As for economic interests, which are supposed to be the essence of imperialism, the United States had only one of those in the Middle East: oil. And the goal of access to oil or actual control over it was certainly not furthered by Israel. That’s why the petroleum companies are always anti-Israel, if only to impress their Arab partners or hosts.
States had only one of those in the Middle East: oil. And the goal of access to oil or actual control over it was certainly not furthered by Israel. That’s why the petroleum companies are always anti-Israel, if only to impress their Arab partners or hosts.
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 Today, the nationalist motives have simply been replaced by an Islamist-driven drive to gain hegemony in the region with Iran and Turkey added to the mix.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’s 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 match 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.