Control of Resources; Supporting Dictators, Rise of Terrorism

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  • by Anup Shah
  • This page last updated

On this page:

  1. The historic struggle for control of resources
  2. The Middle East at the center for struggle over control of resources
  3. A divided people; The West's support for dictators and monarchies over democracies
  4. Globalization
  5. Political leaders are in between a rock and a hard place; the struggle for people's support

The historic struggle for control of resources

As we saw in the previous section, for centuries, due to the power politics and struggle over the control of resources in the Middle East, various powers have supported numerous controversial regimes. The United States, Britain, France, and others supported dictatorships and monarchies, even overthrowing democracies.

To the populations back home the reason often given for this was for freedom, stability, containing the Soviet Union and so on. For the people of the region that had their popular leaders overthrown and replaced with corrupt rulers, this was surely not freedom. Communism was an often used reason around the world, not just the Middle East, even if it was not the case. As Noam Chomsky details, it was often a convenient excuse, but the underlying threat was often that nations might be able to use their own resources and be an example for others to follow.

Furthermore, what was going on around the world at the time of the end of the Second World War and the geopolitical changes that resulted are critical to understanding the policies and events in the Middle East. To summarize (notes for sources are below):

  • With Europe weakened, the majority of the world, which was then under imperial and colonial rule, saw their chance to break free.
  • Nationalist, revolutionary, and independence movements (some violent, some peaceful) all started to take hold and Europe had little ability to maintain control.
  • The sole remaining power that was really intact after the Second World War was the United States.
  • Allied with Europe, the U.S. helped them rebuild with a massive injection of capital. The U.S. was also an imperial power for the past few decades, as pointed out by numerous writers such as Mark Twain, Howard Zinn, Noam Chomsky, J.W. Smith, Walden Bello and many others. The U.S. was now the de facto leader of the West.
  • The Soviet Union, on the other hand, having faced the brunt of Hitler's forces, (some 80 percent of his armies), like Europe, had lost a considerable amount and had been decimated; there was between 7 to 27 million dead, much industry and infrastructure had been destroyed, much agriculture and livestock had been destroyed, and so on. Like most of the world breaking free, it did not have much economic assistance to rebuild, but was still able to recover quickly to partake in a terrible Cold War (see J.W. Smith quoted below, for more on this).
  • Due to its rapid development and power, the Soviet Union additionally threatened to be an example for the other newly free nations that rapid independent development was possible. But this also meant a massive diversion of the traditional resources that had been flowing out of the global South, to those imperial centers of capital.
  • To the West, then, the Soviet Union, from the start (decades earlier) was seen as evil while to the third world, it was perhaps seen as an example that independent development was possible. It may not have necessarily been seen as a direct model to follow (as its economic policies were flawed, even without the diversion of the Cold War, as well as the horrors and massacres resulting from the paranoia of Stalin, etc), but it was the idea that a nation could develop somewhat successfully, quickly, and without much assistance, that was a real threat to the West's historic source of resources. Indeed, the Non-aligned Movement was as such yet another alternative, for example.
  • The countryside was reclaiming its resources.

The centuries-old view of the South, from the perspective of the West, was now changing. As Chomsky describes, almost with cruel humor, the South was viewed as a service provider, and if possible that was what had to be maintained, in order to preserve the wealth and balance of power:

The South is assigned a service role: to provide resources, cheap labor, markets, opportunities for investment and, lately, export of pollution. For the past half-century, the US has shouldered the responsibility for protecting the interests of the satisfied nations whose power places them above the rest, the rich men dwelling at peace within their habitations to whom the government of the world must be entrusted, as Winston Churchill put the matter after World War II.

Noam Chomsky, Year 501, (South End Press, 1993), Chapter 2

As J.W. Smith points out, with the weakening of the former Imperial European powers from World War II, Virtually the entire colonial world was breaking free and their resources would be turned to the care of their own people and no longer could be siphoned to the old imperial centers of capital for a fraction of its value.

The result of this is further described just by the chapter title itself from J.W. Smith: The World Breaking Free Frightened The Security Councils of Every Western Nation, Economic Democracy; The Political Struggle of the Twenty-First Century (1st Books, 2002, Second Edition), Chapter 7. (The previous link is a link to the reposting of that chapter. The entire book can be read on line as well.)

This control of resources being the main concern was recognized by the U.S. policy planners and was a major aspect of foreign policy strategy after World War II. Consider for example, George Kennan, head of the US State Department planning staff until 1950, and his comments on US relations with Far East:

we have about 50% of the world's wealth, but only 6.3% of its population....In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity....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 should cease to talk about vague and...unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of the living standards, and democratization. The day is not far off when we are going to have to deal in straight power concepts. The less we are then hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.

... We should recognize that our influence in the Far Eastern area in the coming period is going to be primarily military and economic. We should make a careful study to see what parts of the Pacific and Far Eastern world are absolutely vital to our security, and we should concentrate our policy on seeing to it that those areas remain in hands which we can control or rely on.

George Kennan, U.S. State Department Policy Planning, Study #23, February 24, 1948. (See also Foreign Relations of the United States 1948, Vol. 1, No. 2, 1976 for the full text where this was first published; The text to the part on realisim of US relations in the Far East; David McGowan, Derailing Democracy, (Common Courage Press, 2000), p.169; Noam Chomsky, What Uncle Sam Really Wants, (Odian Press, 1993), Chapter 2.

