May 3rd, 2013

Is the Middle East becoming a has-been?

For the better part of a century the Middle East has been like a girl who was an ugly duckling turned into a swan, courted by all and sundry because of her newfound beauty and unaware that her looks might fade.

She can become accustomed to men fawning over her and tolerating her misbehavior, and get to thinking it’s not just her beauty that gives her such power. And yet her looks are her currency in the world, and as she ages she is likely to find to her surprise that the world no longer cares all that much about her.

That may be happening to the Middle East, according to Victor Davis Hanson. With relative rapidity the world has discovered ways to extract precious oil from more difficult-to-retrieve deposits in other parts of the globe, threatening Middle Eastern dominance of the market. The Middle Eastern (mostly Arab, but Iran is heavily involved as well) nations involved have never seemed to have much of a contingency plan for this eventuality (like the young beauty who fails to get her college degree or snag a rich husband), or if they have they failed to implement it.

One of the new kids on the block is, paradoxically enough, Israel, which has discovered its own vast gas and oil reserves and is poised to exploit them. Hanson believes that this will change Europe’s attitude:

Most likely, Europe’s past opportunistic disdain of Israel and fawning over Arab autocracies were based entirely on oil politics. In the future, the fair-weather European Union will as likely move away from the Middle East as it will pledge a newfound friendship with the once unpopular but now resource-rich Israel.

“Entirely”? I’m not so sure I agree with Hanson there; I think Europe’s hatred of Israel has been multiply-determined and has much deeper and wider roots than that. I’d like to be wrong and have him proven right, though. I do think, however, that there’s at least some truth to what he says, and that therefore the future may at least hold a chance for a change in Europe’s attitude towards Israel to a sort of grudgingly pragmatic peaceful co-existence.

Or, as post-WWII British Labour Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin once observed (1948), “The Kingdom of Heaven runs on righteousness, but the Kingdom of Earth runs on oil.” Is the oil scepter in the process of being passed?

If so, let’s hope the unforeseen consequences of that change do not include a paroxysm of rage in the Arab Middle East and Iran that ignites a new wave of terrorism at the prospect of being passed over in terms of influence and power.

11 Responses to “Is the Middle East becoming a has-been?”

  1. Conrad Says:

    A generation ago, Americans would literally fantasize about the discovery of vast energy resources under U.S. soil as a solution to various economic and geopolitical problems. Unfortunately, now that those fantasies are being realized, we have another problem on our hands: the determination of liberal elites to make sure America never again achieves economic or political dominance.

    The elites are thoroughly mired in the beliefs that America’s wealth comes at the expense of other nations and that the U.S. in fact has an obligation to subsidize the people and institutions of other countries. This is simply socialism on a global scale, with the U.S. cast in the role of the “millionaires and billionaires” Obama is constantly railing against.

    The fact that the U.S. may have oil and gas resources to rival those of the Middle East presents an inconvenient truth to the Davos crowd. They simply cannot countenance the exploitation of those resources on America’s behalf. Instead, we are seeing — and will continue to see — Obama and his leftist supporters using any means necessary to kill projects like ANWR and the Keystone pipeline, while supporting carbon taxes and other vehicles whereby American growth can be constrained and/or diverted to non-domestic entities and interests.

    It is a sad but unavoidable fact that this president, along with many of his powerful supporters, simply do not regard the interests of America as his highest priority, but rather considers it to be his role and duty to constrain America’s economic and political might for the sake of other countries.

  2. George Pal Says:

    How in the name of all that’s obvious can Hanson envision the EU making nice with Israel? There’s more than oil in the Mid East in play; there’s the Mid East in the EU that’s the problem. The growing influence of the OIC in the UN, the growing muslim population, and the burgeoning extraterritorial enclaves – No Go (for infidels) zones – will extort from the EU and its components at least a continued, and likely even more strident, anti-Israel, anti-Zionist, anti-Semitic outlook – and threat. Jews and ‘islamophobes’ are whistling past the graveyard if they believe the end of oil will be the beginning of respite.

