Hate to be a Downer, but You Might Want to See This

Here we go again:
While the majority of campus has been focused on Psalm 100’s debacle or the Young Democrats in Student Congress restricting the College Republicans’ funding or the AMAZING weekend in Carolina sports, I (your friendly neighborhood politics geek) was focused on a slightly more ominous horizon: Israel and the growing possibility of war in the Middle East. Over the weekend, Israeli Major General Eyal Eisenberg said that the possibility of a new all-out war between Israel and her neighbors was “increasingly growing”.
Most people, with just enough knowledge of the situation to get in trouble, would say, “Okay, so what else is new? They have been fighting for decades and always came out on top. Why should I care about this now with so many problems closer to home?”
Well you should care because a lot of things have changed since the last major conflicts. First, all of Israel’s regular enemies (Egypt, Syria, Jordan, etc.) have lost stability due to the Arab Spring. Fully-functioning democracies are FAR from sight in all the affected countries, and a foreign war would solidify the precarious position of stabilizing dictators or potential dictators (Assad in Syria, the military in Egypt, the Ayatollah and Ahmadinejad in Iran, King Abdullah II in Jordan, and Hezbollah in Lebanon to name a few). Furthermore, Israel can add two more potential participants on the Arab side: Turkey and Iran.
Turkey, who used to be the leading voice for peace in the Muslim Middle East, has had a series of rifts between Israel and itself and would almost certainly side with the Arabs. Iran has never liked Israel and now has the potential to really cause it damage because it has successfully hooked a nuclear power generator to its energy grid (despite the blunderful leadership of President Obama).
While all is ominous and worrisome, it means nothing without a spark for war. Cue the United Nations and Palestine’s push for a declaration of statehood. If the US and Israel unilaterally stop the declaration with America’s veto power, get ready for the body count because there will be riots in the West Bank, Israel will crack down on them eventually to avoid having them spilling over into West Jerusalem or the Israeli settlements on the West Bank, the Muslim world will come to the Palestinian’s aid, the US will covertly help Israel, and we have a large-scale, regional war.
Now, since I know at least someone out there must be thinking, “Why should I care? We have more important issues at home”, I will address why we all need to care about the regional tensions in the Middle East. There are three main reasons: the USA would necessarily aid Israel in any military conflict (even if only covertly); oil prices would skyrocket; and China would take advantage of the tension to lessen our influence in the region. I think it is obvious why military aid would be bad now, with our military stretched across the region, so I will not harp on that. The monstrously high oil prices that would inevitably follow any conflict between Israel and the Arab world would wreak havoc on our unstable economy and would likely make a second recession inevitable. To make matters worse, China poses a strategic and geopolitical threat in all this mess.
I know someone out there is looking at a map right now and thinking, “This guy is nuts! He does know that China and Israel are on opposite sides of Asia right?”
Let me explain. China has wanted to reduce our influence in the Middle East, and increase its own, for decades. They need cheap energy to keep their economy growing enough to challenge us in the long run. By covertly funding and arming the Arabs, they will not push the Arabs over the threshold to victory, but they will make it a longer, more protracted war. In order to finance our aid to Israel, we would need to take on more debt (at least with the current Congressional and Presidential leadership), which means we would be more dependent on China, our main foreign creditor. Also, by supporting the Muslims against Israel, China would gain the favor of OPEC and leverage cheap oil as repayment for their aid.
To be clear, I am a huge proponent of lessening our active engagement with much of the world. No country has long survived as the world’s policeman, but I do think that we need a proactive and strong foreign policy in this isolated case to avoid a war that would be disastrous for all involved.

4 comments

  1. I think instead of blaming Turkey for souring of relations with Israel and assuming Israel is right we should explore the reasons, or at the least post a link describing the relationship's progression.

    I would also please ask that instead of saying it's Obama's fault that Iran's nuclear capacity has increased you would cite some specific examples of his policies and how they have contributed to Iran's nuclear proliferation.

    I would also point out that authoritarian dictatorship's on the way out in the Middle-East is a good thing. We cannot force democracy on an unwilling people and the authoritarian leaders, when they are propped up by Western governments, tend to be corrupt and give rise to fundamentalist and terrorist tendencies of a people (Osama Bin Laden is Saudi Arabian).

    Finally, I appreciate your analysis as insightful and undogmatic and thanks for the writing I hope you don't interpret my comment as anything other than someone taking an interest in debating important subjects.

  2. I am always glad to debate or discuss.

    I primarily blame Turkey because they had been friendly to Israel for decades (partially because they are in NATO and wanted to be on our good side and partially because both are relatively democratic and threatened by Ba'athists and other radical Arab Parties which have held power for years). Recently, however, they have seen an opportunity to expand their influence in the Arab world. To do that, they cannot be on good terms with Israel, because that is a non-starter for many Arab leaders. They use the blockade of Gaza as an excuse, but the blockade blocks only war material, not food or clean water, so I cannot really fault the israelis for that blockade.

  3. The action (or lack-there-of) that springs to mind that the president has done that has led to Iran's nuclear capacity is his hesitation in 2009 when a potential Persian spring hit the streets and he stayed silent. Also, the "negotiation without preconditions" that he promised during the campaign has been an utter failure. His ambassador to the UN (Susan Rice who I am actually somewhat supportive of) pushed sanctions that did not cripple the Iranian economy as hoped, but rather pushed them closer to China as an alternative in trade to the US.

    Authoritarian dictatorships leaving is certainly good, assuming the populace is looking for peace and the grassroots movements do not get co-opted by the fanatical groups that grew under the propped up regimes (the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt springs to mind). Also, if the provisional government in Egypt (the military) is looking to keep power, a war with Israel is a good excuse. For men like Assad and the King of Jordan, war with Israel would give them an excuse to consolidate power. The vote on Palestinian statehood coming up (the 22nd I believe) could serve as a spark for this war. That is my primary fear.

  4. Now an interesting question is, if these dictatorships invade to consolidate power, and Israel defeats them, again, would Israel depose the autocrats and let the nascent democatic movements flourish? I hope so, but if the populace in those countries is openly hostile to the Israelis, it is unlikely.

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