The Cold War, then, as well as being a struggle against Communism, also provided an appropriate pretext for actions by the West around the world (led by the United States) that could be attributed to the claims of Soviet involvement, even if there wasn't any. Chomsky is worth quoting again:

[Mainstream comments about] the overthrow of the parliamentary Mossadegh regime in Iran, observed that Underdeveloped countries with rich resources now have an object lesson in the heavy cost that must be paid by one of their number which goes berserk with fanatical nationalism. The service areas must be protected from Bolshevism or Communism, technical terms that refer to social transformation in ways that reduce their willingness and ability to complement the industrial economies of the West, in the words of an important scholarly study of the 1950s. Most important, the historical record conforms very well to this commonly articulated understanding of the role of the South.

Radical and nationalistic regimes are intolerable in themselves, even more so if they appear to be succeeding in terms that might be meaningful to oppressed and suffering people. In that case they become a virus that might infect others, a rotten apple that might spoil the barrel. For the public, they are dominoes that will topple others by aggression and conquest; internally, the absurdity of this picture is often (not always) conceded, and the threat is recognized to be what Oxfam once called the threat of a good example, referring to Nicaragua.

Noam Chomsky, Year 501, (South End Press, 1993), Chapter 2

Many nations that were subsequently destabilized by the Americans, British and others were claimed to be due to this Soviet threat, but in many cases (not all), there was no Soviet involvement. In many cases, these were just nations that had gained their freedom trying to develop. In fact, many did not want to follow the Soviet example of centralized planning. (And, as J.W. Smith details in the above-mentioned book and further on in that above-cited chapter, the Soviets themselves realized that their economic system needed changes a few decades later.)

As Smith, Chomsky and others detail, some turned to the U.S. for guidance, given the very good Constitution and other principles. The U.S. helped in some cases, not in others. For some, then, where help was not available, they either turned to the Soviets (the other superpower which had resources to help), or to themselves.

Independent development threatened the loss of power, influence and cheap raw materials for the powerful nations. The Vietnam experience suggested that an empire of the type that Britain once had was not likely to be politically feasible. So instead, a new strategy was needed. As Stephen Zunes describes, the Nixon Doctrine (also known as the Guam Doctrine or "surrogate strategy") came into being, wherein Vietnamization [reliance on South Vietnamese conscripts and a dramatically increased air war that minimized American casualties] evolved into a global policy of arming and training third world allies to become regional gendarmes for American interests. Many rulers in the third world have been supported into power as a result.(* See below for some sources detailing this perspective and history)

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The Middle East at the center for struggle over control of resources

The Middle East, then, has been quite important, geopolitically, due to the resources, and oil in particular.

  • Because this has formed a backbone to the wealth of many nations today, maintaining control of those resources has been paramount. Hence, presence in the Middle East is for stability of oil flows:

    Saudi Arabia remains the cornerstone, producing 50 percent of the whole world's [oil] supply. So in order to keep this economic balm flowing, to keep the status quo static and the balance sheets of the major oil companies brimming, we've [the U.S.] installed our military as a kind of mega police force in the region. Our official reason for being there is to ensure stability, one of the great buzzwords in the history of business, but this is nothing more than spin — the military is in the Middle East to guarantee that whatever comes out of the ground is exploitable and controlled by American multinationals.

    Johnny Angel, It's the Oil, Stupid, LA Weekly, September 26, 2001
  • Any chance that those resources would be used in different ways is naturally a threat to those who currently benefit.
  • Furthermore, was there a chance that the Soviet Union could get influence in the Middle East, resources would have been further been taken away from the influence and control of the West, as Smith highlights:

    The old Soviet empire had a long border with the Middle East. The desperation of the West to maintain control stems from the potential for those two regions to join. If that had happened, the Middle East would have had the weapons to protect their resources. The resources of the Soviet Union and the Middle East together would have been comparable to those of the West, and, by virtue of most of the world's reserves of oil being within the borders of those two empires, and thus the potential for high oil prices, a good part of the West's wealth could have been claimed by the East. Hence the West's large military expenditures to maintain control in that volatile region.

    J.W. Smith, World's Wasted Wealth II, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), pp. 294 - 295. It is also reposted on this web site as part of the previous section.
  • As a standard policy of state, nations have to keep an eye on such things.
  • In the geopolitically and ideologically charged chess games, such threats, if possible, must be contained.

The stronger, more powerful nations are obviously better equipped with more political, economic and military means. Therefore, they can be more effective in getting and ensuring their way. This makes sense from a power politics perspective. One of the main responsibilities (if not the main one) for heads of states is to ensure their nations interests are met. Diplomacy and so forth are directed by such interests.

Hence, as mentioned above, those frightened security councils were frightened at the prospect of losing more control. To them, their freedom was at stake. Yet, not mentioned to the populations back home was that this freedom was based on centuries of war and conquest and in the Middle East this was all about control of resources and geopolitical power. Hence, the freedom of some was based on non-freedom of others. (See also this web site's section on behind consumption which provides more statistics and details of economic policies that lead to this skewed use of resources around the globe.)

The United States and Western Europe were therefore prepared to protect one of the sources of their wealth and power. They was prepared to go to many lengths to do so. For example,

  • Massive amounts of capital injection direct, and indirect, via Japan and international institutions, helped in developing and extending freedoms to various other East Asian nations. This would serve to contain threats such as Soviet expansion. Wars were fought, or dictators supported, if needed. (See Smith, Chomsky, Gowan, Bello, etc. mentioned below in the sources for more details.)
  • Throughout Latin America and Africa, various democracies were overthrown and dictators supported, or malleable pseudo democracies were supported. (See the Noam Chomsky Archive, also mentioned below, for far more details, including detailed research on destabilization of various Latin American democracies that did not have Soviet influence that was claimed. See also this site's section on conflicts in Africa, and on the arms trade.)
  • In the Middle East, control of natural resources has been centuries-old politics. It had not changed, although the players may have, slightly.

