prevent terrorism, the most logical strategy is not to dismantle civil liberties at home and send militaries and weapons abroad, but to stop participating in terrorism itself. This does not take away from the tragedy of the lives lost in Paris on Nov. 13, but the hypocrisy in how we acknowledge and address terrorism only enhances the tragedy. French President Francois Hollande called the attacks that killed 129 people an “act of war,” which it was. But in turn, he declared that “France will be merciless” in its response, and this is something we have yet to see.

If 200,000 dead Syrians, millions of refugees, and regional warfare spreading from state to state is considered “merciful” participation by Western nations in Middle East conflicts, the terror that might now be unleashed abroad – and the new terror that will, inevitably, once again wash ashore as a result – is indeed something to fear. To end terror, perhaps Western states should consider stopping its own participation in terror. In the very least, it would be a first step in the right direction.

 

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

Egypt Under Empire, Part 3: From Nasser to Mubarak

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

Originally published at The Hampton Institute

Egyptians Prepare In Tahrir Square For The First Anniverary Of The Revolution

Part 1: Working Class Resistance and European Imperial Ambitions

Part 2: The “Threat” Of Arab Nationalism

Between 1952 and 2011, Egypt was ruled by three military dictators: Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak. Nasser placated labour unrest and imposed many social programs that benefited the population. Sadat subsequently began to break down the ‘social contract’ with Egyptian society, and when Mubarak came to power in 1981, the following three decades witnessed the imposition of a neoliberal order, complete with crony-capitalists, corrupted bureaucracies and a repressive police force. Three decades of increased poverty, polarized wealth and power, and increased labour unrest all laid the groundwork for the 2011 popular uprising.

As Nasser came to power in Egypt in 1952, he successfully crushed labour militancy in the country, and even executed two labour leaders as a symbol of the new regime’s lack of tolerance for radical labour actions. Nasser engaged in a power struggle for a brief period, before assuming complete power in 1954, at which point independent political organizations were banned and he “ushered in a populist-corporatist pact between labour and the state,” in which “the state controls the bulk of the economic, political, and social domains, leaving little space for society to develop itself and for interest groups to surface, compete, and act autonomously.”[1]

Labour groups were organized “into a limited number of singular, compulsory, non-competitive, hierarchically ordered and functionally differentiated categories.” In 1957, the government created the General Federation of Egyptian Trade Unions (GFETU), monopolizing labour unions under the government, purging the radical leaders and co-opting the moderates. Since this period, “trade unions have functioned as an arm of the state rather than as democratic representatives of workers.” Thus, labour activism and actions largely subsided throughout the 1950s and 60s.[2]

Despite violent repression of independent political organizations, communists and militant labour groups, Nasser became incredibly popular both within Egypt and across the wider Arab world. He established a one-party state and a large security apparatus “to crush any and all dissent.” However, his articulation and actions related to Arab nationalism and Arab socialism – the twin pillars of his ‘revolution’ – sought to free Egypt and the Arab world from imperial domination, and to undertake a social revolution domestically as “part of an informal social contract where the population accepted constraints on its political freedom in exchange for the promise of higher living standards and a stronger nation.”[3]

A large network of social services was established, which “provided employment, education and healthcare, as well as subsidized transportation and food.” This program also entailed “spending large sums of money on the military, which was seen as the protector of the nation from external enemies.” These social programs helped to “create a modern middle class” in Egypt.[4] The allegiance of the middle class to the authoritarianism of the regime was secured by the government guaranteeing state employment to all university graduates.[5]

Nasser also implemented major agrarian reforms, which between 1952 and 1961, “redistributed about one seventh of the country’s cultivable land from large landowners… passed on to the landless and near landless fellahin rather than kept for direct use by the state.” This led to an “improvement of rural incomes and agricultural production,” and attempted to undermine the influence of the large landowning class of Egyptians.[6]

With the defeat of Egypt in the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, Nasser’s government suffered a humiliating defeat, and Nasser’s death in 1970 led to the emergence of a new dictator, Anwar Sadat, also emerging from the military, who ruled the country from 1970 until 1981. Undertaking a policy of ‘de-nasserisation,’ Sadat sought to undo many of Nasser’s more progressive policies, earning him the favour of the West. Among such policies were to return the “confiscated” land to the large landowners within Egypt by employing an ‘open door’ market-oriented program called infitah. The intifah helped to create the conditions for a real estate and credit boom, ultimately adding to Egypt’s foreign debt as the country became increasingly dependent upon foreign financing and ‘investment.'[7]

The infitah – or “opening” – wrote Hibbard and Layton, “offered an alternative vision of economic development to that of Arab socialism;” beginning a process of liberalization and an influx of Western capital, “to integrate Egypt into the Western capitalist system.” Sadat’s policies also oversaw the gradual elimination of Nasser’s social programs and “the abandonment of Nasser’s anti-imperialism.” The country quickly became more trade dependent, having to import staple foods, and foreign financing was limited to non-productive sectors of the economy. Egypt increasingly exported its labour to the Persian Gulf, which helped to reduce the problems of unemployment at home, and increased the country’s reliance upon remittances from its foreign workers sending their wages back home. In 1974, labour remittances, oil exports, tourism, foreign aid and the Suez Canal accounted for nearly a third of Egypt’s foreign income, a number that exploded to 75% in 1980. A new commercial elite developed with extensive ties to the state, while economic inequality between the rich and the rest of society accelerated.[8]

Such policies did not occur without resistance, however, with opposition emanating from academics, state bureaucrats and workers, with strikes and “popular unrest” occurring throughout the mid-1970s, with a major transport worker strike in 1976 and large bread riots in 1977. Sadat responded to the labour unrest and food riots by sending in the military to crush the protests. Sadat oversaw the construction of an alliance between the large landowning class, the business class, and the conservative religious elite, and even sought to build ties with the Muslim Brotherhood. Further, Sadat rebuilt ties with the United States, and even established an alliance and peace treaty with Israel, negotiated by the Carter administration in the U.S. as the 1979 Camp David Peace Accords. With that, Sadat lost a great deal of popular support, and Egypt’s Islamists rejected him. Sadat was ultimately assassinated by an Islamist group in 1981.[9]

