It is times like this I miss my friend Barry Rubin even more than usual. I could really use his guidance in covering this conflict. In a way he did leave me some guidance. Like the post below which originally ran in March 2013. But it is relevant to today. In the essay below Barry explains why the liberals always take the side of groups like Hamas……Once again my friend and teacher is spot on.
By Barry Rubin
Let’s examine claims from the
radical academia currently hegemonic in North America and Europe. What
is fascinating is that a well-informed observer can easily demolish such
claims. That’s precisely why such people are not being trained today
and those who do exist must be discredited or ignored to keep students
(and the general public) relatively ignorant.
To paraphrase George Santayana’s famous statement, those who fail to learn from history make fun of those who do.
I know that the situation has become far worse in recent years, having
vivid memories of how my two main Middle East studies professors—both
Arabs, both anti-Israel, and one of them a self-professed Marxist—had
contempt for Edward Said and the then new, radical approach to the
subject. At one graduate seminar, the students–every single one of them
hostile to Israel but not, as today is often the case, toward
America–literally broke up in laughter pointing out the fallacies in
Said’s Orientalism. Today, no one would dare talk that way, it would be
Let me now take a single example of the radical
approach so common today and briefly explain how off-base it is. I
won’t provide detailed documentation here but could easily do so.
The question is: Who in the Middle East was the tool of imperialism?
Most likely the professors and their students, at least their graduate
student acolytes, would respond: Israel. Not at all.
and During World War One era. It can be easily documented that the
French subsidized and encouraged Arab nationalism before the war and
during it the British took over, sponsoring the Arab nationalist revolt
against the Ottoman Empire. Before the war, Islamism was sponsored by
the Ottoman Empire in order to keep control over the region and battle
Arab nationalism. For their part, the Germans sided with the Ottomans
and encouraged Islamism.
What about Zionism? The British did
not issue the Balfour Declaration, supporting a Jewish national home,
because they saw Zionism as a useful tool in their long-term Middle East
policy. In fact, they were interested in the wartime mobilizing Jewish
support elsewhere, specifically to get American Jews to support the
United States entering the war on Britain’s side and Russian Jews in
keeping that country in the war. Both efforts did not have much effect.
At any rate, long-term British policy always saw maximizing Arab support
as its priority.
While having promised Jews a national home, British policy soon
turned away from supporting Zionism and certainly from backing a Jewish
state, even by the early 1920s, realizing that having the Arabs as
clients was a far more valuable prize. It was through local Arab elites
that the British built their imperial position in the region. The French
toyed a bit with Arab nationalism as a way to undermine British rule
but also backed Arab elites. The new Soviet Union actually sponsored
Islamism for several years as a way of undermining both British and
French in the region.
The only exception was T.E. Lawrence
(Lawrence of Arabia) and a few other visionaries who thought that both
Arab nationalism and Zionism could co-exist under British sponsorship.
That concept didn’t last very long and had no policy influence beyond
the early 1920s at most.
–Before and During World War Two
Realizing that it needed Arab support to fight in the coming war,
the British followed an appeasement policy that was quite willing to
sacrifice the Jews for Arab help—or at least non-interference—in the
battle. If the Arab side had cooperated with these pre-war plans, Arab
Palestine might have emerged in 1948, with the Jews driven out or
massacred shortly after.
Instead, the radical Arabs—both
nationalists and Islamists—made a deal with the Axis. Germany and Italy
supported these forces in order to destroy the British and French
position in the region, just as the Germans had done in World War One.
While the British worked with the Zionists during the war on common
endeavors, there was never any notion that a Jewish state would aid
British interests in the region. Quite the opposite. The British focused
on moderate Egyptian and Iraqi politicians plus the kings of Saudi
Arabia and Jordan.
–After World War Two
The British quickly sought to use moderate Arab forces to ensure
their position. That’s why they were the real founders of the Arab
League. The Zionists fought the British. The United States supported
partition of the Palestine mandate and the creation of Israel but with
no strategy of using Israel as a tool in Middle East policy. Indeed, the
United States had no ambitions in the region at the time. Israel was
largely ignored by the United States during its first two decades of
The sole exception to the general pattern emerging
was that the French did cooperate with Israel during several years of
the 1950s, and the British for a briefer period at that time, to counter
a radical Egyptian government (the Suez Affair of 1956) but in the
British case that period lasted for a few months and ended decisively
before the end of the year.
The U.S. government at first
adapted the too-clever-by-half attitude that it could use the Arab
armies as a modernizing force that would be simultaneously
anti-Communist and opposed to the corrupt old system. Then it thought
perhaps Islamism would make a useful anti-Communist force. It helped
stage a coup (or counter-coup) in Iran when it feared–with reason–that
the Communists were becoming too strong. Mostly, though, it tried to
use Iran, Turkey, and some moderate Arab forces (but not Israel) to
counter the pro-Soviet Arab camp.