Indian author and Booker Prize winner, Arundhati Roy, describes in the British newspaper, The Guardian, the result of American sponsored actions: millions killed in Korea, Vietnam and Cambodia, the 17,500 killed when Israel — backed by the US — invaded Lebanon in 1982, the 200,000 Iraqis killed in Operation Desert Storm, the thousands of Palestinians who have died fighting Israel's occupation of the West Bank. And the millions who died, in Yugoslavia, Somalia, Haiti, Chile, Nicaragua, El Salvador, the Dominican Republic, Panama, at the hands of all the terrorists, dictators and genocidists whom the American government supported, trained, bankrolled and supplied with arms. And this is far from being a comprehensive list. (Arundhati Roy, The algebra of infinite justice, The Guardian, September 29, 2001)

With almost all the above, as researched heavily by Chomsky, Smith and others, these were nations where there was a possibly successful independent development; independent from Western influence and, in many cases, independent from Soviet influence. However, the Soviet/communist excuse was used as a pretext for these interventions. Various well-known criminals and human rights abusers were trained by the United States, for example. The School of the Americas is a well known example of this, as also mentioned on this web site (see the previous link). The United States therefore participated directly, or indirectly, in many wars and conflicts. In the Middle East, it was no different. William Blum, investigative journalist, and former employee at the U.S. State Department, where he resigned in 1967 over the Vietnam war is worth quoting here:

The Eisenhower Doctrine stated that the United States is prepared to used armed forces to assist any Middle Eastern country requesting assistance against armed aggression from any country controlled by international communism. The English translation of this was that no one would be allowed to dominate, or have exclusive influence over, the Middle East and its oil fields except the United States, and that anyone who tried would be, by definition communist.

William Blum, Rogue State, (Common Courage Press, 2000), pp. 131 - 132

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A divided people; The West's support for dictators and monarchies over democracies

Already, before World War II, as mentioned in the previous section, various monarchs had been put in place in various countries whose borders had been defined mainly by British and French colonial administrations. Many monarchs were not even local. They were the ones that could be allied to the imperial rulers and counted on to control local populations. As Britain had learned for decades, and so sharply remembered by people of India, large populations could be controlled by relatively tiny administrations by divide and conquer tactics keeping or creating antagonism between local groups, keeping borders small and so on, so as to make uniting as difficult as possible. (Of course, it proved not to be impossible.) It is worth quoting Smith again, to highlight the geopolitical significance of this:

Once small weak countries are established, it is very difficult to persuade their rulers to give up power and form those many dependent states into one economically viable nation. Conversely, it is easy for outside power brokers to support an exploitative faction to maintain or regain power. None of this can ever be openly admitted to or the neo-mercantilist world would fall apart. The fiction of sovereign governments, equal rights, fair trade, etc., must continue. To be candid is to invite immediate widespread rebellion and loss of control.

J.W. Smith, World's Wasted Wealth II, (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 294. It is also reposted on this web site as part of the previous section.

(Side NoteNote also Smith's reference to a neo-mercantilist world as opposed to what is often referred to as free trade. Globalization, then, for many around the world is seen as a sophisticated continuation of plunder, but through economic means. That is, it is seen by many as a continuation of subtle monopoly capitalism compared to free market capitalism, as it is often claimed to be. For more on that angle, see this site's section on poverty, trade and globalization.)

In this web site's section's Africa introduction, it is pointed out how in 1885, the Berlin Conference saw the European nations create borders in Africa that met the interests of the Europeans, and allowed them to try to share the spoils of Africa between them. European culture at that time had already labeled the African people and their cultures as non-civilized and not having rights, and hence justified such things as slavery, carving up borders as they saw fit, etc. As mentioned earlier, Middle Eastern people (Arabs and Jews) were also likewise described in negative light for centuries to justify action and exploitation there.

European geopolitics in the earlier half of the 20th century in the wider Middle East region contributed to a lot of instability overall and to a similar carve up that Africa had experienced just a few decades earlier, and is still coming to grips with. The British Empire, especially, played a major role in the region. During World War I, in 1916, it convinced Arab leaders to revolt against the Ottoman Empire (which was allied with Germany). In return, the British government would support the establishment of an independent Arab state in the region, including Palestine. Yet, in contradiction to this, in 1917, Lord Arthur Balfour, the British Foreign Minister, issued a declaration (the Balfour Declaration). This announced the British Empire's support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in Palestine.

As a further complication, there was a deal between Imperial Britain and France to carve up the Arab provinces of the Ottoman Empire and divide control of the region. The spoils of war were to be shared. As in 1885 in the Berlin Conference where Africa was carved up amongst the various European empires, parts of the Middle East were to also be carved up, which would require artificial borders, support of monarchies, dictators and other leaders that could be regarded as puppets or at least could be influenced by these external powers.

But also as with Africa, the imposition of artificial borders, unpopular rulers etc would not be accepted without struggle and following World War II, the region became even more important for its energy sources.

In the Middle East, the Arab people had a common faith that bound them together. This meant that even more extreme measures for subjugation and control would be needed. One such result was the extremely heavy militarization of the region. Millions of dollars worth of weapons were poured in to support the puppet regimes. As described in the arms trade section of this web site, it is still the most heavily militarized region in the world, with the majority of military aid going to that region, from the powerful nations.

With harsh rulers and authoritarian regimes like the Monarchy of Saudi Arabia, or the Shah of Iran, counter-militancy and falling back on the most extremist interpretations of Islam resulted. Extreme militarization was resulting in extreme militancy and fanaticism.