In 1981, Hosni Mubarak then took control of Egypt, also emerging from within the military and continuing the trend of maintaining the military dictatorship established since 1952, and deepening the economic ‘reforms’ begun under Sadat. Under Mubarak, the military and economic elites became more closely integrated, and with the imposition on the Emergency Law following Sadat’s assassination, Mubarak wielded more authoritarian power, suspending the constitution and dismantling the rights of citizens, also allowing for “detention without charge, press censorship and other restrictions on civil liberties.” A new – parallel – legal system was constructed, relying upon military courts, purportedly for use against ‘terrorists’ but used to persecute any and all forms of political opponents.[10]

Mubarak oversaw – during the 1980s and 1990s – a massively expanded entrenchment of neoliberal economic and social reforms in Egypt. Mubarak also pursued a major campaign against Islamists, who were making political gains with segments of the population by capitalizing on the poverty and popular anger toward the government, largely brought on as a result of the economic reforms. Mubarak’s Egypt thus became a major human rights violator, all the while receiving immense financial and military aid from Western governments, namely, the United States. The role of the security services – in particular the police forces under the control of the Interior Ministry – became more predominant throughout Mubarak’s rule, with torture and other abuses widespread.[11]

The military plays a very large role in the economy as well, and under Mubarak, military officials were appointed as regional governors, village chiefs and put in charge of state-run companies. The military itself has undertaken large land expropriations, runs companies and factories, giving it a major role to play in manufacturing, agriculture, construction, gas and consumer industries. The military, however, keeps most of its economic activities secret, and does not pay taxes while often using “conscripted labourers” for its workforce.[12]

Mubarak began to implement further ‘reforms’ to the agrarian sector along neoliberal lines during the 1980s. The Agriculture Minister Yusuf Wali began implementing agriculture sector liberalization policies in 1986, working “hand in hand with USAID and the World Bank.” The U.S. stressed “market-oriented” reforms and promoted export-led growth, as USAID invested $1.26 billion in the agricultural reforms. These reforms continued over the 1990s, and resulted in widespread dispossession of small farmers and a further alliance between economic and military-political elites.[13]

The major neoliberal reforms in Egypt arrived under Mubarak with the signing of a 1991 Economic Restructuring and Adjustment Program with the IMF, demanding liberalization of trade and prices, privatization, and labour ‘flexibility,’ as well as the removal of several social safety net measures.[14]

The ‘new economic elite’ that emerged in Egypt as a result of the IMF’s programs of the 1990s were closely tied to the ruling party, the National Democratic Party (NDP), and Mubarak’s son, Gamal, who headed the NDP. Prominent businessmen became more influential in policy-making circles and “the number of businessmen elected to Egypt’s parliament increased from 8 in 1995 to 150 by 2005.”[15] Public spending on social services was dramatically cut, state-owned industries were privatized and employees fired, resulting in “staggering hardships for the majority.”[16]

As labour was under sustained attack, they fought back, with twice as many labour protests in the 1990s than took place during the 1980s. With the 1991 IMF program, Egypt was firmly entrenched in a neoliberal ‘order,’ which would accelerate over the following two decades. Fifteen years following the IMF program’s beginning – by 2006 – Egyptian workers had been subjected to continuous hardships and exponentially increased their resistance to it.[17]

The privatization program led to the unprecedented plundering of the Egyptian economy into the hands of relatively few economic elites. Out of 314 state-run companies, 209 were privatized by 2005, “leading to a massive displacement of public sector workers, and with it a further weakening of the struggling labour movement.” The number of workers employed by public sector companies was cut in half between 1994 and 2001. The IMF praised the privatization program in 2006 for having “surpassed expectations.” Wealth and power was concentrated “in the hands of a tiny layer of the country’s elite,” and a few large conglomerates dominated the major sectors of the economy. As Henry Veltmeyer wrote, “Mubarak – and the Egyptian state as a whole – represented an entire capitalist class.”[18]

Neoliberal reforms were further implemented under Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif (2005-2011), which saw businessmen take a more direct role in managing the state, with six major government ministries being run by six major businessmen in the areas of trade and industry, housing, transportation, health, agriculture and social welfare. Taxes were dramatically cut for corporations and elites and dramatically increased for the rest of the population. Corruption and embezzlement of public funds was rampant as the privatization programs effectively subsidized “the private sector at the expense of the nation as a whole.”[19]

The costs of food, fuel and transportation skyrocketed, while Prime Minister Nazif instructed protesting Egyptians to “grow up.” Thus, in 2006, Egypt witnessed a new wave of labour unrest.[20] Independent forms of worker organization re-emerged and in 2006 alone, “there were 220 major strikes involving tens of thousands of workers in the largest strike wave that Egypt had seen in decades,” and which were increasingly linking up with peasant movements protesting against the large landowners.[21]

In 2006, a three-day strike of workers at a weaving and spinning factory in El-Mahalla was “a major turning point in the history of the Egyptian workers’ movement,” marking a total work-stoppage and for a much longer duration than strike action prior and helped in the formation of new workers associations with more democratic accountability, directly challenging the state monopoly over unions.[22]

The strike was “the largest and most politically significant industrial strike since a dispute in the same workplace in 1947,” having roughly 24,000 workers participating, with over 10,000 occupying the factory for three days and nights, and on the fourth day the government granted a concession by offering a 45-day bonus. This set off a wave of worker protests and strikes across the country over the following years. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.7 million workers participated in protest actions, including private and public industrial workers, postal workers, educational administrators, workers in transportation, tax collection, healthcare, and other sectors. The recent years of labour unrest has been referred to as “the largest social movement in over half a century” taking place within Egypt.[23]

Between 2006 and 2008, Egypt recorded annual growth rates of 7%, and in 2009 – while much of the world was experiencing negative growth – Egypt recorded a 4.6% growth rate. However, between 2008 and 2009, poverty in Egypt increased from 20% to 23.4%, while roughly 40% of Egyptians live on less than $2 per day, one-third of the population is illiterate, and youth make up roughly 90% of the unemployed. Thus, while the neoliberal reforms of the previous three decades produced high growth rates, “it has [also] led to worsening living standards for the majority of the population and the increased concentration of wealth in the hands of a tiny minority.”[24] Between 1998 and 2010, there were between 2 and 4 million workers who took part in between 3,400 and 4,000 strikes and other labour actions.[25] There were 266 strikes and labour actions in 2006, 614 in 2007, and they reached roughly 1,900 in 2009.[26]

