Vail Daily column: A mess we can’t undo
I notice the U.S. has recently changed its Facebook relationship status with Saudi Arabia to “It’s complicated.” And therein lies the problem for the average American consumer of headline news. Even for the so-called well-informed, it’s no easy task to get your head around the Middle East these days. Mainstream and even independent media, along with the usual think tank suspects feed us the same old stories — witness the Brookings Institute’s recent headline: “Saudi Arabia to Washington: A royal snub” — that lead us to believe it’s all about being in the right clique. (And right now, I can assure you, we’re not in the right clique).
It’s not an easy task for today’s journalists, especially those who need to follow standard practice: Boil it all down to a one-sentence lead or at least make sure it’s all summed up in the “nut” paragraph. But it would helpful if this mess was put into perspective — you know, tell us (your readers) what’s really going down. We can handle it. Really. So-called independent media look down their noses at mainstream media as being too corporate. And think tanks act like PR firms for their moneyed interests. But I digress.
So here we go:
As we all know, the Sunnis and the Shiites are at war with each other. Essentially, the Shiites (Iran, Iraq, Syria and Hezbollah in southern Lebanon) vs. the Sunnis (Saudi Arabia, Qatar, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Kuwait, Egypt, Libya, Afghanistan, Morocco, Yemen, with Israel aligning mostly with Saudi Arabia, at least when Iran is involved). Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia has only been paying lip service in support of the Palestinian cause.
Alongside this, Israel is giving soft support to al-Nusra (al-Qaida) in Syria, who just took over the northern province. And, Saudis are fighting Houthis in Yemen and getting help from al-Qaida in Yemen. And Hezbollah has been supporting Palestinians while Iran is supporting Hezbollah, Syria and Houthis.
Complicated much? No wonder so many of us are content to crack open a Bud Light and switch on the game. (Shakespeare called this “bread and circus” and I believe it was Sports Illustrated that later coined the term “beer and circus,” but, again, I digress).
The U.S., as we all know, has been at war either directly or covertly in the Middle East since the ’50s, when Iran tried to nationalize its oil reserves. You remember the Shah — our man in Iran. A friend of mine went to boarding school with the sons and daughters of his rich buddies who all fled the country in the late 1970s when the whole CIA-backed scam began to crumble. Soon after that, the U.S. gave Iraq chemical weapons to fight Iran in one of history’s more diabolical conflicts. Then our man in Iraq (that’s right, we put ’em in and then we take ’em out — literally) went too far into Kuwait so we had to put a top to that. We went into Iraq again in 2003 for oil and back in again when ISIS almost took over the oil fields of Iraq.
Yes, it’s complicated, but in the end, just follow the money and follow the money-go-round that is the U.S. Military Industrial Complex. It’s not a story most Americans want to hear.
Now here we are in 2015 and President Obama is attempting to lighten nuclear sanctions on Iran with what’s called the P5+1 (the U.N. Security Council, made up of the Russia, China, France, Britain, the U.S. and Germany, countries with nuclear weapons who have signed the Non-Proliferation Treaty and are the world’s “parents” on nukes). Congress is pretty much opposed to it and so are Saudi Arabia and Israel.
Maybe it’s not so complicated, then. Not when you realize that all these Middle East players want is a little “nukey.”
Indeed, when you boil it down for this crowd, it’s a competition for nuclear weapons — to be used as deterrents. Today, the only player in the Middle East with nukes is Israel, who refuse to sign the Non-Proliferation Treaty or admit that they have nuclear weapons. Pakistan, India and North Korea are the only other countries in the world with nukes.
So, here’s where it gets really complicated.
The Iran deal doesn’t give them nukes. It gives them ability to create nuclear energy, aka “peaceful nukes.” But everyone’s worried that it would take only a few weeks or maybe even a few months or more before Iran could realistically build a nuclear weapon. Ironically, excepting Iran, Syria, Lebanon and Palestine, the U.S. has troops in every country in the Middle East. As the U.S. attempts to bring a nuclear deal together, it’s been selling weapons to appease our Sunni friends in Egypt ($150 billion worth sold in March), Qatar ($11 billion as of late). A simple Google search for “U.S. weapons deals with … ” (fill in your favorite country here) and you’ll see who our allies are.
They are not Iran or the Shiites, I can assure you. And what’s scary is that Saudi Arabia is aligning with al-Nusra, a terrorist group that supplies U.S. enemies with weapons. Last summer, the Saudis initiated a $2 billion deal with South Korea to build nuclear reactors and the U.S. is reportedly looking the other way.
Said bluntly, Saudi Arabia has been exporting an extreme version of Sunni Islam called Wahhabism. The same ideology that al-Nusra and ISIL follow.
But, but how does that equal making nukey?
Follow the money-go-round. The more instability exists, the more conflict, the more war, the more weapons there are to sell. Indeed, there really isn’t a war on terrorism. The U.S., Saudi Arabia and Israel have been breeding terrorism, and so have the Shiites, the Iranians and others. Because it’s profitable. It really is that simple. Despite what we’re told by some media outlets, America is in the Middle East to protect what we decided was our oil. Pretty arrogant, eh? Just tell everyone they hate freedom and they’re pretty easy to demonize.
President Carter warned that “an attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America.” And he added pointedly, “Such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
So now the Saudis want the U.S. to sell them more weapons and nukes, become a second tier member of N.A.T.O., have our promise to defend them in the event of a war, fight against Assad in Syria and take us into a war with Iran.
So, big deal, you say. Nothing new.
Ever been to an Arab Bazaar? The King Salman of Saudi Arabia wants the best deal he can get. So he’s walking away from the negotiations at the Gulf Cooperation Council about a potential nuclear deal with Iran. He knows Obama wants a deal with Iran. And, we know that the king would like the U.S. to fight a war with Iran. And so does Israel and the “hawk” politicians who are getting all their campaign money from military companies.
Maybe Obama should not have attempted a deal with Iran in the first place.
Maybe the P5+1 put us in a position we should never have been in to begin with.
Maybe other countries shouldn’t help us form foreign policy (there’s a thought).
Maybe, as Foreign Policy magazine published this month, the C.I.A. has been pulling the strings of the U.S. foreign policy, and the agency will be calling the shots in the Middle East for years to come.
Maybe we should be wondering who’s lying to who before we all get nuked!
Yes, it is very complicated, and it’s spun so far out of control that there’s really no going back. Our military has created the biggest unholy mess in the name of oil (strategic interest is the preferred term in Washington) that there’s just no way to undo it all.
Arn Menconi is a former Eagle County Commissioner and founder of SOS Outreach. He is an anti-war activist and can be reached at email@example.com.