As also detailed in the previous section, an Iranian revolution took hold in 1979 with the Ayatollah Khomeini and an extremist Islamic state being formed. In a documentary on PBS in 2000, (I do not recall exactly when, unfortunately), those women interviewed had initially supported the revolution because of the oppression of the Shah. They had believed that the revolution would lead them to a better future. However, in just a few years, they were to find that one form of extremism had been replaced by another, and women in general had not gained as they thought they would. (In recent months or years, it seems that the Iranian government is trying to become more moderate. Future developments, geopolitics and time will tell how that turns out.) Throughout the region, various human rights groups have documented the harsh conditions and lack of progress in development for many in those societies.

However, from this Islamic revolution (and other such struggles), combined with the feeling of hopelessness of other avenues, the perverted realization that Islamic extremism, anti-West sentiments etc may hold the answer, started to ferment.

In addition, as detailed further below, as part of the Cold War, the U.S. via Pakistan helped develop and train Islamic extremist mujahdeen fighters in an attempt to destabilize the Soviet Union. The religious call for mujahadeen fighters also attracted extremists from the Middle East (such as Osama Bin Laden and others).

The National Security Archives project at the George Washington University published declassified U.S. documents revealing the extent of U.S. propaganda efforts in the Middle East during the early years of the Cold War. While not as effective as would have been preferred, it gives an idea of the extent to which the U.S. was willing to go to gain support for geopolitical and ideological purposes.

Many in the region see the oppression from their leaders coming from the support by the West, America in particular. In some of the regimes friendly to the United States, some of the worst human rights abuses are described.

Turkey is one such example:

  • While one of the more democratic regimes, it has had a long conflict with neighbours, and segements of its own people, such as Kurd separatists.
  • As mentioned on this site, and pointed out by Amnesty International and others, there have been over 30,000 deaths in the last 14 years in the struggle and conflict against the Kurds.
  • Yet, the overwhelming number of these 30,000 deaths, not to mention widespread mutilation and rape, are the responsibility of the Turkish military, as the British newspaper, The Guardian, points out.
  • Turkey, as mentioned in this web site's arms trade section, is one of the largest recipients of US military aid.

Saudi Arabia is another example, as all these reports by Amnesty International testify to.

In other cases, regimes that have previously been friendly to the United States have been supported for geopolitical reasons, regardless of how they treat and rule over their people. Only when they have gone too far (i.e. affected national interests) are they demonized or in some ways regarded as hostile (often appropriately so).

Iraq is an example of this:

  • As described by various links in this web site's section on Iraq, when Sadam Hussain committed his murderous acts of gassing Kurds and others in his own land, and in the war against Iran, using chemical and biological weapons etc, it was during the time of U.S. support of Sadam to wage war against Iran and the new revolution.
  • The weapons and technology for biological and chemical weapons had come from the West.
  • The invasion of Kuwait and the resulting Gulf War allowed the U.S. to highlight these crimes but without mentioning how he had been able to get these means.
  • Furthermore, the Gulf War saw the death of an estimated 200,000 Iraqi's, 100,000 of which were civilian.
  • And since the sanctions, the United Nations point out that 1,000,000 people have died and UNICEF points out that some half a million children have died, some 5000 per month, to which Madeline Albright has commented on public television that this price was worth it.
  • The U.S. and U.K. are largely the ones keeping the sanctions in place, despite objections from other nations and resignations of U.N. programme coordinators over this.
  • These sanctions have turned out to be a weapon of mass destruction!
  • Arab people throughout the Middle East are naturally infuriated to see their own people suffering (all while Sadam Hussein remains unaffected).
  • See the Iraq section on this site for more details and sources. (See also Gowan, sourced below.)

Afghanistan is another:

  • As is well known and accepted now, the CIA aided and funded terrorist regimes, such as the mujahadin and Osama Bin Laden, with the aid of Pakistan, to get the Soviets involved in Afghanistan and to ultimately help defeat them.
  • The vile and extremist Taliban were in power in Afghanistan, accused of terrible human rights violations (especially against women), oppressive extremist religious practices, and so on. (See for example, all the Amnesty International Afghanistan reports for more details.)
  • It is a large conduit for illegal drugs as well.

Some aspects have not escaped the mainstream media either. America's NBC, for example, captures the result of all this quite well:

At the CIA, it happens often enough to have a code name: Blowback. Simply defined, this is the term that describes an agent, an operative or an operation that has turned on its creators. Osama bin Laden, our new public enemy Number 1, is the personification of blowback.

Michael Moran, Bin Laden comes home to roost, MSNBC, Aug. 24, 1998

Roy describes a sickening twist of power politics in light of the terrorist attacks in the United States on September 11:

In 1979, after the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the CIA and Pakistan's ISI (Inter Services Intelligence) launched the largest covert operation in the history of the CIA. Their purpose was to harness the energy of Afghan resistance to the Soviets and expand it into a holy war, an Islamic jihad, which would turn Muslim countries within the Soviet Union against the communist regime and eventually destabilise it. When it began, it was meant to be the Soviet Union's Vietnam. It turned out to be much more than that. Over the years, through the ISI, the CIA funded and recruited almost 100,000 radical mojahedin from 40 Islamic countries as soldiers for America's proxy war. The rank and file of the mojahedin were unaware that their jihad was actually being fought on behalf of Uncle Sam. (The irony is that America was equally unaware that it was financing a future war against itself.) ... After all that has happened [with the September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks in America], can there be anything more ironic than Russia and America joining hands to re-destroy Afghanistan?

