Many editors and publishers believe that this general public needs to be exposed to the conclusions of either various experts or popular agitators and polemicists, but that the audience either would not understand or appreciate an article based in the fundamentals and the framework, on the theoretical or academic level, which frames these debates.
A different view, the one taken by the author, is that the general public in fact does not read on this subject at all. The core readership for writings on this subject are a different category of citizen-activists, whose interest goes beyond passing, and whose capacity to understand and appreciate the subject stands heads and shoulders above the general public.
The aim of this article is first to explain why the US’s Middle-east policy is a chauvinist/exceptionalist variation of irrational idealism in the language of International Relations, and how this policy can best be understood as originating from Israel as it fits the needs of this state quite well to the exclusion of others including the US itself. In order to explain to the readership why this is so, we will necessarily explain the relevance of International Relations (IR) theory to the subject at hand.
The academic and institutional field of International Relations is what provides us with several theories and working models for explaining the ‘world system’. It, tends to indicate several things:
1. The US’s policy on the Middle-east is based in Chauvinist Irrational Idealism. Understanding these terms and why this is so will be most of the focus of this article. In summary, the chauvinism is analogous to ‘American exceptionalism’. The irrationalism is based in the unwinnable/unworkable nature of the policy. The idealism is the fetishization of the concept of ‘alliances’. An alliance becomes based in idealism when, for example, one state will destroy itself out of fidelity to another.
2. Israel has a dangerous influence on the US’s Middle-east policy.This will invariably lead the US to a confrontation with regional and bordering hegemons like Iran and Russia. This influence is extraordinary insofar as US policy seems to be directed by a foreign state (Israel). It is extraordinary because a lack of sovereign control over foreign policy is typically seen in the dependency model and is normal for weaker states subject to control by stronger states. The US is widely understood as a powerful state, so it is extraordinary in this abnormality, that its policy would be controlled by a foreign state.
The present situation
Recent statements by US officials and candidates for office are indeed not only subjectively obnoxious but also objectively illegal by the standards of international law.
Fortunately this posturing – while serving a predictable and convenient political purpose that supports spending on the military industrial complex, and distracts from ongoing race and class related social crises in the US – would actually result in catastrophic defeat for the Empire in the Syrian theatre, if words were translated into actions.
Oddly, US media attempts to paint Russia’s publicly stated aim as if it is a conspiracy; as if Russia is concealing its support for the legal institutions in Syria and only using its campaign against ISIS as a cynical cover for that.
But the Russian president has not only made this clear publicly within Russia, but went on US television on NBC’s 60 minutes and – when directly asked by the interviewer – confirmed that indeed Russia is working to buttress the recognized government of Syria. These actions are entirely consistent with international law.
The US public has been largely led to take for granted that US activity outside of its own borders is categorically different in essence from those of other states. In the sense that the US focuses most of its activities far outside of its natural sphere of influence (i.e. North America and the Caribbean), this is correct. Also, that the US undertakes its actions in contravention to international law and standing accords and agreements between states, it is also exceptional.
But the ideology of American exceptionalism changes how these ‘exceptions’ are understood within the US: rather than being viewed as problematic and evidence of a criminal system which stands outside of the norms of international law and as established by the international community, through various accords and standing bodies such as the UN –
International Relations theory is the international standard ‘metric’ by which states understand each other and by which analysts understand states
The United States, more than any other country – perhaps uniquely – is the single state that repeatedly confuses the basic concepts and terms in IR and international law – creating an incoherent mess out of meaning, language, and internationally accepted standards. It combines and mixes phrases and meanings, which produces a meandering and self-referential combination of ‘mumbo-jumbo’ which categorically can only be described as discoherence. It switches its own internal and implied meanings and definitions for the consensus ones.
For example, ‘legitimacy’ in International Relations deals with legality and a positive description of existing states, and not a normative one. A state in the world can be for example one or almost any combination of these: theocratic, socialist, democratic, nationalist, military-government, republican, monarchical, communist, fascist, (and others).
The founding principles of international law and, for example, the UN recognize these both overtly and de facto in that governments of this type represent states which have standing at the UN.
Human rights is a factor both in international law and at the level of the UN. However, it is important to understand here that in principle a ‘democratic state’ can violate human rights while a ‘fascist state’ can be seen to observe them. The concept of human rights is a normative one, and it is probably accurate to say that all states fail this standard to some extent and indeed violate them. A state that has violated human rights is not a state that has lost legitimacy.
