Syria Under Fire, Egypt Under the Radar, U.S. Bombs Away (Part 3)
Note: This is the third article in a three-part series examining the U.S.’s role in the Middle East. Part 1, which specifically looked at the U.S.’s push for military strikes on Syria, can be found here. Part 2, which analyzed U.S.-Egypt relations, is here.
By NAVID FARNIA
Early in its nationhood, the United States dealt with Native American communities through foreign policy. Although the U.S. was always hostile and aggressive toward Native groups, it saw them as independent foreign entities that had similar status to sovereign European nations.
As the U.S. continued its warlike aggression, it perpetuated a genocidal settler colonial institution in the name of “Manifest Destiny.” Native American communities were violently disempowered, forcefully removed from their lands and ultimately made subservient to the American colonial apparatus. In an 1831 Supreme Court ruling, Chief Justice John Marshall declared that Native American communities were “domestic dependent nations” whose “relation to the United States resembles that of a ward to his guardian.”
Native Americans were considered “wards of the state” until 1924, when they were finally granted U.S. citizenship. The relationship’s shift to a domestic guardian-ward dynamic was a consequence of white racism as well as capitalism’s expansion in North America. Capitalism produced Native communities’ economic dependency on an uneven trade establishment. The brutally racist settler colonial regime debilitated Native communities through processes of violent land confiscation. Although the racialized guardian-ward relationship – with the white state as the guardian – no longer formally exists, its legacy still resonates in Native communities and abroad.
From Guardian-Ward to Patron-Client
The U.S.’s present relationship with the Third World, and particularly the Middle East, is somewhat similar to historical dealings with Native Americans. Next to Israel, Egypt is the U.S.’s strongest ally in the Middle East. This relationship signifies the ideal patron-client dynamic because it efficiently serves American interests.
Third World countries’ embrace of neoliberal capitalism creates economic dependency on wealthy imperial powers. As the most powerful nation in the world, the U.S. stands to benefit the most from neoliberal expansion. Patron-client relationships bear a global resemblance to that of the guardian and ward because they consolidate power by subjecting client states to imperial interests. If the U.S. had its way, the Third World would be inundated with American clients. Undoubtedly, the U.S. envisions Syria as a potential future client.
At this point, the U.S. completely lacks relations with Syria. But Syria’s civil war presents the U.S. with an opportunity to gain footing in the country. U.S. officials recognize the economic stakes in the war. Hence, U.S. military invasion is a desired option, with the end goal of implementing a government that is amenable to U.S. interests.
Neocolonial-style policies breed the ideal patron-client relationship. Egypt has experienced a continuous economic and political intervention by the U.S. for over thirty years, which makes it the model client state. U.S. military aid to Egypt is essentially predicated on the country’s subservience to American interests. Sustained neocolonial intervention dictates that a client country’s corrupt ruling establishment prioritizes the patron’s imperial desires over the demands of its own people. Ultimately, this is the type of international order that the U.S. and other imperial powers endeavor to create.
Globalizing White Supremacy
The Middle East is the most recent example of Manifest Destiny being mapped onto the Third World. During the initial stages of Euro-American settler colonial expansion in North America, whites justified appropriating Native American land through an ideology of white racial superiority. The belief was that Native Americans were unfit to own land because they were “uncivilized” and did not understand governance.
In the U.S. South, the land was cultivated via a racialized system of bondage. The superexploitation of enslaved African labor, working on stolen Native American land, laid the foundation for the U.S.’s capitalist system. Of course, Africans were also deemed racially inferior to whites.
Today, similar (but coded) racial arguments are employed to rationalize intervention in the Middle East, and more broadly in the Third World. Imperialist logic propagates false notions that Middle Easterners have warred with each other for millennia and thus, are unfit to resolve their own conflicts in a democratic system without external influence. Arabs are rendered incompetent and warlike, a similar fashion in which Native Americans and Africans were portrayed.
Neocolonialism is a new form of Manifest Destiny. It argues for the necessity of imperial economic influence. In truth, external economic pressure on Third World countries results in the chronic labor exploitation that we see today. Client states depend on imperial powers, which are friendly to the ruling establishment, but at the extreme expense of the exploited working class. Therefore, neocolonialism racially subjugates people via neoliberal policies, which create excessive unemployment and/or poverty. This is especially true in the Middle East.
Like settler colonialism, neocolonialism is rooted in white supremacy. The racial order in the U.S., where people of color (particularly Blacks, Latinos and Natives) are exploited and oppressed for white interests is increasingly reflected in world affairs. As such, a racialized international order that subjugates Third World peoples for American (once again, white) interests is based on the racial hierarchy in the U.S.
Israel as America’s Right-Hand State
In the Middle East, Israel undeniably helps to secure American interests. Zionist Israel is the only white-dominant country in the region. While Egypt and others fall under neocolonial influence, Israel perpetually exists as a settler colonial state. This settler colonial regime survives on the basis of its racist apartheid system, where Palestinians are perpetually victimized. In fact, Israel’s settler colonial system – which incorporates racial oppression and methodical dispossession – resembles early settler colonialism in North America.
Because Arab countries surround it, Israel takes great interest in the U.S.’s Middle Eastern policies. As I previously mentioned, Israeli interests largely predetermine U.S.-Egypt relations. And U.S. interests in the region conversely depend upon a thriving Israel. Syria’s civil war thus has the U.S. and Israel’s close attention. Israel is likely quite content with a perpetual (but contained) conflict in Syria.
