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.