Arundhati Roy, The algebra of infinite justice, The Guardian, September 29, 2001

Israel has always been a sensitive issue. For regional support, as mentioned earlier, the West has often sought support, in the forms of likeable dictators/monarchs etc. It has even supported and fueled wars against each other. Israel has been another country that has received enormous amounts of military aid.

  • The peace process, the Arabs have felt, has been grossly one sided, with the influential U.S. constantly backing the side of Israel as pointed out by Chomsky in the previous link.
  • Ordinary Arab citizens have additionally been extremely frustrated at their own leaders for not helping Palestinians.
  • Those states or organizations that have provided support, including for example, Lebanon, the Hizbollah, Syria, etc. have been branded unofficially or officially, terrorist or rogue states. (Sometimes, justifiably, and such crimes should not be belittled, either.)

An often-heard argument in the West is that Arabs have got themselves in this plight because of their constant bickering and disunity. This is partly true, but this almost blanket statement negates this larger history and complications of political maneuverings and support for various regimes (by the West as well). (See this web site's section on the Palestine/Israel conflict for more links and sources on that issue.) Furthermore, a part of the disunity comes from the frustration and disagreement on how to handle what they see as unilateral U.S. interests in the region. Supporting Israel no matter what has further infuriated Arab citizens:

International isolation [of the United States and Israel] increased in the mid-1970s, when virtually the entire world endorsed a modification of UN 242 [calling for peace along with Israeli withdrawal from the occupied territories resulting from land captured after the 1967 Israel-Arab war] to include a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza. Washington was compelled to veto a Security Council resolution to this effect in January 1976, to vote regularly against subsequent UN resolutions, and to block other diplomatic initiatives from Europe, the Arab states, the PLO, and others.

Noam Chomsky, Israel, Lebanon, and the Peace Process, April 23, 1996

The following list from Stephen Shalom lists some specific incidents of U.S. policy in the Middle East since the Second World War ended. (The original article also points out that this list misses out other long term policies such as those mentioned above. Nonetheless, it begins to give an idea why there is anti-West sentiment and anti-US in particular, in the Middle East.)

  • 1948: Israel established. U.S. declines to press Israel to allow expelled Palestinians to return.
  • 1949: CIA backs military coup deposing elected government of Syria.
  • 1953: CIA helps overthrow the democratically-elected Mossadeq government in Iran (which had nationalized the British oil company) leading to a quarter-century of repressive and dictatorial rule by the Shah, Mohammed Reza Pahlevi.
  • 1956: U.S. cuts off promised funding for Aswan Dam in Egypt after Egypt receives Eastern bloc arms.
  • 1956: Israel, Britain, and France invade Egypt. U.S. does not support invasion, but the involvement of its NATO allies severely diminishes Washington's reputation in the region.
  • 1958: U.S. troops land in Lebanon to preserve stability.
  • early 1960s: U.S. unsuccessfully attempts assassination of Iraqi leader, Abdul Karim Qassim.
  • 1963: U.S. reported to give Iraqi Ba'ath party (soon to be headed by Saddam Hussein) names of communists to murder, which they do with vigor.
  • 1967-: U.S. blocks any effort in the Security Council to enforce SC Resolution 242, calling for Israeli withdrawal from territories occupied in the 1967 war.
  • 1970: Civil war between Jordan and PLO. Israel and U.S. prepare to intervene on side of Jordan if Syria backs PLO.
  • 1972: U.S. blocks Egyptian leader Anwar Sadat's efforts to reach a peace agreement with Israel.
  • 1973: Airlifted U.S. military aid enables Israel to turn the tide in war with Syria and Egypt.
  • 1973-75: U.S. supports Kurdish rebels in Iraq. When Iran reaches an agreement with Iraq in 1975 and seals the border, Iraq slaughters Kurds and U.S. denies them refuge. Kissinger secretly explains that covert action should not be confused with missionary work.
  • 1975: U.S. vetoes Security Council resolution condemning Israeli attacks on Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon.
  • 1978-79: Iranians begin demonstrations against the Shah. U.S. tells Shah it supports him without reservation and urges him to act forcefully. Until the last minute, U.S. tries to organize military coup to save the Shah, but to no avail.
  • 1979-88: U.S. begins covert aid to Mujahideen in Afghanistan six months before Soviet invasion in Dec. 1979. Over the next decade U.S. provides training and more than $3 billion in arms and aid.
  • 1980-88: Iran-Iraq war. When Iraq invades Iran, the U.S. opposes any Security Council action to condemn the invasion. U.S. soon removes Iraq from its list of nations supporting terrorism and allows U.S. arms to be transferred to Iraq. At the same time, U.S. lets Israel provide arms to Iran and in 1985 U.S. provides arms directly (though secretly) to Iran. U.S. provides intelligence information to Iraq. Iraq uses chemical weapons in 1984; U.S. restores diplomatic relations with Iraq. 1987 U.S. sends its navy into the Persian Gulf, taking Iraq's side; an overly-aggressive U.S. ship shoots down an Iranian civilian airliner, killing 290.
  • 1981, 1986: U.S. holds military maneuvers off the coast of Libya in waters claimed by Libya with the clear purpose of provoking Qaddafi. In 1981, a Libyan plane fires a missile and two Libyan planes shot down. In 1986, Libya fires missiles that land far from any target and U.S. attacks Libyan patrol boats, killing 72, and shore installations. When a bomb goes off in a Berlin nightclub, killing two Americans, the U.S. charges that Qaddafi was behind it (possibly true) and conducts major bombing raids in Libya, killing dozens of civilians, including Qaddafi's adopted daughter.
  • 1982: U.S. gives green light to Israeli invasion of Lebanon, killing some 17 thousand civilians. U.S. chooses not to invoke its laws prohibiting Israeli use of U.S. weapons except in self-defense. U.S. vetoes several Security Council resolutions condemning the invasion.
  • 1983: U.S. troops sent to Lebanon as part of a multinational peacekeeping force; intervene on one side of a civil war, including bombardment by USS New Jersey. Withdraw after suicide bombing of marine barracks.
  • 1984: U.S.-backed rebels in Afghanistan fire on civilian airliner.
  • 1987-92: U.S. arms used by Israel to repress first Palestinian Intifada. U.S. vetoes five Security Council resolution condemning Israeli repression.
  • 1988: Saddam Hussein kills many thousands of his own Kurdish population and uses chemical weapons against them. The U.S. increases its economic ties to Iraq.
  • 1988: U.S. vetoes 3 Security Council resolutions condemning continuing Israeli occupation of and repression in Lebanon.
  • 1990-91: U.S. rejects any diplomatic settlement of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait (for example, rebuffing any attempt to link the two regional occupations, of Kuwait and of Palestine). U.S. leads international coalition in war against Iraq. Civilian infrastructure targeted. To promote stability U.S. refuses to aid post-war uprisings by Shi'ites in the south and Kurds in the north, denying the rebels access to captured Iraqi weapons and refusing to prohibit Iraqi helicopter flights.
  • 1991-: Devastating economic sanctions are imposed on Iraq. U.S. and Britain block all attempts to lift them. Hundreds of thousands die. Though Security Council had stated that sanctions were to be lifted once Saddam Hussein's programs to develop weapons of mass destruction were ended, Washington makes it known that the sanctions would remain as long as Saddam remains in power. Sanctions in fact strengthen Saddam's position. Asked about the horrendous human consequences of the sanctions, Madeleine Albright (U.S. ambassador to the UN and later Secretary of State) declares that the price is worth it.
  • 1993-: U.S. launches missile attack on Iraq, claiming self-defense against an alleged assassination attempt on former president Bush two months earlier.
  • 1998: U.S. and U.K. bomb Iraq over the issue of weapons inspections, even though Security Council is just then meeting to discuss the matter.
  • 1998: U.S. destroys factory producing half of Sudan's pharmaceutical supply, claiming retaliation for attacks on U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya and that factory was involved in chemical warfare. U.S. later acknowledges lack of evidence for the chemical warfare charge.
  • 2000-: Israel uses U.S. arms in attempt to crush Palestinian uprising, killing hundreds of civilians.