As strikes escalated, the demands for higher wages and more democratic union representation evolved into demands for the end of the Mubarak regime (and the neoliberal reign of Prime Minister Nazif). One strike organizer in 2007 told a radio program, “We are challenging the regime.” At strikes, workers were chanting, “We will not be ruled by the World Bank! We will not be ruled by colonialism!” Images of signs at protests circulated, reading, “Down with the Government. We want a Free Government.” One strike leader who was arrested in 2007, said upon his release: “We want a change in the structure and hierarchy of the union system in this country… The way unions in this country are organized is completely wrong, from top to bottom. It is organized to make it look like our representatives have been elected, when really they are appointed by the government.”[27]

The second Palestinian Intifada in 2000 helped spawn new social movements within Egypt. The Cairo Conference was held in 2002 in an attempt to organize disparate social groups around two main shared positions: anti-neoliberalism and anti-war. In 2004, this led to the formation of the Kefaya (“Enough”), the Egyptian Movement for Change.[28] This was aided along by a major demographic change within the country, where by 2011, roughly 52% of Egypt’s population was under the age of 25, and it was this group which disproportionately lacked employment, with roughly 95% of post-secondary educated youth being unemployed or working in fields unrelated to their education with very low pay. It was this demographic which became increasingly mobilized around non-ideological movements such as Kefaya, organizing a series of anti-Mubarak protests between 2004 and 2005, demanding democracy and accountability. The younger members of this group then established the April 6 Movement, “an organization that emerged in support of the 2008 strike by textile workers in Mohalla al-Kubra.”[29]

A number of other social groups and protests organizations emerged from 2004 onwards, including Students for Change, Youth for Change, University Professors for Change, Workers for Change, Artists for Change, and the People’s Campaign for Change, among many others. In 2005, as Kefaya organized a massive anti-Mubarak protest, an organization of Egyptian intellectuals was formed as the National Assembly for Democratic Transition. Lawyers, journalists and other professions increasingly took part in protests.[30]

The April 6 Youth Movement began to support the Mahalla workers’ strike in 2008, with founder Ahmed Maher having started a Facebook page that quickly reached over 70,000 members. As support grew, the government crack down ensued, with roughly 500 activists arrested over the following two months, including Maher (who was also tortured).[31]

Since the Mubarak government made it illegal to hold meetings of more than five people, with a heavy-handed approach to information control and news censorship, Facebook and other Internet-based social media platforms quickly became very popular among young Egyptians. Roughly one in nine people in Egypt have Internet access, and 9% of those who have access used Facebook, making it the most visited website in the country, following Google and Yahoo. The Facebook page for the April 6 movement, reported the New York Times in 2009, was the page “with the most dynamic debates” among young Egyptians, “most of whom had never been involved with politics before joining the group.” The Facebook page provided a venue for young Egyptians “to assemble virtually and communicate freely about their grievances.”[32]

The United States has been a major sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship, giving it extensive leverage with the regime. Between 1948 and 2011, the U.S. provided Egypt with a total of $71.6 billion in bilateral foreign aid (most of which consisted of an annual aid package of $1.3 billion in military aid from 1987 to present), and since the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, Egypt has been the second-largest recipient of U.S. ‘aid’ in the world (after Israel).[33]

Another large international sponsor of the Egyptian dictatorship was the International Monetary Fund (IMF), which also heaped praise upon the Tunisian dictatorship of Ben Ali prior to its overthrow. In a 2010 report on Egypt, the IMF noted that the country had been following the Fund’s advice on economic reforms, though continued to recommend “phasing out energy subsidies” and increasing privatizations. The IMF further noted that, “the relationship between Egypt and the World Bank Group has been transformed and markedly improved over the last few years as a result of the progress Egypt has made in implementing reforms.”[34]

In 2010, labour unrest continued throughout the country, with one strike organizer telling the press in May of 2010, “The government represents the marriage between authority and money – and this marriage needs to be broken up… We call for the resignation of Ahmad Nazif’s government because it works only for businessmen and ignores social justice.”[35]

Egypt was clearly on the edge of an uprising, all that was required was a ‘spark’ – which came in the form of the Tunisian uprising in December of 2010 and January of 2011. With the overthrow of the long-time dictator, Ben Ali, in Tunisia, Egyptians were motivated to mobilize against Mubarak.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada. He is Project Manager of The People’s Book Project, head of the Geopolitics Division of the Hampton Institute, Research Director for Occupy.com’s Global Power Project and hosts a weekly podcast show at BoilingFrogsPost.

Notes

[1] Rabab El-Mahdi, “Labour protests in Egypt: causes and meanings,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 390.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 198-199.

[4] Ibid, page 199.

[5] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 390.

[6] Ray Bush, “Coalitions for Dispossession and Networks of Resistance? Land, Politics and Agrarian Reform in Egypt,” British Journal of Middle Eastern Studies (Vol. 38, No. 3, December 2011), page 395.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), page 200.

[9] Ibid, pages 200-201.

[10] Ibid, pages 201-202.

[11] Ibid, pages 202-203.

[12] Angela Joya, “The Egyptian revolution: crisis of neoliberalism and the potential for democratic politics,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), page 372.

[13] Ray Bush, op. cit., pages 396-397.

[14] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 370.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, op. cit., page 202.

[17] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[18] Henry Veltmeyer, “Unrest and Change: Dispatches from the Frontline of a Class War in Egypt,” Globalizations (Vol. 8, No. 5, October 2011), page 612.

[19] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 370-371.

[20] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., page 395.

[21] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 612.

[22] Rabab El-Mahdi, op. cit., pages 397-399.

[23] Ibid, pages 387-388.

[24] Henry Veltmeyer, op. cit., page 611.

[25] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 326.

[26] Ibrahim Awad, “Breaking Out of Authoritarianism: 18 Months of Political Transition in Egypt,” Constellations (Vol. 20, No. 2, 2013), page 278.

[27] Joel Beinin, op. cit., page 331.

[28] Angela Joya, op. cit., pages 368-369.

[29] Scott Hibbard and Azza Salama Layton, “The origins and future of Egypt’s revolt,” Journal of Islamic Law and Culture (Vol. 12, No. 3, October 2010), pages 206-207.

[30] Angela Joya, op. cit., page 369.

