Losing the Middle East 

Saudi unrest just the latest sign of failure

While President Bush continues to bluster on about “staying the course” and defeating “evildoers,” the reality of America’s standing in the Middle East is quite a different story. Simply put, we are losing the war in Iraq despite the best propaganda efforts of the Bush administration to convince us otherwise. That so many needless deaths have already occurred would be bad enough, but thanks to the magnificent failure of the Bush “crusade,” recent developments point to the rapid and widespread rise of regional anti-Americanism which threatens to spawn violent conflict with one united goal: Get the U.S. out of the Middle East.

Most of those who listen to, watch or read the so-called “mainstream” national media are probably unaware that the U.S. embassy and consulates in Saudi Arabia were shut down this week due to “specific and credible” threats against American interests. On July 30, the 35,000 Americans in Saudi Arabia, one of our supposedly staunch allies in the Persian Gulf, were advised by the American embassy to leave the country. A similar advisory for Americans to leave the country was issued the same day in Kuwait, another of our great “allies.” In both cases, Americans in the area have been advised to exercise extreme caution when frequenting “Western” establishments and to change their travel habits regularly.

This new wave of discontent follows hard on the heels of the Aug. 1 death of King Fahd, who, at 84, had held the throne and led the House of Saud since 1982. Fahd was replaced—at least for now—by his 82-year-old half-brother, Crown Prince Abdullah, who has been primarily responsible for the kingdom’s leadership since Fahd’s stroke in 1995. Of particular interest is the appointment of Prince Sultan, the country’s defense minister, as the new crown prince. Reportedly, Sultan has been battling al-Queda sympathizers who “have targeted westerners in a bid to undermine the ruling al-Saud family and threaten the oil industry.” That battle, it would appear, is going to escalate.

What the calcified American press did pick up on was the corresponding rise in oil prices that accompanied this latest turn of events. On Monday, oil jumped to new highs, topping $64 a barrel, up nearly 50 percent from a year ago. Given that Saudi Arabia has the world’s largest known oil reserves, the specter of violence against western interests and their long-standing relationship with the Saudi royal family has been widely credited with contributing significantly to that increase.

Unless you made a conscious effort to connect the geopolitical dots, what most people will notice from all these warnings, shut-downs and threats is the continuing rise in the price of gas at the pump, which, like the price of crude oil, hit new record highs this week at a nationwide average of $2.34 per gallon. Despite George Bush’s crowing about the wonderful new energy bill, with its billions in subsidies for polluting industries, the price of gas is likely to put the pinch on your pocketbook far into the foreseeable future.

Which brings us back to the spectacular failure of Bush’s foreign policy in the Middle East. Although we are at war in Iraq, where some 140,000 American troops are now stationed, it was Saudi Arabian nationals, not Iraqis, who flew hijacked airliners into the Twin Towers on Sept. 11. While Bush and his war-hungry neocons claim to be fighting a “global war on terror,” the reality is that the same frustrations over unwanted western influences on Arab countries that fueled the 9/11 strikes are growing exponentially. Every day it is becoming more widely recognized—and more undeniably evident—that George Bush’s tragic war in Iraq has backfired completely. Far from defeating the “terrorists,” Bush’s war has instead turned the region into a training ground for anti-American insurgents from across the Middle East. Following Bush’s logic has been like watching a bug run around in a bowl. At first, we were told the Iraq War was necessary to rid the world of the threat of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction. Then, having failed to turn up even one WMD, the excuse du jour became “fighting terrorists.” Now, as things have gone from bad to worse in the war-torn country, we are fighting “radical Islamists”—which is at least a lot closer in spirit to Bush’s original “crusade” metaphor for this foolish and doomed exercise of savage lethal force.

Just as crazy as the reasons for going to war in Iraq are the ever-changing explanations of when—and how—we are going to get out of this quagmire. Only months ago, Bush refused to provide a timetable for American withdrawal, claiming that doing so would encourage “terrorists.” Now, with polls showing only 38-percent approval for the war, and with the abject failure to fill military recruiting quotas across the nation, discussions of troop withdrawal are coming from the highest levels of the administration.

What it all boils down to is that we have already lost the war in Iraq—and we are now losing whatever influence we may have had in the entire Middle East. Iran, for instance, has just restarted its nuclear program, which promises to provoke even more useless saber rattling from Bush. By the time this column hits print, Saudi Arabia may well be experiencing the violence predicted by the “specific and credible” threats that shut down the U.S. embassy and our consulates. If so—and this is what the oil “experts” fear—there is a good chance that violence will also target the Saudi oil-supply infrastructure.

Someday, as many already suspect, we’ll be kicked out of the Middle East just as we were kicked out of Vietnam. There will be no victory. Whether we like it or not, we have simply lost the Middle East. Bush will work hard to convince us otherwise—but that’s just painting lipstick on the corpse of America’s former greatness.

When not lobbying the Montana Legislature, George Ochenski is rattling the cage of the political establishment as a political analyst for the Independent. Contact Ochenski at opinion@missoulanews.com.

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