But ‘legitimacy’ in US language only refers to its friends and partners, and vaguely though very inconsistently refers to concepts of democracy, freedom, and human rights. It is confused and inconsistent because it will refer to a democratic or republican semi-dictatorship type state (e.g Syria) that has probably abused human rights, as a dictatorship. Remember, the normative standard is very high and on a case-by-case basis. But it will conclude therefore that the Syrian government is not legitimate, while simultaneously supporting democratic and monarchical human rights abusing states in the same region (e.g Israel and Saudi Arabia, respectively).
The United States uses international platforms to threaten other states and to communicate in this discoherent syntax to its own population. But other states interpret their statements, indeed as threats, but ones which are not rational and instead based in this discoherence.
Russian President Putin made this point very clear last week at the UN when he said that the language used in the international arena should use terms that are clear, consistent, and transparent in their meaning:
Every term in international law and international affairs (relations) should be clear, transparent and have uniformly understood criteria. We are all different, and we should respect that. No one has to conform to a single development model that someone has once and for all recognized as the only right one. We should all remember what our past has taught us.
The US in the Middle-east acts as a Chauvinist, and irrational idealist state
These are the most dangerous, historically. US policy in the middle-east is largely irrational from the perspective of a standard reading of classical ‘international relations’ (IR): from either a realist or idealist perspective. From these perspectives, there is little basis for intervention if the US does not want to face serious set-backs in the global arena, or if it does not want to create a global conflict which it is projected to lose.
Even within the framework of the US’s own ‘best interests’ defined realistically within the framework of a corporatist-capitalist Empire, it cannot be rationally justified from the perspective of ‘realist’ classical or basic IR theory.
While the dominating US policy in the middle-east is rooted in idealism, it is not rational. It cannot be justified within the classical or basic IR category of rational idealism. Also, its policies, whether rational or irrational, are not rooted in an idealism based in conceptions of peace, mutual respect, and stability – but rather in conceptions of domination, chauvinism, exceptionalism, and the fetishization of military solutions.
In practical terms, this means that its self destruction will not be the result of trying to save the world, but as a result of trying to dominate it. In realist terms, these motivations are secondary considerations. What is significant is its irrationalism. Its motivations (domination) and justification (chauvinism as ‘American exceptionalism’) will however have an effect on international perceptions of the US which will have a material consequence in the willingness of other states to aid the US in the aftermath of its self-immolation.
Conclusively its policies can properly be located in the realm of irrational idealism. The US cannot interact constructively with other world players because it either employs or pretends to employ an “inherent bad faith model in international relations and political psychology”. It justifies its own irrationality on the basis that its opponents are irrational and implacably hostile. It is a continuation of the orientation of John Foster Dulles. It was the Dulles-based theories of nuclear brinkmanship and the bad faith model which almost ended life on earth during the Cuban Missile Crisis.
When both Putin and Obama delivered their statements a few days ago to the UN, they specifically referred to the language and theories of IR. For these reasons and more, it is important to have some grasp of what this international language is all about.
Background and relevancy
It is important to understand that despite whatever reasons are given for any action, US plans are developed by experts not only in economics, media/information and military – but are summarized and standardized in their presentation by experts in IR.
In other words, despite what the layman believes or thinks are the reasons for decisions (and these opinions may be frequently right) at the level of US policy formulation, the language and theories of IR are used to explain, justify, and develop the actual plans.
IR was founded a hundred years ago in England by David Davies at the University of Wales, and within five years gained traction and was founded by Philip Noel-Baker at the London School of Economics.
IR is more than diplomacy, and more than agreements. In the US school, it also involves security studies, geopolitics, and geostrategy – the last two being the European schools of German origin and closest to and most compatible to the US school of ‘IR’. Frederick Lewis Schuman was the first American to take the German school of ‘War Geo-politics’ and make and found the US school of Geostrategy.
Superficially, Geopolitics directly infers a relationship to spatial geographic reality, and IR does not at least in its name. But IR must also incorporate the same spatial realities when translating any general theory into a specific set of policies or recommendations. Geostrategy relies heavily on real, actual, existing, material factors and tends to focus more on military matters, and as such is most compatible with realist theory in IR. After all, there are no such things as normative bullets, only real ones.
Indeed, there are a number of IR theories, which are often categorized. Over the course of the last century, any number of categories have been developed and specialized. While there is little agreement between the experts on the proper categorization of the theories, to generalize it is useful as an introduction to view all of these as either based in idealism (normative) or realism (positive). Classical IR theory, as with geopolitics and geostrategy, uses ‘States’, typically nation-states in the Westphalian model, as the basic subject and actor.
