Top 10 Things Mitt Romney Gets Dead Wrong about U.S. Policy in the Middle East
Photo Credit: AFP.
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Gov. Romney published an op-ed on Monday criticizing President Obama’s Middle East policies. Aside from urging ‘strength,’ however, Romney offers no concrete alternative. And, he completely misunderstands the history of the US role in the region, which causes him to misunderstand its present dilemmas.
“The first step is to understand how we got here. Since World War II, America has been the leader of the Free World. We’re unique in having earned that role not through conquest but through promoting human rights, free markets and the rule of law. We ally ourselves with like-minded countries, expand prosperity through trade and keep the peace by maintaining a military second to none.”
In fact, the United States after World War II was mainly concerned with securing petroleum for its European and Asian allies, and with keeping Communist influence out. These interests caused it to promote dictatorship, not democracy.
1. In 1953, the United States overthrew the elected, parliamentary government of Mohammad Mosaddegh in Iran, at the insistence of Big Oil. Iran had nationalized its petroleum, and Mosaddegh had allowed Communists (along with liberals and fundamentalist ayatollahs) into his coalition. The US CIA thus implemented a coup plan originally drawn up by Britain’s MI6 on behalf of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP). The king, Mohammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was brought back and installed as a capitalist dictator, his secret police trained by the CIA. Romney doesn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of understanding Iran’s current resentments toward the US if he doesn’t know we installed a dictator there. Moreover, the US, France and Britain winked at or actively helped Israel get the nuclear bomb, and allowed it to blackmail Middle Eastern rivals with it, inspiring the Islamic Republic of Iran with fear that the US and its ally would try to dominate or overthrow it.
2. The US tried to build up the Wahhabi, fundamentalist king of Saudi Arabia, one of the world’s last absolute monarchs, as the natrual leader of an reinvigorated Islam. Presidents Eisenhower and Reagan were most invested in this promotion of Saudi Arabia as regional leader, in part because they feared that Islam was collapsing and being replaced by a kind of secularism that might lean left and go socialist or Communist. All of the absolute monarchies of the Middle East have been faithful clients of the United States, and no American president has ever brought up democracy or the rule of law with Saudi Arabia or any of the others. In fact, Reagan even pressured the Saudis to donate money to right wing groups and governments in Central America, contributing to death squads and the collapse of the rule of law there. By encouraging governmental and private Saudi efforts to intervene to overthrow Communist Afghanistan in the 1980s, the Reagan administration contributed to the creation of al-Qaeda, the Mojahedin and their successor, the Taliban. Muslim militancy comes in part out of US anti-Communism and use of Islam and preference for private anti-communist militias.
3. In 1967, Israel captured Gaza and the West Bank, Palestinian territories that had not been awarded to Israel even by the 1947 UN General Assembly partition plan (which itself had little authority since the Security Council never passed it). Under the UN Charter, it is illegal for post-WW II states to simply annex their neighbors’ territory by war. By both the Hague Regulations of 1907 and the Geneva Convention of 1949, it is illegal for an Occupying power to alter the lifeways of occupied populations or to transfer their own citizens into occupied territories. Despite occasionally paying lip service to these principles of international law, the United States has de facto backed to the hilt the Israeli Occupation of millions of stateless Palestinians, and the gradual creation of an Apartheid, replete with bantustans, checkpoints, identity passes, denial of basic human rights, and even, in the case of the Gaza Strip, forbidding most exports under a Draconian blockade of the civilian population. This outbreak of settler colonialism in the region is absolutely unacceptable to all 300 million Arabs and a constant source of tension between the Arab world and the US. There is nothing the least bit democratic or redolent of the rule of law about the way the Israelis control the West Bank. At the same time, the Israelis annexed the Golan Heights from Syria, a step the US more or less supports, making for tense relations with Damascus (it is illegal to annex territory from your neighbor).