Where trouble lives and is exported

By Alan Caruba
web posted April 23, 2001

The China incident reminded us once again of the menace this gang of thugs represents in the long-term struggle for liberty over tyranny. While China simmers, let us turn our attention to a far more volatile area, the Middle East.

The Middle East "is progressively disengaging from the world economy," warns Patrick Clawson, an expert on the area. The region grew at only half the rate of other developing nations during the 1990s. The Middle East continues to slip further behind the West and even Asia. The Middle East today is a dangerous combination of poverty, a militant Islam, nationalism, and a mindset that blames everyone else for its problems.

I start with economics because so much of history comes down to nations going to war in order to gain more land, more resources, redress earlier losses, and generally trying to fatten their coffers with the riches of others. Vanity, envy and greed work in the lives of nations as they do in individuals. Ignorance, too.

Since 1948, Middle Eastern nations, striven with distrust for each other, have nonetheless been unified by the presence of the nation of Israel. It is not a Middle Eastern nation. It is a Western nation with Western values. As such, it is futile to think the other nations of the Middle East will ever made peace with it. A friend of mine who has been to the region many times and spoken to both sides of the conflict says the mutual hatred is so intense that he would not now return for any reason.

Egypt's peace with Israel is little more than a realistic acceptance of the inability to defeat Israel in war. What they lost in war, the Sinai, was gained back for its promise of peace, but there is little peace in Egypt, occupied with maintaining its own fragile stability and kept afloat with massive foreign aid from the US.

Saddam Hussein

From Iran to the tip of Yeman, none of the nations in that area can or will come to terms with Israel. For now, it is a convenient excuse for the autocratic leaders of Middle Eastern nations to maneuver for power, but most specifically, it is Iraq's Saddam Hussein ambition to rule the entire region.

Barely noticed, one of the first acts of the new Bush Administration was to knock out rebuilt Iraqi radar stations. It was worth a minute on the evening news, but one no longer expects those who provide us news on television these days to grasp what is really occurring. When you combine the attention span of algae with a liberal knee-jerk response to every crisis, you get the nightly TV news.

The Middle East is a strange place to understand for most Americans and our European cousins. Despite having waged a losing war with Iran and then the Gulf War, Saddam Hussein's Iraq is widely seen as a "leader" throughout the Middle East. By some bizarre reverse psychology, Arabs are infatuated with the notion that the more you lose at war, the greater your stature is in that area of the world.

Back, briefly, to economics. There is little foreign investment in the Middle East due to a complete lack of confidence in the stability of the nations in that region. This can also be seen in the way the Middle East holds the largest share of wealth abroad with $350 billion collecting interest in banks outside the region. Since Islam forbids collecting interest, their banks can't let money make money, yet another roadblock to prosperity.

Despite the fact that OPEC's oil export revenue has risen from $99 billion in 1998 to $211 billion in 2000, the standard of living in the Middle East is atrocious. The average rate of population growth is second only to sub-Saharan Africa, a slim 2.2 per cent during the last decade.

According to Freedom House, five of the world's eleven most repressive countries are members of the Arab League. Not one of the League's twenty-three members was found to extend any kind of freedom to their people. According to our own Department of state, three of the world's most severe violators of religious freedom are in the Middle East, with Afghanistan right next door. The current level of Islamic fanaticism has not been seen in centuries. What must be kept in mind is that, without human rights, the Middle East has no hope of becoming part of the global economy.

The violence of the area is fueled by the highest military spending in the world! In 1997, Middle Eastern nations spent 7 per cent of their gross national product on weapons, as opposed to the world average of 2.5 per cent. Armed forces in the region constitute 2.8 per cent of the labor force, as compared with 0.8 per cent in the rest of the world. Arms constitute 14.5 per cent of all Middle East imports, versus just 1 per cent worldwide. In the last half-century, the Middle East has been a killing ground of civil wars and territorial conflicts.

Five of the world's most active state sponsors of terrorism are in the Middle East. They are Syria, Libya, Iraq, Iran, and Sudan. The only documented use of chemical weapons in the last generation has been Iraq against Iran, Iran against Iraq, Libya against Chad, and Egypt against North Yemen.

Between wars, the US public tends to relax its attention to potential enemies. Having thrashed the Iraqis during the Gulf War, Americans have assumed they are unable to reassert themselves, but R. James Woolsey, a former director of the US Central Intelligence Agency under Clinton, thinks we are ignoring a very big problem when we ignore Iraq. Woolsey says our foreign policy regarding the Middle East had grown so flaccid the White House and State Department had stopped calling Iraq and other hotspots "rogue states" and began referring to them only as "states of concern."

"We know, according to reliable intelligence sources, that Iraq has a ballistic missile program. Worse still, Iraq is only months away from achieving nuclear capability," warns Woolsey.

In the streets of the Middle East, Saddam Hussein is regarded as the new "caliph" to take on the US. Woolsey called foreign policy in this area of the world during the Clinton Administration "feckless." This is a good description of the entire eight years Clinton amused himself in the Oval Office.

The odds are that Saddam is waiting to start a war again and, if he can secure enriched uranium, he may have the nuclear option to back up his threats. Does anyone recall who knocked out the construction of a nuclear facility in Iraq, long before the Gulf War? It was Israel. Probably doing for the West what we could not openly do for ourselves. It is Israel that is the West's foot in the door in the Middle East and it is hated for that.

Even if there were no Israel, the US would still need to exercise our power in the Middle East. We simply depend on their oil. Without their oil, we would dismiss the Middle East as we dismiss the entire continent of Africa.

I'm guessing the President understands the Middle East is the most immediate problem area while he serves in office. I believe it is no accident that his closest advisors include Vice President Dick Cheney, who served as his father's Secretary of Defense and Secretary of State Colin Powell who was Chairman of the Joint Chiefs during the Gulf War.

The simple truth is that right now the US is the only guarantor of peace anywhere. From the coast of China to the deserts of Iraq, it is our power with which despots must reckon. And just as in ancient times, the Middle East is where trouble lives and trouble is exported. Every empire that ever laid claim to it found that out the hard way.

Alan Caruba, the founder of The National Anxiety Center is a regular contributor. This is an edited, exerpted segment from his weekly column, Warning Signs, posted at www.anxietycenter.com.(c) Alan Caruba, 2001.

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