Divide and Rule By William Bowles

7 August 2003

All too predictably, the debate on the US/Israeli relationship has unleashed all too familiar themes. On the one hand, there are those who roll out the ‘Zionist conspiracy’ rubbish about how Jews control the world banking system, the media etc. On the other, the predictable slurs which come from those who cry ‘anti-Semite’ at anyone who dares attack Israel’s (mini)-Imperialist, racist and religious fundamentalist policies. My mailbox now contains a wide variety of the above, plus some unclassifiables.

I suppose at this point I should declare my ethnic/cultural/national origins before continuing, as if somehow, this will validate or otherwise, my position, but I won’t (and it won’t), except to say that like many Brits (though few care to admit it), I’m of mongrel extraction and proud of my mixed heritage that gives me a foot in many camps so to speak.

Such is the nature of the debate around Israel, dominated more by myth than reason and the legacy of imperialism that has taken the tactic of divide and rule to stratospheric heights. So much so, that rational analysis flies out of the window, smothered in obsfucation and emotional rhetoric. But then, this is the whole point of divide and rule isn’t it.

At this point, one is tempted to launch into an historical unpacking of the role of Zionism in the imperialist trajectory, from the Balfour Declaration to the founding of the state of Israel following WWII, but of course I doubt it will make any difference to those who adopt one extreme position or the other.

What cannot be avoided is the ‘special relationship’ that exists between US and Israeli imperialism, regardless of one’s views on whether or not Israel has the ‘right’ to exist. What has to be unpacked is the nature of this relationship and what purpose it serves.

At the root of this current debate is the false idea that the Israeli tail wags the US dog, something that I thought had been laid to rest in these columns, but obviously not. Moreover, this is closely connected to a comparable and equally false idea, that a ‘cabal’ of extreme rightwingers has taken possession of the White House.

It is no coincidence that right-wing Zionism and right-wing Christian fundamentalism should be found in bed together, they share many of the same views. But let’s not confuse these views with the fundamental objectives of US Imperialism, except to say they serve a common purpose; to impose a Western hegemon on the Middle East. And for as long as they assist each other, they will remain ‘lovers’. But nothing lasts forever, especially love affairs.

If I have learned anything about the duplicity of US imperialism, it’s that it owes no allegiance to anybody, state, or ideology except its own dominant economic class and the political class that serves its interests. Any analysis of the past fifty years clearly demonstrates this as I have shown in these columns in past essays.

History is a conspiracy of the powerful

The current ultra right-wing policies of the US have a long pedigree, one that extends back as far as one cares to look. US policies have always been dictated by the degree to which basically, what it can get away with.

The key players in the current Bush administration are all recycled Reagan rightwingers from the 1980s (‘Axis of Evil,’ the flipside of the ‘Evil Empire’). Some go back to the Nixon years and even beyond. What we see now is part of a continuum that extends right back to the Bolshevik revolution of 1917. It is based upon the idea that any challenge to Imperialism, whatever its form, will not be tolerated. This goes just as much for the smallest of ‘comprador’ states such as Nicaragua or Grenada whose pretensions to Communism, were tenuous at best, as it did for the‘Evil Empire’. The common denominator is that they challenged the hegemony of US capital.

Anti-communism, was the mantra, the ‘ global terrorist network’ of yore, through which, any challenge to the US was subsumed. It was the Pavlovian conditioned reflex of the Cold War years just as ‘Islamic terrorist’ is today. Labeling any challenge to the US hegemon as ‘communist’ had the same effect as calling a country a ‘rogue state’.

Global capital triumphs?

The single most important event that has created the current situation is the demise of the Soviet Union, the seeds of which were sown during the Reagan/Thatcher years. The importance of this event cannot be overestimated. It is central to any analysis made of the current situation. Ignore it at your peril.

All calculations made by the Imperium are based upon the newly created space opened up to capitalism by the demise of the USSR, eg the move Eastward, bankrupting incipient Russian capitalism ($300 billion dollars siphoned out of Russia during the early post-Soviet years); the ability to launch wars without fear of retribution, Blah’s newfound urge to recreate the Empire etc.

The argument, often advanced by some on the Left, that the USSR was ‘merely’ the flipside of Capitalism, masquerading as a friend of the poor world, has some substance when viewed in the context of the constant attacks on the USSR since its foundation. In other words, the USSR saw everything as being determined by the need to defend itself against Imperialism. Whether it was ‘real’ socialism or not, is I think, neither here nor there in the larger scheme of things. Debates in the pub after political meetings are the proper place for that discussion.

However, this in no way alters my fundamental argument that for whatever reason, the existence of the USSR curbed and constrained US imperialist plans. And what more proof does one need than that of the last thirteen years of imperialist expansion?

The importance of Vietnam

The Vietnam war was a turning point for US Imperialism for it marked the first time that US objectives had been thwarted. It also came at the same time as the first ‘energy crisis’; the challenge to US racism at home and it also marked the period where national liberation movements had, by and large succeeded in achieving national (if not economic) independence.

It was also the period of Watergate, the Pentagon Papers, and the domestic challenge and defeat of the rule of Nixon/Kissinger, ultra-right-wing ‘cabal’ of the early 1970s. The Carter years that followed, that came between Nixon and Reagan were in part a backlash against Vietnam/Watergate etc. A ‘cooling off’ period, during which history could be rewritten before Imperialism moved on. It came because there was a crisis of confidence in the US ruling elite that needed a Carter.