[31] Ellen Knickmeyer, “Fledgling Rebellion on Facebook Is Struck Down by Force in Egypt,” The New York Times, 18 May 2008:

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/story/2008/05/17/ST2008051702711.html

[32] Samantha M. Shapiro, “Revolution, Facebook-Style,” The New York Times, 22 January 2009:

http://www.nytimes.com/2009/01/25/magazine/25bloggers-t.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1

[33] Jeremy M. Sharp, “Egypt: Background and U.S. Relations,” Congressional Research Service, 27 June 2013: page 9.

[34] Patrick Bond, “Neoliberal threats to North Africa,” Review of African Political Economy (Vol. 38, No. 129, September 2011), pages 483-484.

[35] Joel Beinin, “Egyptian Workers and January 25th: A Social Movement in Historical Context,” Social Research (Vol. 79, No. 2, Summer 2012), page 339.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: This is What Corporate Governance Looks Like

The Trans-Pacific Partnership: This is What Corporate Governance Looks Like

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

The following is the first installment of a three-part exclusive for Occupy.com on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Originally published at Occupy.com

Part 2: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: This is What Corporate Governance Looks Like

Part 3: The Trans-Pacific Partnership: What “Free Trade” Actually Means

In 2008, the United States Trade Representative Susan Schwab announced the U.S. entry into the Trans-Pacific Partnership talks as “a pathway to broader Asia-Pacific regional economic integration.” Originating in 2005 as a “Strategic Economic Partnership” between a few select Pacific countries, the TPP has, as of October 2012, expanded to include 11 nations in total: the United States, Canada, Mexico, Peru, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Brunei, Singapore, Vietnam and Malaysia, with the possibility of several more joining in the future.

What makes the TPP unique is not simply the fact that it may be the largest “free trade agreement” ever negotiated, nor even the fact that only two of its roughly 26 articles actually deal with “trade,” but that it is also the most secretive trade negotiations in history, with no public oversight, input, or consultations.

Since the Obama administration came to power in January of 2009, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has become a quiet priority for the U.S., which overtook the leadership role in the “trade agreement” talks. In 2010, when Malaysia joined the TPP, the Wall Street Journal suggested that the “free-trade pact” could “serve as a counterweight to China’s economic influence,” with Japan and the Philippines both expressing interest in joining the talks.

In the meantime, the Obama administration and other participating nations have been consulting and negotiating not only with each other, but with roughly 600 corporations involved. The TPP is accelerating the most dangerous free market policies of previous U.S. administrations, bestowing unprecedented powers and privileges upon Trans-National Corporations (TNCs) while dismantling regulations and laws without any democratic oversight or input.

This three-part investigative series examines the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a legally binding trade agreement for advancing transnational corporate tyranny and dismantling domestic democratic accountability.

I. Trade Representatives: The Global Corporate Lobby

Who negotiates trade agreements? The answer is simple: trade representatives. The term “trade representative” is essentially another way of saying “corporate lobbyist.”

To prove this point, it would be useful to quickly glance over the biographies of the important U.S. Trade Representatives (USTR) since the George H.W. Bush administration, when USTR Carla A. Hills was lead negotiator for NAFTA and the WTO.

Embedded within the U.S. foreign policy establishment, Hills had a long career in government and was the USTR from 1989 to 1993, after which she established and became CEO of Hills & Company, an international consulting firm with a focus on global trade and investment for clients such as the Coca-Cola Company, Procter & Gamble, American International Group (AIG), Novartis, Bechtel, Boeing, Rolls-Royce, Inter-American Development Bank, Pfizer and Chevron.

A few accolades: Hills is a member of the board of the Council on Foreign Relations, Gilead Sciences, and is on international advisory boards for Rolls Royce, the Coca-Cola Company and JPMorgan Chase. She is also a member of the Trilateral Commission, the Peterson Institute for International Economics and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS).

Following Hill, from 1993 to 1997, the U.S. Trade Representative was Michael Kantor, who now advises corporate clients as a partner in the law firm Mayer-Brown. A member of the board of CBRE (a real estate services company), Kantor also serves on the advisory boards of ING USA and Fleishman-Hillard, a public relations firm.

Next in line, from 1997 to 2001 the USTR was Charlene Barshefsky, who is now on the boards of American Express, the Estée Lauder Company and Intel; like Hill, she is a member of both the Trilateral Commission and the Council on Foreign Relations.

The USTR from 2001 to 2005 was Robert Zoellick, who afterwards served as Deputy Secretary of State, Vice Chairman of Goldman Sachs from 2006 to 2007, and President of the World Bank from 2007 to 2012. Following Zoellick, from 2005 to 2006, the USTR was Rob Portman, a U.S. Senator who was a possible running mate for Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign.

And only after him did Susan Schwab, the USTR from 2006 to 2009, commit the U.S. to joining the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Schwab has since joined the boards of FedEx, Caterpillar and Boeing. Based on the evidence of her and her predecessors’ tenures, it is safe to say there has been a significant interchange between “trade representatives” and “corporate representatives” — to the point where it is almost impossible to distinguish them apart.

Now let’s get even more caught up to speed on appointed “government officials” so we can know exactly what we’re talking about.

In 2008, as Obama was campaigning for president, he stated, “I have done more to take on lobbyists than any other candidate in this race. I don’t take a dime of their money, and when I am president, they won’t find a job in my White House.”

Within a week of becoming president, Obama changed his mind and his “transition team” (responsible for selecting the Obama cabinet) became co-chaired by John Podesta, co-founder with his brother Tony Podesta of the Podesta Group, a major Washington lobbying firm.

Podesta was Bill Clinton’s former chief of staff and, as co-chair of Obama’s transition team, he declared his team was implementing “rules that are the strictest, the most far-reaching ethics rules of any transition team in history.” A top lobbyist whose firm has represented clients ranging from Wal-Mart, BP and Lockheed Martin to the Egyptian military dictatorship, Podesta appeared the ideal figure to implement Obama’s “strict” rules against hiring corporate lobbyists, right?

A little further background: the Podesta Group counts among its recent lobbying successes the stalling of a Senate bill which was calling on Egypt “to curtail human rights abuses.” The Group’s website also boasts that it “challenged” Wall Street reform after “one of the world’s largest banking firms came to the Podesta Group seeking help with their opposition” to proposed regulations for banks.

