Not What You Think

With all of the political hoopla and heifer dust that is spread about the Middle East, you might think we are totally dependent on Middle Eastern oil. Actually, we are not.

The United States imports about 62 percent of its oil and other petroleum products. Only about 11 percent of domestic usage comes from the Persian Gulf countries. Saudi Arabia, for example, supplies about 7.2 percent of domestic usage.

Our main imports by far come from Canada, Mexico, Venezuela, and Nigeria. From January to July 2004, Saudi Arabia was fourth, just ahead of Nigeria and behind Canada, Mexico, and Venezuela. Iraq was sixth. These figures [.pdf] are from the American Petroleum Institute.

We are bogged down in the Middle East because of Israel, not oil. Iraq was perceived as a threat to Israel, not to Saudi Arabia and certainly not to us. A man who at one time prepared the president’s daily intelligence briefing told me years ago that there was never any indication whatsoever that Iraq was going to invade Saudi Arabia. We just used that as an excuse for the first Gulf War.

The majority of American diplomatic efforts in the Middle East are directed at trying to persuade Arab countries to accept Israel. Their relationship to Israel is really none of our business.

I realize that members of a Christian cult that originated in the 19th century believe they have a biblical obligation to love Israel. Well, people are entitled to their religious beliefs, but none of them has any business being used as a basis for American foreign policy. We have one, and only one, interest in the Middle East. That is access, at a fair market price, to oil. Whether the countries from which we buy oil like or don’t like Israel, are democracies or monarchies or dictatorships, is immaterial and irrelevant.

I harbor no ill feelings toward Israel. In many ways, it is an admirable country, but it is a foreign country, and the United States should treat Israel the same as it treats every other foreign nation. We should make it clear, for example, that Israel’s enemies are not our enemies. If the Israelis and the Syrians don’t get along, that’s their business. Our relations with Syria should be based strictly on how Syria treats Americans and America’s interests.

Unfortunately, Israel has a very powerful lobby in the United States. Even though our intelligence people said Syria was cooperating with the United States in the war on terrorism, we nevertheless applied sanctions, not because of anything Syria said about us or did, but because Syria allows some Palestinian organizations opposed to Israeli occupation to operate inside Syria.

When Jimmy Carter was president, we ended up in effect paying bribes both to Israel and to Egypt so they would sign a peace treaty. That was a dumb thing to do. It was in their interest, not ours, to sign a peace treaty. Why should the American taxpayers be dunned to pay for it?

The whole underlying basis of the neoconservative cockamamie idea of democratizing the Middle East at the point of a gun is the theory that if the Arab countries are democracies, they will accept and get along with Israel. I seriously doubt that, as their dispute with Israel is not over forms of government but over Arab land Israel has seized and refuses to relinquish.

George Washington advised us to harbor neither habitual enmity nor habitual friendship for any foreign country. He also advised us to beware of foreign influence in our domestic affairs. Both pieces of good advice, and both ignored because too many politicians in Washington are wet-pants scared of the Israeli lobby.

We should not be involved in the Middle East at all except as purchasers of oil, but we will go on spending treasure and blood in that area until the American people elect some politicians brave enough to face down the Israeli lobby.

Establishing a modern state of Israel in the middle of the Arab world was a British colonial idea. Americans should not pay with their lives and tax dollars for a British blunder.

Author: Charley Reese

Charley Reese is a journalist.