  3. J.J. formerly Jimmy J. Says:

    From 1971 to 1979 the U.S. airlines were mired in a period of no growth. Many pilots were furloughed. Some of them took contract jobs flying for Saudi Airlines. One was a friend of mine. After three years living and working in Saudi Arabia, he had nothing good to say about the Saudis. His opinion was that when the oil ran out they would just get back on their camels and ride into the desert. Even then they had no Plan B. AS Churchill said way back in 1899, “The effects are apparent in many countries, improvident habits, slovenly systems of agriculture, sluggish methods of commerce, and insecurity of property exist wherever the followers of the Prophet rule or live.”

    Considering that oil money is what primarily fuels Islamic terrorism, the quicker they become a footnote in the history of oil production, the better.

    Since Europe is held an energy hostage by the Arabs and Russia, I believe they will welcome Israel as a new supplier. It may be a bitter pill to swallow for some, but the avaiability of reasonably priced, secure supplies will make the medicine go down much easier.

  4. waltj Says:

    The only “oil state” in the Middle East that has even remotely prepared for the day the wells run dry is the UAE, especially Dubai. Dubai has tried to convert itself, with some success, into a desert Singapore, with a free port, large financial sector, with unrestricted capital flows, and a predictable, honest legal system. Although Dubai’s ruler Sheikh Mohammad is a decent, forward-looking man, he has a major problem to contend with: most of Dubai’s productive workers are not Emiratis, or even Arabs. European, Korean, and North American expats dominate hi-tech and professional jobs, Filipinos run the white-collar service sector (I’ve never had a hotel desk clerk in Dubai who wasn’t from the Philippines), and Bangladeshis, Pakistanis, and various Africans do the manual labor. That’s not a formula for sustained success.

    @J.J.: Agree with your friend on the Saudis. I had a bunch of Saudi lieutenants in my infantry officer class at Ft. Benning back in the ’70s, and they were the laziest, most worthless pieces of sh** that I’d ever seen. Nothing in the intervening 30+ years has changed my mind.

  5. Sam L. Says:

    “If so, let’s hope the unforeseen consequences of that change do not include a paroxysm of rage in the Arab Middle East and Iran that ignites a new wave of terrorism at the prospect of being passed over in terms of influence and power. ”

    That’s a FORESEEN consequence.

  6. holmes Says:

    This was a great analogy, by the way!

  7. rickl Says:

    Let ‘em eat sand and drink oil.

    Paradoxically, it is access to Western money, technology, and education that makes Arab Muslims dangerous to the West. Take all that away, and they will be a primitive, impoverished backwater which will pose no threat to us whatsoever.

  8. Geoffrey Britain Says:

    “I think Europe’s hatred of Israel has been multiply-determined and has much deeper and wider roots than that.” neo-neocon

    As much as I admire Hanson, I concur with neo.

    Europe will welcome Israel’s energy supplies while simultaneously maintaining its condemnation of Israel’s ‘apartheid’ regime. Besides the factors previously mentioned, there is Europe’s ideological tenet…transnationalism.

    The European intelligentsia, its political and bureaucratic elite have long accepted the premise that war is caused by nationalism. The horrors of WWI and II led to the rise of transnationalism and its subsequent offspring, the UN, the EU, the World Court, etc.

    The foremost proponents in the West of nationalism are the US and Israel. Add transnationalism to antisemitism and you have the ideological tenets that will not allow Europe to sincerely “pledge a newfound friendship with the once unpopular but now resource-rich Israel.”

  9. Jimbo Says:

    I also agree with Neo. The European hatred of the Jews is very deep and has nothing to do with rationality. They will accept Jewish oil and gas but still harbor a resentment that goes way back. There is a very good reason most Jews in Europe have left. If the stayed, they would have perished. Ironically, the Arabs, who also descend from Abraham, may find a way to get along with their fellow Semites. A peacefull, prosperous Middle East could become the most profitable tourist trap on Earth!

  10. Rich Says:

    When was the last time that something didn’t cause a “paroxysm of rage in the Arab Middle East”.

  11. Richard Aubrey Says:

    Ran into a guy who was ex Air Force, and a contract maintainer for the Saudi Air Force. He and his wife could stand it, and the really good money, for about two years.
    He would second the above remarks.
    You may recall that the Saudi pilot who killed two Iraqi fighters in the Gulf War was a Bedouin, not one of the princely class. Or, probably you don’t recall it, but it was noted as an example of the sclerotic nature of Saudi society. Even with all the advantages, a “sand monkey” was the hottest pilot.

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Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.
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