Thus, it should come as little surprise that part of the “strictest” and most “far-reaching ethics rules” announced by John Podesta in relation to lobbying was that no official could be appointed to the Obama administration if s/he had been an active lobbyist within the previous two years. Luckily for Ron Kirk, Obama’s U.S. Trade Representative, these “strict” rules only applied to the Washington D.C. area; and since Kirk was a corporate lobbyist in Austin, Texas, for the investment bank Merrill Lynch (before it was taken over by Bank of America in 2008), the “far-reaching ethics” promised by Podesta didn’t reach Kirk.

Kirk’s main priority since becoming USTR has been the Trans-Pacific Partnership, worked on in secret for nearly four years with several other countries and 600 corporations. President Obama has called it “a next-generation trade agreement” and a “model” for future agreements.

But not everyone agrees.

In May of 2012, more than 30 legal scholars from nations that will be affected by the TPP signed a letter addressed to USTR Kirk expressing their “profound concern and disappointment at the lack of public participation, transparency and open government processes in the negotiation” of the TPP.

In late June of 2012, more than 130 members of Congress followed this up with a letter that they signed and sent to Kirk urging transparency in TPP negotiations, and an inclusion of Congressional consultations, stating: “We are troubled that important policy decisions are being made without full input from Congress.”

In his not-to-worry response, Kirk reassured the public: “I believe … that we have very faithfully operated within the spirit of the Obama administration to have the most engaged and transparent process as we possibly could.”

Meanwhile, the TPP has received strong endorsements from large transnational corporations and their official lobbies, such as Thomas Donohue, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, who told the Financial Times that, “[t]his must be an agreement with high standards. These standards will set the bar on regulatory coherence, investment and intellectual property.”

Part of these “high standards,” according to a meeting of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation group (APEC), are “deep commitments that go beyond tariff reduction and pass existing World Trade Organization standards.” In other words, it goes far beyond “trade.” This was confirmed by Iwan Azis, the head of the Asian Development Bank’s regional integration office, who stated that the TPP was intended to deal with “behind the border” issues, typically decided by domestic policy, and “which go beyond the normal scope of trade agreements” including issues of labor, environmental and intellectual property standards.

Azis commented: “As a concept, this is definitely something big… This is so comprehensive, it is like a Grade A agreement.” The TPP is designed “to be a structure on to which other nations, including possibly South Korea, and eventually even China, could be bolted.”

At the 2011 APEC summit, Chinese president Hu Jintao stated: “China supports the goal of the regional integration of the Asia-Pacific economy, using the East Asian free trade zone, full economic partnerships in Asia and the Trans-Pacific Partnership as foundations.”

The aim of the TPP appears to be in establishing a core “trade bloc” in order “to create a gravitational force that would bring others in,” according to Karan Bhatia, the Vice-President for international law at General Electric and a former deputy U.S. trade representative. Ultimately, this objective includes bringing both Japan and China into the fold.

In May of 2012, Kirk stated that he “would love nothing more” than to have China join the TPP, following the more immediate additions of Mexico, Canada, and Japan. And in November of 2011, President Obama spoke to the Australian parliament, explaining: “I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia Pacific a top priority… The United States is a Pacific power and we are here to stay.”

One observer and critic has noted that the TPP has the potential to become a new “global trade agreement.” Charlene Barshefsky, the USTR from 1997 to 2001, wrote an article for the Wall Street Journal in October of 2012 in which she strongly endorsed the TPP as a “crucial opportunity” to overcome “barriers to innovation.” Referring to the TPP as the “most important trade negotiation of the past decade,” Barshefsky wrote that it “will set the terms of trade for many years in the world’s most economically dynamic region.”

Gary Horlick, who is rated one of the world’s top international trade lawyers with a long career representing major U.S. and global multinational corporations, and more than 20 countries in international trade negotiations and disputes – and who was the first Chairman of the World Trade Organization’s Permanent Group of Experts on subsidies – commented on the TPP: “This is the least transparent trade negotiation I have ever seen.” As part of this “transparency,” participants in the negotiations had to sign a memorandum of understanding which forbids them from releasing any “negotiating documents until four years after a deal is done or abandoned.”

What Horlick referred to as the “least transparent trade negotiations” he had ever seen, Kirk referred to as “the most engaged and transparent process” possible. Perhaps this can be explained by the fact that Kirk has access to the draft document and observes and participates in the negotiations, unlike the representative bodies of governments or their populations.

So let’s call this what it is: a transnational corporate coup over the democratic process and public accountability.

Kirk explained that “there’s a practical reason” for all the secrecy in the negotiations over the TPP: “for our ability both to preserve negotiating strength and to encourage our partners to be willing to put issues on the table they may not otherwise, that we have to preserve some measure of discretion and confidentiality.”

Indeed, this is “practical.” After all, as he explained, if the talks were not done in secret, the public would be aware of what was being discussed, and if the public knew what was being planned, they would oppose it.

So secrecy is necessary in order to make the agreement as undemocratic and unaccountable as possible, to ensure that corporations get what they want while the public remains in the dark. Deceptive and saturated with disdain for democracy, certainly, but “practical” nevertheless.

Part II of Marshall’s investigative series on the Trans-Pacific Partnership will appear Wednesday.

Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

The U.S. Strategy to Control Middle Eastern Oil: “One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History”

The U.S. Strategy to Control Middle Eastern Oil: “One of the Greatest Material Prizes in World History”

By: Andrew Gavin Marshall

NOTE: The following is a research sample from The People’s Book Project. It is unedited and in draft format, but is intended as an excerpt of some of the research that is going into the book. This research sample is drawn from a recently written chapter on the history of American imperialism in the Middle East and North Africa. Please support The People’s Book Project by contributing a donation to The People’s Grant to reach the target goal of $1,600 to fund two major chapters in the book on a radical history of race and poverty.