Like the U.S., Israel is not friendly with Syria President Bashar al-Assad’s government. And although Syria does not and never has posed a threat to Israel – Israel’s military is among the strongest in the world, thanks to the U.S. – the Israeli government drums up a fictional threat due to its concerns with Assad’s allies, Iran and Hezbollah. And while Israeli officials and lobbyists push for U.S. military involvement, Israel has itself already bombed Syria at least three times this year.
Israel is strengthened by a weak Syria, which by extension undermines Iran. In this sense, Syria’s civil war fortifies the Zionist state’s position in the region. But Israel also stands to gain for another reason. With all eyes on Syria, Israel’s racist apartheid state becomes further entrenched in an increasingly unstable region.
Israel’s stance merely reflects American interests, and vice versa. In fact, it was Israel that provided the U.S. with “intelligence” that supposedly incriminated Assad’s forces in the chemical attack. But can we really trust this? Obama and the U.S. government already lied about the NSA snooping on Americans’ phone calls and emails, so how do we know that the U.S. and Israel did not fabricate their “evidence” against the Syrian government? As is expected, the U.S. has not released any real evidence regarding the chemical attack.
Sectarian Clients and the False Choice
The U.S. desires Western-backed rebels’ victory in Syria. This would enable the formation of another American client state. Given the Assad government’s continuing relative strength however, the potential for molding and developing a Syrian client state is presently unrealistic.
For the U.S. then, the next best thing is a prolonged civil war in which one or more rebel factions are American clients – i.e., sectarian clients. Prolonged civil war advantages the U.S. and Israel because each side will progressively weaken, they will deplete Syria’s resources and the centralized Syrian state will disintegrate in front of our eyes. This will culminate in the creation of decentralized sectarian statelets that are especially vulnerable to American imperial power.
The narrative of “good versus evil” in Syria, where Western-backed rebels are glorified as freedom fighters, has long dominated American coverage of the war. In such a worldview, Assad’s repressive government and Western-backed sectarian clients (with their repeated human rights abuses) are the only sides to choose from. A false dichotomy is subsequently established, which completely marginalizes those who seek to end the war via a political solution. The “good versus evil” narrative is the pretext for U.S. military involvement.
A prolonged crisis serves U.S. interests because it reinforces neoliberal expansion. U.S. military intervention will profit American arms manufacturers in particular. This is why Obama advocates “limited surgical” strikes. A presumably limited intervention not only prolongs the war, but would also escalate it. Without a doubt, arms manufacturers are salivating at the prospect of American engagement.
In the event that Obama is telling the truth and U.S. strikes are limited, Assad’s forces will be weakened without being destroyed. His forces will remain fully capable of engaging the rebels. That is to say, the war will be prolonged and simultaneously escalated, which inevitably leads to a higher demand for weapons.
Conversely, if the U.S. sustains a long-term military engagement, American arms sales will directly increase. Hence, both scenarios forecast amplified bloodshed and significant profit for the weapons industry.
Neoliberalism embraces war. War creates new markets for private sector growth and international trade. It’s no coincidence that in the run up to the congressional vote on U.S. military intervention – a vote which has since been postponed – defense lobby money was rolling in for Senators, as another Arab country was set to experience the wrath of U.S. imperialism.
Gassing the Moral Argument
The notion that there is a moral imperative for the U.S. to invade Syria holds no water. Recent history has shown that U.S. weapons are much more hazardous than Syria’s chemical weapons, and the U.S. willingly targeted Iraq with these weapons. Tarak Barkawi adds:
Of course the hypocrisy is extraordinary. The United States has apparently rediscovered the significance of the ethics and laws of war, but in Syria – not Guantanamo. The U.S. snoops on the world’s email and does nearly nothing about a bloody coup in Egypt but tells us we should all be especially shocked about a few hundred deaths from a chemical attack in Syria.
In 1988, the U.S. supplied Iraqi officials with the location of Iranian troops with full knowledge that the Iraqis would use the information to launch nerve gas attacks.
While the debate rages on over whether the U.S. should invade Syria, Egypt’s equally bloody military massacre is excused. However, Egypt’s protesters say otherwise as they continue to demonstrate on a consistent basis. If nothing else, the U.S.’s handling of Egypt and Syria should prove that the Third World is a Monopoly-board for U.S. interests, with the Middle East presently housing the most coveted properties. This neocolonial board game comes at the expense of Arab lives.
As the diplomatic initiative progresses, Secretary of State Kerry maintains that military intervention is still possible. “The President of the United States always retains the right to defend the United States of America and our interests,” Kerry proclaimed. Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu followed suit and stated, “If diplomacy has any chance to work, it must be coupled with a credible military threat.”
The U.S.’s actions are not dictated by an ethical “responsibility to protect.” Since its inception, the U.S. has inflicted horrific violence against people of color in the name of moral righteousness. In reality, American exceptionalism is a fabrication used to justify U.S. imperial power and the pursuit of its interests. Racial order in the U.S. illustrates the myth of American exceptionalism. And the racial order is increasingly reflected abroad, as a racialized international order forms with the U.S. at the top. This is globalized white supremacy.
Although Americans strongly oppose military strikes on Syria, the Obama government continues to dangle the option in hopes that the public will eventually acquiesce to war. Time and time again, the U.S. has shown it is the world’s greatest threat to peace and stability. Such an entity cannot be seen as the world’s benevolent moral authority and should not be entrusted to solve humanitarian crises. Military intervention is not the answer.
Navid Farnia received his Master of Arts degree from the Institute for Research in African American Studies at Columbia University in New York. He is an Iranian American who was born and raised in Oklahoma.
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