...a massive belt of oil and gas resources.

In this series of reflections, I have looked at various aspects of Western involvement in the Middle East, and in the Wider Middle East as well. The latter term refers, as Craig Murray defines it, to ‘the Middle East as we understand it, plus the Caucasus and Central Asia, which is of course a massive belt of oil and gas resources.’ Given his stress, it makes sense to include North Africa too in any generalizations of the subject.

I realize of course that my generalizations are just that, simply points to be pondered if we are to make sense of what is going on in the region. I have looked at the moral aspects of actions and reactions, while noting that it does not make sense to expect consistency of outlook or indeed any commitment to principle in the dealings of the various nations concerned.

I have looked too at the historical record, since this is often forgotten. It is important to remember the manner in which various nation states were constituted after the two World Wars, and then how some of them changed governments through revolutions. I referred to the socialist military bent of the most notable of these revolutions, and pointed out how the West, in reacting to these, thought regimes based on religion preferable. Indeed it is worth noting here that one reason for the British desire to see an independent Pakistan (as indicated both by Narendra Singh Sarila and Jaswant Singh in their recent accounts of the struggle for Indian independence) was the view that India would be governed by dangerous socialists, and solidly conservative Muslims were more likely to continue loyal to the West.

Whilst this predilection seems ironic now, I noted too how the West persisted with it in spite of the religious character of the 1979 revolution in Iran, papering over any cracks in the theory with a spurious distinction between Shiites and Sunnis. However I also noted that it was a mistake to see opposition to the West as arising simply amongst fundamentalists, and pointed out that the manner in which the West set up and protected Israel, in particular with regard to its continuing acquisition of land that had belonged to displaced and displaceable Palestinians, had contributed heavily to resentment against what is seen as unjust bullying.

I then spent some time looking at one way the West sought to resolve this problem, namely by buying over Muslims who would be supportive of Israel. Whether it is seriously thought that this would pave the way to general Islamic support of Israel, so that those who oppose it could be characterized as fanatical, must be a moot point. Certainly the choice of allies for this purpose suggests either stupidity or absolute cynicism.

Underlying this all, I should note more clearly, is a fluidity about Western policy, given the different priorities of different persons. Thus we have the moral perspectives of people like Craig Murray which can then be picked up later when the totally amoral approach fails, we have different layers of support for Israel and its excesses, we have different views at different times as to how to deal with people like Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein (who was after all flavor of the month to the Americans when he was at war with Iran) and even Mullah Omar.

What is not clear is whether there is a root cause of all the actions and attitudes we have witnessed over the years. My own view is that it was basically the thirst for power and influence that the West has satisfied over the years. This is connected with the need for defence against the power and influence of others, but we know that, long before the Cold War, Europe thirsted for power and influence in the world, aggressively so after the Industrial Revolution.

I have no doubt in fact that the profit motive lay behind the third wave of the colonial enterprise. By this I mean that the first wave was essentially for the purpose of trade, to buy cheap and sell dear, with exploitation being of markets at home. The Dutch began the process of seeking monopolies, but still the purpose was to acquire abroad and sell at home.

The second wave was that of settlement, when the Europeans found relatively empty lands or lands they were able to empty quite quickly, and settle their surplus populations. This happened in America and in Australia, and in parts of Africa, though it could not of course happen in Asia.

The third wave then is the one that saw advantage in large populations, which then became markets for goods the Europeans produced, often using raw materials obtained from those populations – though we should also register and appreciate the goods and services they produced by virtue of the industrial revolution.

I had long thought that the Americans decided, given their democratic predilections, that securing markets could be done without owning countries, and this explains their relatively liberal approach after the Second World War, when they contributed to independence for countries in Asia – and indeed led the way with freeing the Philippines. Unfortunately the Europeans managed in Africa to develop the concept of client states, and the result was that democracy fell by the wayside. Sadly, largely I felt because of their obsession with the Cold War, the Americans fell in with this approach.

But the situation changed about a quarter of a century ago, not only because of the end of the Cold War, but because of the emergence of sophisticated national resistance movements in South Africa, and many parts of South America, and elsewhere. By and large the new governments that were established enjoyed good relations with the West.

George W. Bush - Address to the Nation 17 March 2003

But the situation was different in the Middle East, and that perhaps explains the determination to secure regime change in some countries. And though I think there are other reasons too, I should note that at least one perceptive Western observer believes that the main motivating factor is greed.

Let me conclude then with Craig Murray’s comments on the invasion of Iraq – ‘In the very early stages of our invasion, I saw on BBC World a speech by George Bush justifying the attack.  Having seen what I had of the read motives and methods of US foreign policy, I was just appalled  at the sanctimonious crap. I could contain myself no longer and the next day fired off another telegram to Jack Straw, copied widely to our embassies around the world.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton with Uzbek president Islam Karimov in Tashkent - 22 Oct 2011

From Tashkent, I said, it was impossible to believe that US foreign policy was about freedom. It seemed to be about oil, gas and hegemony – and in Tashkent, the US saw supporting Karimov as the best way to pursue these ends. This could not be squared with our policy in Iraq. Why were we going to war to remove Saddam Hussein while subsidizing Karimov?’

Daily News 5 July 2011 – http://www.dailynews.lk/2011/07/05/fea15.asp