(See also works from the above-mentioned William Blum for a similar list as well. As an example, see his book, Rogue State, (Common Courage Press, 2000).)

This is not a complete set of examples, but not atypical of the region either. As also mentioned in the previous section, numerous areas in the region were carved into different territories with monarchs put there. Not all were necessarily oppressive in physical ways. Some restricted cultural, political, and/or economic freedoms. The net result was they did not (and do not) necessarily represent (or perhaps even respect) the actual people of the region entirely.

Furthermore, with the large commissions that accompany arms sales, and the heavy militarization, many accuse their leaders of being easily corruptible. There has also been frustration that the Arab leaders are divided, interested in their own power games within their region and hence unable to unite or present one voice on many issues, including Palestine/Israel.

In that respect, after decades of this, some have felt limited options of where to turn; religion has failed them, their leaders have failed them, those that tried are either seen as bought out, or isolated or in some way not delivering. Fanatics and militants see easy recruitment for their causes, as a result. Hatred is easy to teach. Extremist views are easier to preach (especially with the success of Afghanistan and the Taliban regime in fighting off the Soviets, another feared power).

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With the Cold War over and the West victorious, globalization in its current form was able to spread further. Conflicts also broke out between nations that were within the sphere of Soviet influence, especially in Central Asia, where many were Islamic. Extremist regimes and organizations were involved in participating in those conflicts for separation.

In addition, with globalization, came the increasing spread of western culture to the global South. In the Middle East as well, western products and more importantly, culture, was coming in more so. While around the world, not just the Middle East there has been increasing concern at what is described as cultural imperialism, because of the extremes in the Middle East, for the extremists and fanatics, this has added to the concerns and anti-West feelings that have spilled into violent actions and hatred.

Hardly touched upon on this page has been the economic policies that have accompanied these geopolitical policies. Harsh Structural Adjustment imposition on the Third World for example, as described on this site (see previous link), has deepened poverty for most in the world. Walden Bello, professor of sociology and public administration at the University of the Philippines, and co-director of Thailand-based research organization, Focus on the Global South, describes the harsh geopolitical ramifications well:

[T]he Southern policies of all the key Northern governments on the eve of the twenty-first century are marked by similar features. These include continued support for structural adjustment in the Third World; creation of a new Berlin Wall to prevent the entry of refugees fleeing the devastation of the South; exploitation of tribal fears of racial and ethnic minorities to deflect domestic attention away from structural causes of economic distress; and demonization of Southern figures or institutions, such as Islam, as the new enemy in the post-Cold War era. ... Not surprisingly, the dark vision of the twenty-first century as an era of North-South polarization between privileged white citizens and colored barbarian hordes, or between the Christian West and the Islamic-Confusion Connection, has begun to take hold in the writings of Northern intellectuals.

