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 university professor.
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 well.
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.
About the Author: Professor 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. See the GLORIA/MERIA site at www.gloria-center.org.
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