The Region: The benefits of anti-Americanism

Even if America suddenly 'abandoned' Israel, ME regimes still wouldn't embrace the US.

By BARRY RUBIN
August 9, 2009 21:02
The Region: The benefits of anti-Americanism

barry rubin new 88. (photo credit: )

 
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Bad ideas or myths about the Middle East never die, they just get recycled. Here's one that's back in the news: The claim that if the United States abandoned Israel, or downgraded the alliance, or just bashed Israel a bit, that would solve its problems in the Middle East. The answer is: No. Here's why. Begin with a simple experiment you can do in the privacy of your own home without buying special equipment or using any scarce natural resources. Imagine that the US completely abandons Israel - not that the Obama administration is going to do that, but imagine. No aid, no diplomatic support, or let's just say a hugely reduced relationship. What effect would it have on US relations with the Arabic-speaking world and Iran? Your immediate answer might be: They would improve to a huge extent. But that's not true. Sure, the popularity rating of President Barack Obama and of the US would probably climb a dozen points or so, maybe more, but it would still be relatively low. But popularity is of little importance in international relations, even in democracies. Governments, not public opinion, make foreign policy. Such a development would still be largely insignificant due to years of anti-American propaganda unleashed by Mideast regimes on their populations, past history of US interference, differences in ideological views, religion and culture and so on. NOW LET'S take a closer look. Consider a list of Arabic-speaking regimes generally considered friendly to the US, by the low local standards at least: Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Morocco, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and United Arab Emirates. You can add Yemen if you want. What more would they do for a US that was not considered by them to be pro-Israel? Would they drastically lower the price of oil? Be more helpful to America in countering Iran? How precisely would the regimes act in a way beneficial to US policy or interests? Remember that they would still be very constrained in their relations with the US for many reasons: America would still be a powerful Western, non-Muslim, non-Arab country and as such mistrusted and not widely liked. These are societies which are not afraid, even in this "enlightened" age, to make clear their distaste for the "other." Remaining anti-American would still be very beneficial for them, as they would still need a scapegoat - would need one even more without Israel - for their own failures and shortcomings. At the same time, the opposite would also hold true: The regimes know that being more pro-American (Western, non-Muslim, non-Arab superpower that it is) would bring cries of "Traitor!" from their Islamist opponents and from much of their own public, conditioned as it has been by decades of anti-Americanism. Oh, and what about all that history. They would still demand - even more loudly, having sensed American weakness - reparations and concessions for past years of US support for Israel and all sorts of other American regional policies. As noted above, there would be a strengthening of a number of factors which would maintain high levels of anti-Americanism and reluctance to move closer to the US. For example, radical Islamist forces, strengthened by their victory over Israel, or at least US support for Israel, would press the regimes harder. If they did succeed in wiping Israel off the map, the territory and ample assets of that former Jewish state would be turned into a base of operations and resources for those trying to overthrow the remaining regimes still friendly to America. The existing regimes would then have to face the prospect of being brought down and replaced by still more energetically anti-American governments or, in trying to avoid that, must seek to appease Islamist opposition and its supporters by proving their own militant, nationalist credentials. Among other things, this would mean not cooperating with the US. Ironically, by abandoning one ally, Israel, the US would seem to be a less reliable protector to Arabic-speaking states. If Washington could throw Israel under the bus, how long will it take for the US to sell them out also? AS FOR the enemies, well, they would remain enemies. That list includes Iran, Libya, Sudan and Syria. They would not say, "Those Americans are really great! They finally dumped Israel!" They'd say: "America is in decline. It is only a matter of time until it falls. The US is weak and fears us. Let's redouble our efforts to overthrow the traitorous puppet regimes and expel US influence from the Middle East!" Oh, wait! They already say that. But they'll say it even more loudly. The fact that America is seen by them as the main barrier preventing them from taking power in every Muslim-majority state - and possibly moving on from there to world conquest - is still enough to keep their enmity red-hot. Denied having Israel as a scapegoat and focus of hostility, the existing regimes would have a harder time countering their even more radical enemies. On top of everything else, a nuclear-armed Iran would preen as the leader of these forces which, while exaggerated, is enough of a reality to propel Iran into being the most powerful regional power. Teheran and Damascus, Hamas and Hizbullah would claim that their resistance and pressure intimidated the US from supporting Israel. They'd add: 'Having defeated both the USSR (in Afghanistan) and America, imagine what we can do next!' So while it looks good at first glance, dumping Israel is not going to solve even a reasonable portion of America's problems in the region. Such a move would generate a lot more instability. As for Arab-Israeli peace, well that wouldn't be on the agenda anymore. Why bother making peace with a country you believe is about to be exterminated. Now, if America's dumping Israel isn't going to greatly solve US problems or bring greater regional stability, do you think stopping construction on settlements will do so? Making speeches about how much one respects Islam? Renaming the "war on terrorism" as the "war on al-Qaida and its allies?" Let's face it - even if Western policymakers won't - there are no easy ways out of the Middle East's problems and conflicts, especially not at Israel's expense.

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