[OPE-L:6065] Against Economic Determinism -- replies to Fred and Rakesh

From: Gerald_A_Levy (Gerald_A_Levy@email.msn.com)
Date: Sun Oct 14 2001 - 09:43:22 EDT

For some time I've been bothered by suggestions that the current
events in the Middle East can be understood only in terms of

I. US Middle East Policy

The crude version of economic determinism (sorry, Fred,
but that's the way I see it) was perhaps best expressed by
Fred recently in his suggestion that US policy on the Middle
East is "ALL" about oil.

Yet, US policies in the region have NOT been "all" about

While *much* of US foreign policy in the
Middle East can be explained with reference to oil,
there have been important other criteria guiding US policy

-- anti-communism and the suppression of revolutionary
    movements:  E.g. when in 1956 the US cut off promised
    funding for the Aswan Dam after Egypt received Eastern
    Bloc arms,  US policy was not "all" about oil; when in 1963
    the US gave the Iraqi Ba'ath party the names of communists
    to murder, the US action was not "all" about oil; when in 1958
    the US landed troops in Lebanon to preserve 'stability' (sic),
    US policy was not "all" about oil.

-- support for Israel: can not be reduced to oil. This is, after all,
    a major part of US foreign policy in the Middle East, is it not?
    It is noteworthy, for instance, that for many years Israel has been
    the leading or second-leading recipient of US economic aid (indeed,
    it is questionable whether the Israeli economy could have survived
    without this aid), has received massive amounts of US weapons,
    and has benefited from US vetoes in the  UN Security Council.
    The continued survival of Israel is more than about the narrow
    question of oil from the perspective of the US government. There
    is a strong pro-Zionist lobby in the US that has had a major impact
    on US foreign policy (just as the anti-Cuba - e.g. gusano -- lobby
     has had a major impact on US policy towards Cuba), right?
     This suggests that there are some *domestic* reasons for US

-- not everything economic in the region is about oil: e.g. the Suez
    Canal and nearby sea lanes are important for the US not only as
    a means to ship oil (and for the transit of military vessels), but also
    for other economic reasons.  Thus, if these sea lanes were closed, it
    would divert shipping around the Cape of Storms and lead to
    significant increases in transport costs (similarly, the US has a major
    economic interest in keeping the Panama Canal open as it is
    important to avoid having to divert shipping around Cape Horn or
    through the Straights of Magellan).

-- military objectives: e.g. the creation of military bases that can be used
    to deploy US troops and launch military assaults not only in the
    Middle East but in other areas in Africa and Asia. Similarly, the
    desire by the US government to not allow additional countries to
    develop nuclear weapons (and thereby challenge US military
    hegemony) is an important aspect of US foreign policy that has not
    'all' been about oil (e.g. consider the sanctions against Pakistan --
    only lifted last week).

Etc. Etc.

II.  The goals and beliefs of bin Laden and al-Queda

Previously I wrote:

>  What is not speculative, however (since bin Laden has
> explicitly stated this) is that he has not forgiven the US for using
> military bases in Saudi Arabia, which are not far from Islamic holy sites,
> to attack Iraq in the Gulf War.

To which Rakesh replied in [6027]:

> bin laden has also unequivocally railed against the robbery of oil wealth.

I also wrote (and here I was warning against economic determinism):

> " It would be most unwise, imo, to
> underestimate
> the force of religious convictions in motivating bin Laden. He may be a
> capitalist
> (heir to an enormous oil fortune) but he is motivated more than by the
> capitalist
> credo to accumulate."

To which Rakesh replied:

> i do doubt that in the absence of the precipituous decline in Saudi
> incomes in
> the last twenty years that Osama bin Laden would be able to recruit so
> successfully against the US occupation of holy sites.  many saudis seem
> convinced that since the americans are not needed for protection after the
> decimation of saddam, they are only there to ensure that saudi oil wealth
> essentially controlled and invested by American interests and that Saudi
> is invested in the US and Europe. It is in this context (as well as the
loss of
> Arab land to invaders) that the american occupation of holy sites is
> experienced as so humiliating, imo.

Much of what Rakesh writes above is accurate, but by emphasizing economic
grievances, I believe that he underestimates the role that religious
conviction can motivate people. This is, of course, not to suggest that
as a religion supports terrorist action. But, it does suggest that the
actions of
extremist religious movements (whether they claim to be based on
Christianity, Judaism, or Islamic teaching) can be motivated independently
by their
religious convictions.  Thus, *even if* oil and US imperialism were not
issues for bin Laden, the US military presence in areas nearby Islamic holy
sights *would* be experienced as 'so humiliating'.

In noting the role of oil and US imperialism, Rakesh did not note other
(primarily) non-economic factors that concern 'cultural imperialism' by
the 'West' and the changing role of women in the Middle East which has
come under attack from an Islamic fundamentalist perspective. It was
thus no accident that women were some of the first victims of the
particular kind of Islamic fundamentalism represented by Khomeni in
the early 1980's in Iran.

Indeed, much of al-Queda's policies are totally incomprehensible if we
don't consider the force of religious conviction. E.g. why did bin Laden
seek to have the Quaddafi government in Libya overthrown? What
has been al-Queda's position on the Syrian governmenment?

One can *not* infer, therefore, that al-Queda and bin Laden are *primarily*
motivated by economic grievances.  Relatedly, they do not claim to be
(nor are they) anti-imperialist.

What do others think?

In solidarity, Jerry

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