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In the midst of World War II, Saudi Arabia secured a position of enormous significance to the rising world power, America. With its oil reserves essentially untapped, the House of Saud became a strategic ally of immense importance, “a matter of national security, nourishing U.S. military might and enhancing the potentiality of postwar American hegemony.” Saudi Arabia welcomed the American interest as it sought to distance itself from its former imperial master, Britain, which it viewed with suspicion as the British established Hashemite kingdoms in the Middle East – the old rivals of the Saudis – in Jordan and Iraq.[1]

The Saudi monarch, Abdul Aziz bin Abdul Rahman al Saud had to contend not only with the reality of Arab nationalism spreading across the Arab world (something which he would have to rhetorically support to legitimate his rule, but strategically maneuver through in order to maintain his rule), but he would also play off the United States and Great Britain against one another to try to ensure a better deal for ‘the Kingdom’, and ensure that his rivals – the Hashemites – in Jordan and Iraq did not spread their influence across the region. Amir (King) Abdullah of Transjordan – the primary rival to the Saudi king – sought to establish a “Greater Syria” following World War II, which would include Transjordan, Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and Palestine, and not to mention, the Hejaz province in Saudi Arabia. The image and potential of a “Greater Syria” was central in the mind of King Abdul Aziz. The means through which the House of Saud would seek to prevent such a maneuver and protect the ‘Kingdom’ was to seek Western protection. As the United States had extensive oil interests in the Kingdom, it seemed a natural corollary that the United States government should become the ‘protector’ of Saudi Arabia, especially since the British, long the primary imperial hegemon of the region (with France a close second), had put in place the Hashemites in Transjordan and Iraq.[2] For the Saudis, the British could not be trusted.

The Saudi King rose to power and established the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in 1927 and made formal ties with the United States in 1931. An oil concession was soon granted to the Rockefeller-owned Standard Oil of California, and thereafter, large quantities of oil were discovered in the Kingdom, thus increasing the importance of the Saudi monarch. This was especially true during World War II, when access to and control over petroleum reserves were of the utmost importance in determining the course of the war. In 1943, President Franklin Roosevelt acknowledged as much when he signed Executive Order 8926, which stated that, “the defense of Saudi Arabia [is] vital to the defense of the United States.”[3] United States Secretary of the Interior Harold Ickes, several months earlier, suggested to President Roosevelt that the United States be more involved in organizing oil concessions in Saudi Arabia not only for the war effort, but “to counteract certain known activities of a foreign power which presently are jeopardizing American interests in Arabian oil reserves.” That “foreign power” was Great Britain. In fact, there was immense distrust of British intentions in the Middle East, and specifically in Saudi Arabia, on the part of the State Department’s Division of Near East Affairs (NEA). A great deal of this tension and antagonism, however, emerged from Saudi diplomacy which sought to play off the two great powers against one another in the hopes of securing for itself a better deal.[4]

Anthony Eden, the British Foreign Secretary (and later Prime Minister), wrote to Prime Minister Winston Churchill in September of 1943 that, “our difficulty is to keep the Americans in line,” in relation to Saudi Arabia. As Roosevelt’s Executive Order categorized Saudi Arabia as “vital to the defense of the United States,” this allowed Saudi Arabia to qualify for the Lend-Lease program during the war, reducing Saudi dependency upon the British, and which included arms sales to the Kingdom. Following this event, British Foreign Office officials lamented, “We would not dream of entertaining a direct application for arms from a South American country for example, without at once consulting the American arms representative in London and deferring to his views.” This, of course, was a reference to Latin America in the context of the Monroe Doctrine – America’s “backyard” – and thus, was implying, that the Middle East was Britain’s “backyard.”[5]

Adolf A. Berle, Roosevelt’s Assistant Secretary of State explained to the British the objective of American designs for the Middle East. As Simon Davis summarized, European imperial “spheres of influence were to give way to open political and economic circumstances in which Americans interests were not to be demarcated by other great powers.”[6] In short, it was to be the demise of formal imperialism for the rise of informal empire, led by the United States. The “open political and economic circumstances” desired by American officials were in no small part influenced by petroleum concerns. Technical studies had been undertaken which pointed to the Middle East as the most oil-rich region in the world. At the time, Saudi Arabia was the only country in which American oil interests had established themselves prior to World War II. The British had actually approached the United States on behalf of the House of Saud in the early 1940s to secure funds for the Saudi government, as the British were stretched thin by the war in Europe. The United States had at first rejected the proposals, suggesting that Saudi Arabia was British responsibility. The American Minister in Cairo, Alexander Kirk, complained that such a move suggested to the Arab world that the United States was “resigning to the British all initiative in the Near East generally and in Saudi Arabia particularly.” The Saudis then approached American oil companies for support in 1942, who in turn approached the State Department’s Division of Near East Affairs, raising fears that leaving “responsibility” for the Near East and Saudi Arabia to the British would eventually mean a loss of oil concessions in Saudi Arabia to British interests. At the same time, Saudi officials were also quietly approaching the British to increase their interest in the Kingdom, suggesting that the Americans were attempting to maneuver the British out of the Near East. The Saudi Foreign Minister told a British official in December of 1942 that, “although [King Ibn Saud’s] relations with United States are friendly both in themselves and because United States is Britain’s ally… yet his relations with United States could never be so close and friendly as with His Majesty’s Government with whom he has so many interests in common.”[7]

A deceptive diplomatic game between the United States, Great Britain, and Saudi Arabia ensued. As the Americans shifted their interest in Saudi Arabia in 1943, Gordon Merriam, the assistant chief of the State Department’s Division of Near Eastern Affairs suggested in January of 1943 that the possibility of the British pushing their way into America’s oil concessions in the Kingdom after the war “has been very much on our minds.” Secretary of State Cordell Hull wrote that, “It should be kept clearly in mind that the expansion of British facilities serves to build up their post-war position in the Middle East at the expense of American interests there.”[8]

Britain, however, was not trying to exclude the United States, but to include it in an Anglo-American approach to the region. British Foreign Office documents stressed that the British were “by no means prepared to sacrifice a century of hard-earned political influence in the Middle East to their upstart American cousins,” however, the British sought to “coopt rather than preempt US interests.”[9] Churchill even wrote to Roosevelt to stress “the fullest assurance that we have no thought of trying to horn in upon your interests and property in Saudi Arabia.” The British even acknowledged in their internal correspondence that, “it seems probably that sooner or later the United States will become the foreign power most concerned with Saudi Arabian affairs.” The aim of the British, then, was not to expand their influence at the expense of the Americans, but to maintain their influence as the U.S. increased its own.[10]

