This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. This is the second in a two-part series, the first of which can be found here. To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com. Click here catch Timothy MacBain’s latest Tomcast audio interview in which Chomsky offers an anatomy of American defeats in the Greater Middle East.
In the years of conscious, self-inflicted decline at home, “losses” continued to mount elsewhere. In the past decade, for the first time in 500 years, South America has taken successful steps to free itself from western domination, another serious loss. The region has moved towards integration, and has begun to address some of the terrible internal problems of societies ruled by mostly Europeanized elites, tiny islands of extreme wealth in a sea of misery. They have also rid themselves of all US military bases and of IMF controls. A newly formed organization, CELAC, includes all countries of the hemisphere apart from the United States and Canada. If it actually functions, that would be another step in American decline, in this case in what has always been regarded as “the backyard.”
Even more serious would be the loss of the MENA countries—Middle East/North Africa—which have been regarded by planners since the 1940s as “a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history.” Control of MENA energy reserves would yield “substantial control of the world,” in the words of the influential Roosevelt advisor A.A. Berle.
To be sure, if the projections of a century of US energy independence based on North American energy resources turn out to be realistic, the significance of controlling MENA would decline somewhat, though probably not by much: the main concern has always been control more than access. However, the likely consequences to the planet’s equilibrium are so ominous that discussion may be largely an academic exercise.
The Arab Spring, another development of historic importance, might portend at least a partial “loss” of MENA. The United States and its allies have tried hard to prevent that outcome—so far, with considerable success. Their policy towards the popular uprisings has kept closely to the standard guidelines: support the forces most amenable to US influence and control.
Favored dictators are supported as long as they can maintain control (as in the major oil states). When that is no longer possible, then discard them and try to restore the old regime as fully as possible (as in Tunisia and Egypt). The general pattern is familiar: Somoza, Marcos, Duvalier, Mobutu, Suharto and many others. In one case, Libya, the three traditional imperial powers intervened by force to participate in a rebellion to overthrow a mercurial and unreliable dictator, opening the way, it is expected, to more efficient control over Libya’s rich resources (oil primarily, but also water, of particular interest to French corporations), to a possible base for the US Africa Command (so far restricted to Germany) and to the reversal of growing Chinese penetration. As far as policy goes, there have been few surprises.
Crucially, it is important to reduce the threat of functioning democracy, in which popular opinion will significantly influence policy. That again is routine, and quite understandable. A look at the studies of public opinion undertaken by US polling agencies in the MENA countries easily explains the western fear of authentic democracy, in which public opinion will significantly influence policy.