Walden Bello, Shea Cunningham, Bill Rau, Dark Victory; The United States and Global Poverty, (Food First, Pluto Press, 1994, 1999), p.6

The political economy of globalization therefore has been accompanied by all nations vying to best represent their interests. Of course, the more powerful and stronger nations are better able to represent their interests, which can also have the effect of undermining others. The United States being the most successful and powerful nation on the international political scene therefore weilds incredible power and influence, as Professor Wade of the prestigious London School of Economics, for example, vividly highlights:

These power relations and exercises of statecraft are obscured in the current talk about globalization. Far from being just a collapsing of distance and widening of opportunities for all, the increasing mobility of information, finance, goods and services frees the American government of constraints while more tightly constraining everyone else. Globalization and the global supervisory organizations enable the United States to harness the rest of the world to its own rhythms and structure.

Professor Robert Hunter Wade, America's Empire Rules an Unbalanced World, January 3, 2002

Because we live in such times, it is hard to see or accept that today's global political system, from the perspective of many in the third world, is a continuation of the system of previous decades and centuries, but of course evolved with its own nuances and complexities. Oftentimes, then, military solutions and other aggressive courses of actions are supported without understanding or considering the deeper and long term causes of various situations. S. Brian Willson, a U.S. Vietnam War veteran, now a peace activist highlights an aspect of this quite well:

The most highly decorated Marine Corps General in U.S. history, Smedley D. Butler understood all too well the real nature of the U.S. Marine Corps and U.S. foreign policy in general when he concluded after his retirement in 1931 that during his 33 years as a Marine officer operating on three continents, he served as a high-class muscle man for Big Business, for Wall Street and the bankers...a gangster for capitalism [Smedley D. Butler, America's Armed Forces, Part 2, Common Sense, Vol. 4, No. 11 (Nov. 1935)]. But it seems that that understanding is easily forgotten. General A.M. Gray, former commandant of the U.S. Marine Corps, in 1990 identified threats to the United States as originating from the underdeveloped world's growing dissatisfaction over the gap between rich and poor nations, creating a fertile breeding ground for insurgencies which have the potential to jeopardize regional stability and our access to vital economic and military resources (Marine Corps Gazette, May 1990). Gray understands the structural social and economic problems, but it apparently does not occur to him that the solution might be to directly address the injustices rather than perpetuate them with the use of military force.

S. Brian Willson, Who are the REAL terrorists?, Institute for Policy Research and Development, 1999

Such factors in the Middle East on top of the heavy militarism and political oppression have also contributed to extremism.

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Political leaders are in between a rock and a hard place; the struggle for people's support

Political leaders throughout various regions, be it the Middle East, or Western countries, are in a tough situation, on many fronts. The following is perhaps an oversimplified number of fronts but gives a hint of the challenges:

The people front
Democracy or no democracy, people can and will only take so much. At some point, they will rise up and ask for their demands to be met. This can be via democratic processes, or through various movements, violent or peaceful.
The extremist front
There are always extremists on all sides, everywhere. They are able to exert some influence, to varying degrees and try to garnish popular support if possible. This can be very destabilizing depending on many circumstances and conditions.
The corporate/geopolitical front
There are various interests pulling at leaders to either do or not do something, in relation to some event. This might be to go to war, to enforce economic sanctions, some other form of diplomacy, or deal with such things coming at one's country from others. These interests are often not always the interests of the majority of people.

With various fronts also influencing the mainstream media of that nation/region, then other actors or some of these above actors can have more say, directly or indirectly. One such example is the arms industry, as mentioned in this web site's section on that issue. (See this web site's section on the mainstream media for more examples.) Such influences can affect popular opinions and create support or lack of support on various issues. Gaining popular support or convincing the population has been of major importance. For dictators etc, such propaganda also serves to try to minimize the risk of an uprising. For democracies, where the media's democratic institutions are weak or subject to influences, propaganda can create support.

Hence, in the West, our perceptions of the Middle East are subject to these influences in the mainstream media and elsewhere, just as we point out how the perceptions of the West in the Middle East are subject to influences of extremism.

As a result of these decisions, lives of ordinary citizens, be it the West, Middle East, or elsewhere can be affected.

Stephen Zunes, associate professor of Politics and chair of the Peace & Justice Studies Program at the University of San Francisco, as well as a senior policy analyst and Middle East editor for the Foreign Policy in Focus Project is worth quoting here, in light of the September 11, 2001 atrocity and resulting actions:

To win the war against terrorism, we need to reevaluate our definition of security. The more the U.S. militarizes the Middle East, the less secure we have become. All the sophisticated weaponry, all the brave fighting men and women, and all the talented military leadership we may possess will not stop terrorism as long as our policies cause millions of people hate us.

President George W. Bush is wrong when he claims we are targeted because we are a beacon for freedom. We are targeted because the support of freedom is not part of our policy in the Middle East, which has instead been based upon alliances with repressive governments and support for military occupation. We would be much safer if the U.S. supported a policy based more on human rights, international law, and sustainable development — and less on arms transfers, air strikes, and punitive sanctions.

Stephen Zunes, Bombing Will Not Make U.S. More Secure, Foreign Policy in Focus, October 8, 2001.

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(There are many more examples of incidents and support of regimes, overthrowing popular leaders and replacing with dictators etc, which are not mentioned here, but the sources and links provided detail. Over time, more will be added to this page. None of this justifies terrorism, violence, or killing of innocent civilians, but does try and provide some additional context.)

Additional Notes

* Some notes on the explanation of the Cold War, the threat of nations breaking free, using resources more themselves, and the continuing geopolitical struggle for control of access to those resources and the real containment, etc:

Numerous declassified documents also confirm this history, as well as works by many researchers for years. This has been understood for decades by peoples of the third world, even though this sounds completely opposite to what we have grown up knowing in the West. Yet, from the view point of the elite of the West, their claims were partly true; that is, their concerns were founded in some reality; that they risked losing their resource base from which a large part of their wealth came, from where the industrial engines for their economies were, and are, fueled.