In July of 1944, British diplomat Lord Halifax wrote to the United States, “We have made it perfectly plain that we have no wish to oppose increased American influence in Saudi Arabia so long as it does not seek to crowd us out. But it would be helpful if the Americans would realize that they cannot hope to achieve overnight quite the same position that we have built up over long years.” The United States was pressuring Britain to replace their representative in Saudi Arabia, S.R. Jordan, over State Department fears that Jordan was the primary British antagonist of expanding American influence in the Kingdom. Jordan was ironically, at that time, writing in cables to the British that, “Strategically, it would appear that we have little to fear from the presence of increasing US participation in Saudi Arabian affairs.” What became most frustrating to the British, however, was not the expansion of American power, but rather the perspective of Americans at the State Department (with fears stoked by the oil companies and Saudis) that the British were trying to keep the US out of Middle Eastern affairs. As the British Minister of State in the Middle East, Lord Moyne, observed, “I am afraid it is another of the many cases we have had in the Middle East where the local American idea of cooperation is that we should do all the giving and they all the taking.” As the British realized the Saudi role in creating these fears among the Americans, Moyne wrote, “It has subsequently turned out that the Finance Minister and the King’s Syrian advisers have been furnishing misleading figures and exploiting their position for political ends.”[11]

In 1944, President Franklin Roosevelt wrote a memo to the American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East in which he made clear: “The Middle East is an area in which the United States has a vital interest.” That interest, of course, was oil. Roosevelt made assurances that Middle Eastern oil belonged to the Western imperialist nations and not the Middle East itself, as he wrote that “the objective of the United States” in the Middle East “is to make certain that all nations are accorded equality of opportunity,” and that “special privileges… should not be afforded to any country or its nationals.” This was, of course, indirectly referring to France and especially Great Britain, the imperial hegemons of the Middle East. The “equality of opportunity” to exploit the resources of the Middle East was simply referring to the expansion of America’s “vital interest” in the region.[12]

In 1945, the British were increasingly frustrated with the American approach to Middle East relations. Some internal documents from the British Foreign Office reflected the varied positions of their diplomats:

The Americans are commercially on the offensive… we shall enter a period of commercial rivalry, and we should not make any concession that would assist American commercial penetration into a region which for generations has been an established British market.

For some years the United States have been showing an increasing interest in the Middle East. They worried us by an obstructive and disapproving attitude, the basis and reason of which remained obscure… On the American side there is the lively conviction that the USA have the right to go where they wish and to the extent that they wish… But we, on our side, feel that the Americans, irrespectively of any suspicion on their part that we are trying to exclude them, are trying by means that seem to us both aggressive and unfair to build up a position for themselves at our expense, or at any rate without regard to our established interests.[13]

It seemed, then, that both the Americans and the British feared and suspected each other of attempting the same thing: to increase their own influence in the region and decrease that of the other power. The Saudis, in the middle, were playing a game between two great powers in the hopes of securing their own interests. And they had good leverage which allowed them to play such a game: oil.

There was continuous reference to Britain’s apparent ‘right’ to the Middle East, drawing the comparison to the United States Monroe Doctrine (of 1823) declaring a U.S. ‘right’ to Latin America. As one British official wrote, “The U.S. hasn’t invited us to share her influence in Panama… we are entitled to our Monroe Doctrine in the Arab countries.”[14]

In 1945, President Roosevelt held a formal meeting with the Saudi King aboard the USS Quincy. The issue of Palestine was an important one in discussions, and was viewed as a major challenge to the cause and potential of Arab nationalism across the Middle East. Roosevelt informed Aziz that the U.S. would make “no decision altering the basic situation of Palestine… without full consultation with both Arabs and Jews,” and that, “he would do nothing to assist the Jews against the Arabs and would make no hostile move to the Arab people.” Aziz, in the meeting, also stressed the issue of Syrian and Lebanese sovereignty, seeking to ensure they kept separate from a potential Hashemite “Greater Syria,” to which Roosevelt ensured that if Saudi sovereignty were ever under threat, the United States would undertake “all possible support short of the use of force.”[15]

King Ibn Saud asked Roosevelt, inquiring on the future of Saudi-US ties, “What am I to believe when the British tell me that my future is with them and not with America? They constantly say, or imply, that America’s principal interest in Saudi Arabia is a transitory war-interest… and that America, after the war, will return to her preoccupations in the Western Hemisphere… and that Britain alone will continue as my partner in the future as in the early years of my reign.” To this, Roosevelt assured the King that the United States would maintain an interest and added that the America wanted freedom and prosperity for all, while the British wanted “freedom and prosperity” which was marked: “Made in Britain.” The King replied, “Never have I heard the English so accurately described.”[16]

American interest in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East more broadly did not die with Roosevelt. His successor, Harry Truman, was just as eager to “open the door” to the Middle East. A 1945 memorandum to President Truman written by the Chief of the Division of Near Eastern Affairs in the U.S. State Department, Gordon Merriam, stated: “In Saudi Arabia, where the oil resources constitute a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history, a concession covering this oil is nominally in American control.”[17] Adolf A. Berle, one of Franklin Roosevelt’s closest advisers, particularly in relation to the construction of the post-War world, years later remarked that controlling the oil reserves of the Middle East would mean obtaining “substantial control of the world.”[18]

For King Abdul Aziz, his main concerns continued to be focused on his rivals, the Hashemites, and the possibility of “Greater Syria.” This naturally increased his interest in promoting the Palestinian cause of self-determination, and thus also put him at odds with the United States on issues related to Palestine. Abdul Aziz had spoken out against policies in Palestine, and was increasingly framing himself as the leader of the Arab world. The rivalry between the Arab kingdoms of Transjordan and Iraq on one side, and Saudi Arabia on the other, prevented the Arabs from uniting on the issue of Palestine. The American Minister to Saudi Arabia, James Rives Childs, warned that, “Unless we proceed with the utmost circumspection in considering all phases of the possible repercussions of the Palestinian question… we may raise difficulties for ourselves in this most strategic area of vital national interest which will plague the United States constantly in years to come.” However, while King Abdul spoke out publicly against Western interference in Palestine, he privately informed American officials that he intended “never to let Palestine interfere with his relations with the United States… I’m talking big because everyone else is… it seems to be the most effective course.”[19]