So too, the Clinton presidency can be viewed as an interregnum period, following the demise of the USSR, during which a new global imperialist policy was formulated and tested eg, the Gulf War of 1990, before once more returning to the almost continuous imperialist trajectory of the 20th century with Bush the Smaller ascending the throne.

The Centrality of the Middle East

Most, if not all the states of the Middle East are effectively client states of the US in one way or another, with the exception of Syria, even as the US supported Israel during the Cold War years. However, the need to counter Soviet influence, which because the USSR had cultural, religious, ethnic and geographic connections to Arab culture, gave it the edge over the US. This is also because US racist ideology has informed its capitalist ideology, ie the white, Anglo-Saxon, Judeo-Christian ideology has precluded actual cultural penetration of Arab countries by the US hegemon.

This highlights the contradictions created through the US tying itself so closely to the settler regime of Israel (parallels with US support of Apartheid South Africa and the close ties between Israel and South Africa are worth noting here). And note too, that Apartheid ended on the ‘cusp’, in 1990 when the USSR destructed.

This critical period enabled a ‘door’ to be open for a brief period during which countries like South Africa and Namibia could operate with some degree of freedom from foreign intervention. The ‘interregnum’ period again. Wanna bet what would be happening if the ANC and its alliance partners were challenging Apartheid now instead of in 1990?

The US/Israeli alliance was born in a different time, the Cold War. And it is true that for as long as it works to US imperialism’s advantage, they will continue to support/use Israel as a divisive force in the Middle East, either as a proxy or, where necessary, in support of policies that further US objectives. However, if Israel’s extremist/fascist policies get in the way, they will not hesitate to dump them or get them to make greater concessions (eg see the latest criticism on the wall Israel is building), although for obvious reasons, this won’t happen overnight. (As I write, I’m listening to an American ‘liberal’ on the BBC saying that there’s no way that the US will use threats of withdrawing financial support in order to force Sharon to curtail/take down the wall).

Public rhetoric is one thing, but you can be sure that behind the scenes discussions are taking place. However, whether or not Bush and co can produce a solution that satisfies all the parties is quite another. What I am absolutely sure of, is that the ‘road map’ leads to a complete dead-end. Either, total barbarism will be the result (ie expulsions) or sanity will prevail.

Much of what is happening re the Israeli ‘clique’ in the White House, is, I believe merely fortuitous (they share one thing in common however, and that is virulent US racism, something that I continue to look at in my pieces, which much of the Left ignores the importance of, largely because they’re mostly white, I suppose).

Tonkin Gulf, 21st century style

The question of whether 911 benefited Israel (or at least they perceived that it would), is I think, obvious, if you assume that they knew, ultimately that it would result in the US attacking Iraq. It’s interesting that the Israelis bombed the Osiraq reactor in 1981 when the US was backing Iraq. The two tracks don’t contradict each other, anymore than increasing criticism of Israel negates fundamental support of it, especially if it aids in smoothing the way for US penetration of the Middle East.

There is nevertheless, a major contradiction between overall US strategy and the influence of the Israeli ‘lobby’ which I believe, will create increasing problems for the US. The media likes to portray Powell as representing the more ‘moderate’ position of US capital. However, I prefer to interpret it as the more realistic position that sees the Israeli posse as being a real obstacle for them. One only need look at how Powell’s ‘moderate’ position has moderated, to see where his true allegiance lies and that’s to capital.

I think it should also be borne in mind, that the US ruling elite is by no means infallible. But for US plans to work in the Middle East, it has to resolve the issue of the Palestinian state. As I’ve said before, the US is caught between a rock and a hard place. Decades of cold war propaganda has come back to haunt it. It is now lumbered with hard core support for Israel that extends way beyond the hardline ideologues ensconced in Pennsylvannia Avenue. It has realised that it has to try and reign in the more extreme aspects of Sharon’s fascism without rocking the boat too much at home (there are, after all, domestic issues to consider such as the coming election).

So on the one hand, the demise of the USSR would appear to have been to the US’s advantage, but on the other, it has revealed the true nature of US imperialism which can no longer hide behind the ‘war against Communism.’ Hence the war on ‘terror’. However, the ‘war on terror’ has distinct disadvantages when compared to the war on Communism. Ergo 911.

I think it’s in this context that we need to view 911 as a turning point, akin to the Tonkin Gulf incident. The more I read about the events leading up to it, the more I’m convinced that the US was intimately involved in some way or another. I don’t think it can be avoided by any right thinking person. That the media has very effectively directed analysis of 911 to ‘conspiracy central’ is of course, to be expected. They’ve done the same with the oil issue.

Old wine, new bottles

This is why I connect the current Bush administration organically to the Reagan years through the fact that identical players are involved (Ledeen, Armitage, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Woolsey, North, Kristol and so on), which in turn has connections to the Nixon years, where many of the same players found their genesis through Kissinger and the extreme right.

From a progressive perspective, I think it’s vital to make this connection! Viewing current events as being engineered by a clique of out-of-control ‘neo-cons’ either of the Christian or Zionist right, misses the point entirely.

The Israeli connection then, is a legacy of the Cold War years. The challenge is to contextualise these processes into a historically coherent analysis that unpacks current USUK strategy and which explains the US/Israeli alliance, as one of common objectives, for as long as it suits either one partner or the other.

One thing is obvious to both the US and Israeli imperialists that without a resolution to the current situation progress of any sort in the Middle East is impossible. Sooner or later, short of a ‘final solution’ Nazi-style, the issue of the legitimate rights of the Palestinians has to be addressed if the US Imperium is to succeed in its objectives. Failure of one will, I believe lead to failure of the other.

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