The Clare Spark Blog

September 11, 2009

Oil politics and Obama’s “Israel”

Herbert Feis, economic advisor to FDR

Since James Traficant, ex-Congressman from Youngstown Ohio, newly released from jail, appeared on Fox last night (9-10-09) on Greta Van Susteren’s program, and since he explained recent American interventions in the Middle East as a product of omnipotent Jewish machinations (machinations that eventuated in the understandable attacks of September 11, 2001!), I thought it appropriate to review 1. the importance of oil to American interests as early as the middle of the second world war; and 2. Obama’s abysmal ignorance of the dynamics of the Arab-Israeli conflict, let alone the diplomacy surrounding the founding of Israel and America’s ambiguous role in it.

Here is a passage from Obama’s second book, The Audacity of Hope, subtly reiterating the hostile Arab narrative at the end of the second world war (i.e., the Holocaust was Europe’s doing, and Arab states should not be asked to bear the burden of the sins of others: the Jews should disperse and return to their countries of origin. This argument has never changed).  I believe it is an indication of the Obama presidency’s likely attitude toward the U.S. role in mediating the conflict between Israel and her neighbors. He briefly reminisces about his trip to the region:

[Obama:] “I talked to Jews who’d lost parents in the Holocaust and brothers in suicide bombings; I heard Palestinians talk of the indignation of checkpoints and reminisce about the land they had lost. I flew by helicopter across the line separating the two peoples and found myself unable to distinguish Jewish towns from Arab towns, all of them like fragile outposts against the green [sic?] and stony hills.

We have an obligation to engage in efforts to bring about peace in the Middle East, not only for the safety and security of the people of the region, but for the safety and security of our own children.” (Audacity of Hope, p.322. Can you decode these statements without me, readers? The U.S. was never neutral, and is not now. The conflict was not about two peoples fighting over the same piece of land–the cycle of violence frame to the conflict– but was about the fears of a disunited group of Arab states fearful of their own impoverished populations, and terrified of an advanced democracy, keen on economic development, planted in their region. All other explanations come from corporatist liberals who think both sides are irrational and susceptible to mediation by the neutral intervention of more rational and compassionate powers. On corporatist liberalism, see https://clarespark.com/2009/08/09/what-is-a-corporatist-liberal-and-why-should-they-frighten-us/ . Heaven forbid that Israel should conduct negotiations with its neighbors without U.S. bullying.)

In these three sentences (I found no other pages on the subject), could we have made inferences about Obama’s likely foreign policy, or his grasp of the politics, history, and geography of Israel and its environs prior to the election? Will it be continuous with that of Roosevelt administration official Herbert Feis, one of Roosevelt’s economic advisors? This is what Feis wrote in his concluding thoughts on international cooperation regarding Middle East oil, published in 1946, but referring to failed U.S. government initiatives in 1943-44 and centering on Saudi Arabia:

[Feis:]”…no program having merely to do with the protection of oil resources can prevent them from becoming a cause of dispute if the great powers quarrel about the political control of the region. If any one of them takes measures hostile to the others or encourages threatening attacks against established political positions of the others, then each oil field in the Middle East will be the scene of turmoil, plot, and counterplot.

Within the next year this may become a grave danger. Arab opposition to further Jewish immigration in Palestine might express itself in a repudiation of existing American and British rights and a search for Russian protection in such measures. This is highly unlikely; but if such a situation arises, it must be ardently hoped that the USSR will not exploit it. There will only be “order in oil” if the large powers work with, not against, each other in the management of the political affairs of the Arab states. Otherwise, any international agreement on oil will be without future. Its phrases would be merely weapons to wound.

Here lies the test of future diplomacy. If it fails, there will be no harmonious way of assuring the availability of Middle Eastern oil to the United States. Whether or not we protect established American enterprises in the regions against the troubles that may beset them will become primarily a matter of military calculation. We shall have to bend over those plotting boards on which the rights and destinies of nations are measured solely in units of force. In other words, we shall be in the anteroom of war.” [Herbert Feis, Seen from E.A., pp189-190]

As I will show in future blogs, the U.S. was concerned solely with protecting oil supplies that would be vital for the restoration of Western Europe as a bulwark against the Soviet Union, and this entailed maintaining the alliance with Great Britain, a shaky one as the war ended. (If you don’t believe me, read Skidelsky in vol. 3 of his Keynes biography.) Hence during the various UN interventions in the conflict between the aspiring, then actual, Jewish state and its neighbors (1947-49), the U.S. looked to its own long term interests. The notion that the U.S. elites were ever a disinterested, morally motivated friend to Jews and Israelis, let alone supine in their acquiescence to New York Jews and their votes or Hollywood and its propaganda, is a convenient myth for populist politicians in the U.S. and anti-Western forces elsewhere.

In my view, the primary reasons that a Jewish state exists today are 1. the temporary diplomatic and material support of the Soviet Union (secret arms shipments from Czechoslovakia that angered Bunche, who saw the Israelis as likely communists and undoubtedly expansionist), deployed in the expectation that  Israel would join the Soviet bloc, while throwing Great Britain out of the region; and 2. the willingness of Israeli Jews to take huge casualties to defend its tiny nation. It was only Israeli military victories in defiance of UN interference that brought Egypt to the negotiating table in early 1949, and the armistices that were mediated by Ralph Bunche were not for peace and defensible borders, but for a halt in the fighting, for Israel was expected to conquer yet more territory. [This latter interpretation is based upon my reading of the Ralph Bunche papers at UCLA, collected by Sir Brian Urquhart as he wrote his biography of Bunche. For another blog on this subject, see https://clarespark.com/2014/05/17/miracle-man-ralph-bunche-saves-the-un/.]

It is crucial to understand that without oil from the region, the Marshall Plan would have failed, for oil was central to the economic recovery of Western Europe. America’s own supplies were already drying up. It was not just romantic Arabism in the U.S. State Department that determined U.S. policy, but the Cold War. Current misconceptions about the love of the U.S. for “the Jews” or for Israel only lead us away from the economic-political reasons for U.S. policy. Isolationists and populists from the likes of Traficant or Patrick Buchanan or, to climb up a notch in the status ladder,  Walt and Mearsheimer, are patently absurd when they claim that the “Israeli lobby” determines U.S. foreign policy. It is even more shocking when Jewish leftists or left-liberals echo their ignorance about the history of the region.

These are my thoughts on the anniversary of the attacks of 9-11-01, and I fear that they are all too relevant. Norman Podhoretz is going around complaining that Jews are too liberal. I wish that he would complain about the ignorance of diplomatic history or the indifference to it, as evidenced in the schools and in the media.

[Added 4-11-10: see this recently declassified document http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/US-Israel/CriticalIncidentNo.14.pdf. Although heavily redacted, it validates my analysis that the Cold War context was crucial to writing diplomatic histories of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that the U.S. was ready to intervene if Israel attempted to expand its borders beyond the 1949 armistice lines. Throughout the State Department document, the desire for “stability” in the region is paramount. U.S. policy is clearly stated.]

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