The actions of the West, such as supporting dictators or killing civilians are always explained away as necessary to fight a larger evil, etc. Yet, other regions are not afforded such excuses (rightly so). It is to highlight though, that like any other regions and peoples, the West too have been involved in crimes against humanity. Hence, a more honest acceptance and look at this is needed to understand others perception of the West as well as better options and policies for the future, if peace and social justice for all is the end goal.

In the context of this page, looking at the geopolitical aspects of the Middle East and why there was outside support, I have of course glossed over many important aspects of the wider Cold War, while saying some things which may seem controversial and just treating it as a passing comment! Hence, the following sources, of course by no means exhaustive, are though, themselves very detailed and also provide many more detailed sources to follow for more information:

  • Noam Chomsky Archive provides many articles and online books written by Noam Chomsky, a prominent political analyst. He is a professor of linguistics at MIT.
  • Institute for Economic Democracy provides a detailed account of the last 800 years or so of the battles over the control of resources and the causes of poverty world wide (as well as ideas on how to solve them based on a more democratic and cooperative form of capitalism).
  • The National Security Archive from George Washington University archives declassified U.S. documents, based on the Freedom of Information Act.
  • Food First has published many books and articles that describe the gains made in development by various countries before they faced coups, destabilizations, overthrows of leaders and so on.
  • Emperors Clothes web site provides a large number of articles on geopolitics and foreign policy issues.
  • Peter Gowan, Global Gamble, (Verso Press, 1999), in particular, chapter 8.
  • ZMagazine's MidEast Watch provides many articles.
  • Walden Bello, Shea Cunningham, Bill Rau, Dark Victory; The United States and Global Poverty, foreword by Susan George, (Food First, Pluto Press, 1994, 1999)
  • Killing civilians to show that killing civilians is wrong by Zoltan Grossman gives a briefing on the history of U.S. military interventions, in wake of the September 11, 2000 terrorist attacks on the United States.
  • Elsewhere on this web site are other sections discussing related issues, where yet more sources are available:

I thought it would be worth also addressing what some might describe as conspiracy theory here. With the numerous films and television programs like The Matrix, The X-files, etc, it is easy to read all this and think this is some sort of elaborate conspiracy theory. It is not. In fact, as these sources also show, this is a deeper study of institutional powers, power abuse by states, ideologies and belief systems. From a Western perspective these are hard to accept (as I initially found myself), but from other cultures' perspectives (and digging back to understanding from my own Eastern culture's perspectives), these processes have been understood informally for generations, through unfortunate experiences. The sources listed above are more systematic analysis of such perspectives and also address this issue. For additional examples of discussion on these differences between conspiracies and analysis of power see the following:

  • Conspiracy Theory; A problem to avoid by Michael Albert, ZMagazine
  • Noam Chomsky Archive has a large collection of articles and on line books that relate to this issue as well.
  • Bello, sourced above, in particular Chapter 1, pp. 3 - 4.
  • Institute for Economic Democracy, mentioned above, provides a systematic look at the factors behind the struggle for the control of resources over the past centuries, including power politics, belief systems and so forth.
  • Mainstream Media from this web site provides a look at some of the problems within the current system that affects the influences and perspectives that dominate the media. This does not directly deal with conspiracies as such, but looks at some of the systemic problems that affect a more open and democratic media. Concentration of ownership, for example leads to a reduction in diversity of views, and while there is intense debate and freedom of discussion within those views, reduction in diversity leads to narrowing perspectives, and easily missing out wider and additional issues, etc.

Does this imply the world's people are always doomed to power struggles by various regions, regimes and/or cultures? Well, with the scarcity mentality — that there aren't enough resources to go around, and we have to watch out for number one — and the fear of changing one's living standards, then perhaps yes. However, as described in the behind consumption section of this web site, there is such an incredible amount of waste of capital, labor and resources within the system (in part to maintain and support these power struggles) that the technological and other gains we have made in efficiency are not really being realized. And yet, for some time now we have had the means to share these gains, but also importantly, to eliminating the waste. Further, living standards would not need to drop much at all. On top of that, all can gain economic rights and freedoms, not just some twenty percent of humanity. A threat of this idea is that power and influence is shared and dissipated. Of course, summarizing an entire section here in a few sentences glosses over many details and problems, which is introduced in more detail in the above-mentioned section.

The last thing to quickly address here, is that with the mention of waste elimination and sharing in the previous paragraph and with the look at the power play of the Cold War, it is easy to conclude that my suggestions are some how Marxist or communist. I can only repy by saying they are not. In fact, the sharing of wealth does not mean totalitarian, centralized planning to ensure this happens. It does not mean taking away rights. It implies addressing excessive and unfair, or unequal, rights of some that have been at the direct expense of others. It implies elimination of subtle concentrations of ownerships and monopolies to allow a more cooperative and democratic capitalism to be given a chance. It implies extending rights to everyone, not denying rights to over half of humanity. For far more depth in this area, visit the Institute for Economic Democracy web site.

[Note also that the use of a country name or region often implies the government. That is, often mentioned is something like the U.S. did this or Iraq did that, etc, when it is usually implied to be the political leaders. This is commonly done in news analysis. (For example, a journalist might write, Today Switzerland declared, when obviously a given country itself is not capable of declaring anything!)]

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Author and Page Information

  • by Anup Shah
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Alternatives for broken links

Sometimes links to other sites may break beyond my control. Where possible, alternative links are provided to backups or reposted versions here.