King Abdul was increasingly worried about the British possibly supporting Jordan’s King Abdullah in his plan for a “Greater Syria” as they sought to end the British Mandate in Palestine and find a new alternative to the “Palestinian question.” Between 1946 and 1947, Saudi princes relayed the King’s concern to President Truman that there existed a British conspiracy with the Hashemites to depose him and destroy the Saudi dynasty. The State Department informed the Saudis that the United States had no information “which would cause it to believe that the British government was giving support to any scheme for the extension of British influence in the Middle East through the establishment of a Greater Syria.” Abdul Aziz was not convinced, and felt “that the development of strong economic ties with the United States offers the greatest possible available insurance from invasion.” As the British handed the Palestine Mandate to the United Nations in 1947, the Saudi King relayed to the United States that the question of Palestine, and thus ‘Greater Syria,’ was “the only thorn in Saudi-American relations.”[20] However, as the United Nations partitioned Palestine, despite Saudi protests against the United States on the issue, King Abdul Aziz wrote:

I occupy a position of preeminence in the Arab world. In the case of Palestine, I have to make a common cause with the other Arab states. Although the other Arab states may bring pressure to bear on me, I do not anticipate that a situation will arise whereby I shall be drawn into conflict with friendly western powers over this question.[21]

In 1948, after a great deal of diplomatic back-and-forth on the Palestine issue, the Arab states invaded after months of ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian population by militant Zionists in the British Mandate. Saudi Arabia, together with Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Yemen, and even Jordan and Iraq, invaded Palestine immediately after the Zionists declared the State of Israel in May of 1948. However, as the Arabs were distrustful of one another, their incursion was doomed to failure, and they grossly underestimated the military strength of the Zionists, which was built up under the British Mandate.

The United States took a stated position of neutrality amid the conflict, in order to prevent upsetting its relations with the Arab world, which already were so damaged as a result of recognizing the state of Israel, an act which had created immense protest and condemnation from the State Department. In January of 1949, a cease-fire was signed between Israel and Egypt, and Israel emerged the obvious victor in the 1948-49 war. Thereafter, the United States lifted its arms embargo to the Middle East to provide the Saudis with military aid. The United States had emerged from the birth of Israel with a deeply scarred image in the Arab world, and with that, increased fear over Soviet expansion into the area led the U.S. to conclude that it had to support “strong men” in the region, such as Abdul Aziz. In 1949, a U.S. survey mission was sent to Saudi Arabia to examine the potential for building up a strong Saudi military force. King Abdul desired “a military force equal to or greater than the forces [of] Jordan and Iraq.” The U.S. mission recommended “the training and equipping of a Saudi defensive force totaling 43,000 officers and men, composed of 28,000 combat troops and 15,000 Air Force support and logistic personnel.”[22] Thus, a strong Saudi-American relationship was established as one of the main outposts of U.S. influence in the Middle East, control over oil, and containment of the Soviet Union.

The aim, as articulated by State Department strategists, was to maintain “substantial control of the world” through control of Middle Eastern oil: “one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” In a 1948 State Department Policy Planning Paper written by George Kennan – the architect of the ‘containment’ policy toward the USSR – it was explained that following World War II, America held 50% of the world’s wealth, yet had only 6.3% of the world’s population, a “disparity [which] is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia,” thus, destined to create “envy and resentment.” The real task for America, then, wrote Kennan:

is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.[23]

 

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Andrew Gavin Marshall is an independent researcher and writer based in Montreal, Canada, writing on a number of social, political, economic, and historical issues. He is also Project Manager of The People’s Book Project. He also hosts a weekly podcast show, “Empire, Power, and People,” on BoilingFrogsPost.com.

Notes

[1]            Maurice Jr. Labelle, “‘The Only Thorn’: Early Saudi-American Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1945-1949,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2011), page 257.

[2]            Ibid, pages 257-258.

[3]            Ibid, pages 259-260.

[4]            Barry Rubin, “Anglo-American Relations in Saudi Arabia, 1941-45,” Journal of Contemporary History (Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1979), page 253.

[5]            Simon Davis, “Keeping the Americans in Line? Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia, 1939-45: Inter-Allied Rivalry in the Middle East Revisited,” Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 8, No. 1, 1997), page 96.

[6]            Ibid, page 97.

[7]            Barry Rubin, “Anglo-American Relations in Saudi Arabia, 1941-45,” Journal of Contemporary History (Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1979), pages 254-255.

[8]            Ibid, page 256.

[9]            Simon Davis, “Keeping the Americans in Line? Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia, 1939-45: Inter-Allied Rivalry in the Middle East Revisited,” Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 8, No. 1, 1997), pages 97-98.

[10]            Barry Rubin, “Anglo-American Relations in Saudi Arabia, 1941-45,” Journal of Contemporary History (Vol. 14, No. 2, April 1979), pages 257-258.

[11]            Ibid, pages 260-261.

[12]            Letter from President Roosevelt to James M. Landis, American Director of Economic Operations in the Middle East, Concerning the Vital Interest of the United States in the Middle East, Foreign Relations of the United States, The Near East, South Asia, and Africa, 6 March 1944.

[13]            Amikam Nachmani, “‘It’s a Matter of Getting the Mixture Right’: Britain’s Post-War Relations with America in the Middle East,” Journal of Contemporary History (Vol. 18, No. 1, January 1983), pages 120-121.

[14]            Ibid, page 117.

[15]            Maurice Jr. Labelle, “‘The Only Thorn’: Early Saudi-American Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1945-1949,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2011), pages 260-261.

[16]            Simon Davis, “Keeping the Americans in Line? Britain, the United States and Saudi Arabia, 1939-45: Inter-Allied Rivalry in the Middle East Revisited,” Diplomacy & Statecraft (Vol. 8, No. 1, 1997), pages 125-126.

[17]            Report by the Coordinating Committee of the Department of State, “Draft Memorandum to President Truman,” Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, The Near East and Africa, Vol. 8, 1945, page 45.

[18]            Lloyd C. Gardner, Three Kings: The Rise of an American Empire in the Middle East After World War II (The New Press, 2009), page 96; Noam Chomsky, “Is the World Too Big to Fail?” Salon, 21 April 2011: http://www.salon.com/2011/04/21/global_empire_united_states_iraq_noam_chomsky/

[19]            Maurice Jr. Labelle, “‘The Only Thorn’: Early Saudi-American Relations and the Question of Palestine, 1945-1949,” Diplomatic History (Vol. 35, No. 2, April 2011), pages 264-265.

[20]            Ibid, pages 266-268.

[21]            Ibid, page 270.

[22]            Ibid, pages 274-279.

[23]            George F. Kennan, “Review of Current Trends U.S. Foreign Policy,” Report by the Policy Planning Staff, 24 February 1948.