The Imperial Balancing Act: Maintaing Hegemony While Avoiding ‘Backlash’
The Senate Foreign Relations Committee just released a report [PDF] on US policy in the Middle East. Much of the study describes how Washington will maintain key military bases and troop presence throughout the entire region and how to overcome challenges to maintaining such dominance, which is vital because the region is “home to more than half of the world’s oil reserves and over a third of its natural gas.”
One excerpt stuck out in which the Committee admits that US military presence in the region as well as US support for brutal dictatorships has generated widespread hatred and blowback. According to the report, the challenge is to maintain the imperial dominance over the region, but avoid the messy “backlash” and embarrassing support for “human rights abuses.”
The United States must carefully shape its military presence so as not to create a popular backlash, while retaining the capability to protect the free flow of critical natural resources and to provide a counterbalance to Iran. Earlier American deployments in Saudi Arabia and Iraq generated violent local opposition. What the West views as a deterrent against aggression could also be misconstrued or portrayed as an occupying presence.
As is usual, the most fundamental facts about US foreign policy toward the Middle East are openly talked about in high-level government agencies and bureaucracies, even while they remain too treasonous to explain on network news. What is striking is that Washington continues to insist on maintaining this military and economic dominance over the region, despite the horrors it has caused for the populations and for the safety of the US (think 9/11, which was a direct response to this kind of interventionism).
The United States should preserve the model of ‘‘lily pad’’ bases throughout the Gulf, which permits the rapid escalation of military force in case of emergency. The Obama administration has adopted this architecture by retaining only essential personnel in the region while ensuring access to critical hubs such as Camp Arifjan [in Kuwait], Al Udeid [Qatar], Al Dhafra [in the UAE], Jebel Ali [in the UAE], and Naval Support Activity Bahrain. An agile footprint enables the United States to quickly deploy its superior conventional force should conflict arise, without maintaining a costly and unsustainable presence. Sustaining physical infrastructure and enabling functions such as intelligence, surveillance, and logistics, while keeping certain war reserve materiel forward positioned, is more important than deploying large numbers of U.S. forces.
Preserving the model of “lily pad” bases peppered throughout the Gulf, which are afforded to Washington because it bribes undemocratic regimes with money and weapons, is how Washington maintains overweening power over the most geo-politically vital region in the world. This has been US policy since WWII, as a Top Secret National Security Council briefing put it in 1954, “the Near East is of great strategic, political, and economic importance,” as it “contains the greatest petroleum resources in the world” as well as “essential locations for strategic military bases in any world conflict.” After Obama administration failed in its efforts to maintain a large contingent of US forces in Iraq, following their predecessors launching of a criminal war there, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta said he envisions about 40,000 troops will be stationed in the Middle East going forward.
Not only does this lead to US support for all kinds of repression and state terror, but it is detrimental to US security in the long term. The “backlash” the Committee is so worried about cannot be avoided and the veritable garrisoning of Iran’s surroundings makes the Islamic Republic more guarded, which amplifies tensions and increases the likelihood of unnecessary conflict. The alternative, minding our own business, is incomprehensible.