–The Recent Era
Only after 1970, did the United States start to support Israel as
part of the Cold War fight against the USSR and its local Arab allies.
During the following decades, American policy also backed a number of
Arab states which, for their own survival, also needed to ensure the
Soviets and their allies didn’t triumph. At any rate, this was a
defensive measure and if you believe that the Cold War struggle against
Communism was a Western imperialist action then…you are probably a
The idea in U.S. policy regarding Israel
was that the country effectively combated radical, pro-Soviet clients
to prevent the USSR and its allies from taking over the region. Israel
was useless, however, regarding the oil-rich Persian Gulf. It is
important to stress the point that the United States wanted Israel to
defeat pro-Soviet Egypt and Syria. The idea, of course, was to resolve
all of the contradictions by brokering an Arab-Israeli peace agreement
so the United States could be allies with both sides at once and
undercut the appeal or usefulness of the Soviet Union. This was the
basis for American policymakers pushing Israel to make more concessions
in the hope of achieving peace or at least of easing tensions. In
Washington, or at least in the State Department, Israel was viewed as a
liability because–parallel to the pre-1948 British view–it made it
harder to gain and enjoy total cooperation from Arab clients. From a
radical perspective, then, the truth is that Israel impeded rather than
furthered “American imperialism.”
A lot more can be written on
this subject but historically inasmuch as there was any European or
American “imperialism” it made use of Arab political factors along with,
at times, Turkey. One major reason why the State Department generally
opposed a pro-Israel policy is precisely because it interfered with
their perceived need for Arab backing against the USSR and radical
forces in the region. While various presidents and White House
officials—beginning with Richard Nixon and Henry Kissinger—saw Israel as
a useful ally in the Cold War (that’s when the aid and military sales
originated), the goal in that context wasn’t building an empire but
defending freedom from expansionist Communism and its allies.
Oh, yes, and the French thought they could use Ayatollah Ruhollah
Khomeini in 1979 (as they once thought, in 1946, to use Palestine Arab
leader and then-recent Nazi collaborator Amin al-Hussaini) to take over
Iran and be nice to Paris. In neither case did things work out too
Of course, the debate today is so structured as to leave
out the fact that local countries can also be imperialistic in that
they seek to take over the entire region or most of it. The modern
history of the Middle East has been characterized by a battle between
Egyptian, Syrian, and Iraqi imperialism seeking to gobble up Lebanon,
Jordan, Israel, the Palestinians, the Gulf monarchies, and each other.
Today, the nationalist motives have simply been replaced by an
Islamist-driven drive to gain hegemony in the region with Iran and
Turkey added to the mix. There’s a long-term dream of reestablishing a
caliphate. But the more realistic goal is that of old-fashioned
imperialism, hegemony, and creating a sphere of influence for the
country and regime involved.
Ironically, the Obama
Administration pro-Islamist policy is in the tradition of the view that
“more moderate” Arab forces can be used against radical threats. In this
case, unfortunately, the purported moderates are “mainstream” Islamist
forces like the Muslim Brotherhood who will supposedly combat al-Qaida
and other Salafists. The point is that all this cleverness of using
radical ideological movements almost always failed or even backfired.
This approach puts Obama into the strange company of a disastrously
failed German policy that thought it could manipulate Islamists against
the British and French, the French strategy of using radicals against
the British and Americans, or the Eisenhower Administration that thought
for a few years (1953-1956) it could help radical nationalists—notably
Egypt’s Gamal Abdel Nasser—and then Islamists against pro-Soviet
leftists. Of course, Nasser soon emerged as the main pro-Soviet leader,
just as the Islamists will soon emerge as the main anti-American force
in the region.
In fact, we’ve reached the point where–from a
radical Arab point of view–one could say that the United States is
trying to make Islamism a tool of Western imperialism! After all, isn’t
the U.S. government backing a local ideology’s regimes and movements
because it [albeit wrongly] believes that this is the best choice to
secure its own objectives in the region?
And the Obama
Administration has also been trying to do so alongside distancing itself
from Israel somewhat. Those two factors matches the classic, historic
British and French imperial strategy in the region. This wouldn’t be the
first time that a Western country backed a supposed puppet that turned
out to be a puppeteer-eating one.
Barry Rubin is
director of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) Center
and editor of the Middle East Review of International Affairs (MERIA)
Journal. His latest book, Israel: An Introduction, has just been published by Yale University Press. Thirteen of his books can be read and downloaded for free at the website of the GLORIA Center
including The Arab States and the Palestine Conflict, The Long War for
Freedom: The Arab Struggle for Democracy in the Middle East and The
Truth About Syria. His blog is Rubin Reports. His original articles are published at PJMedia.