Basically, idealism or normative theories explain that states either are or should be motivated by ideas which relate to their core principles, and either do or ought to interact with the world in a way which furthers the vision-based interests of these ideals. States may act rationally in pursuit of these ideals (they may have a realistic assessment of their limitations), or in other theories the idealism itself prevents rational execution of such policies (such as in irrationalism theory).
Idealism therefore combines normative and positive explanations for the world: idealism can be used to describe the actual policies of a state as ideal-driven, or can be used to proscribe policies for a state – that they should be ideal-driven. That they ‘should be’ ideal driven often pertains to theories about peace and stability. However, other ideals may relate to the idealization of war and conquest.
Realism theory explains that states either are consciously or unconsciously – when successful – motivated by a realist assessment which places the economic, material, strategic needs either ahead of others (i.e. normative ones) or does not concern itself with others. Realism theory also understands that states can be driven by ideals – but would tend to view the resulting policies of those others states as tending to be irrational more so than rational.
By and large, most of these theories can be viewed either or both as competing theories or complimentary theories. Today there are dozens of sub-fields ranging from post-structuralism to neo-realism, and more. There are also many combinations of both realism and idealism, and other categories still which reject the utility of the categories. Others moreover suggest that what are believed to be new categories were not previously contemplated in the realism/idealism schema.
Application to the middle-east
To generalize, the framework of US activities in the US will either be justified and/or explained in terms of realism and/or idealism.
Both Bush and Obama have used the language of realism and idealism – often in the same speeches or statements – to justify US activities in the middle-east.
Justifications for military actions or sanctions rooted in security concerns, i.e. terrorism – are appeals to realism or idealism. They are idealist and even irrational when the threats are assessed by the wants, stated aims, nature, verbiage, or tone of parties issuing threats to the US as opposed to their actual capacity to project force.
Justifications for military actions or sanctions rooted in commitment to allies may be rooted either in idealism or realism.
In realist theory, overtures to idealist reasoning, when used by states practicing realism, are seen as pragmatic methods of gaining popular support, by appealing to emotions like altruism over reason and rational self interest. In that sense, in realism theory, overtures to idealism when used by a realist state are seen as cynical and not really believed by those promoting them.
But in actually looking at either the classical model of idealism or realism, the US is not behaving in accordance with the rational versions of either one. We can see this clearly.
From idealism, there are a number of inconsistencies which reveal that the US is not acting from the perspective of rational idealism:
1.) The US has nowhere established the sort of stable, developmentally oriented, bastions of human rights and democracies which they claimed were their idealist motivations from the Bush II administration onward.
The countries they have attacked were stable, developmentally oriented states that were secular, and scored high on the UN human development index.
2.) The US has not attacked countries much farther from its own stated idealist vision – such as Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, or Jordan. These countries rank lower in the above listed categories, and are operated as monarchies that suffer from much greater disparities in the overall distribution of wealth, resources, and rights.
From realism – we can see two standards, neither of which are actually realized through the actions taken.
1.) From a realist security perspective of counter-terrorism – the realist justification that was given simultaneously with the idealist one at the same time – US activity has caused less stability and has emboldened terrorism. Even if we consider that terrorism is used as a US tool for destabilization, the utility of destabilization as a strategy is itself highly problematic in achieving the US’s long term position.
The destruction of institutions and destabilization, the internecine, intra-tribal, and religious divisions which the US fostered and manipulated in Iraq and Syria in the process of meeting their stated aims, only resulted in the kinds of social conditions which give rise to ‘extremism’.
2.) From a realist perspective of regional hegemony, the US also does not meet its hegemonic goals in its creation of failed states in the Middle-East. It has created the spectacle of power vacuums and appearance of instability which by themselves would be considered well developed, but for their obvious consequences.
Why? US regional hegemony in the Middle-East is rationally concerned chiefly with access to resources such as oil and natural gas. The US does not exist in the Middle-East, and in the abstract has relative freedom to choose its partners and allies. We are often told that Iran is the US’s main target in the Middle-East – which is accurate – and we proceed to ascribe realism-based interpretations to the US’s stated goals, policies and actions. But why, in the first place, is Iran the US’s target?
While Iran has publicly disapproved of the US’s failure to recognize Palestine or to act to pressure its regional allies to respect the human rights of Palestinians – in pure realist terms, Palestine is not a primary concern for Iran which supersedes all others. Iran has shown a willingness to tackle joint ‘problems’ with the US – the two most recent examples historically being first in Yugoslavia and second in Iraq.
A strong Iran as a US ally is the only power that could check Russian power in the Caucuses without the US over-depending on Turkey. Such an agreement would also aid in Afghanistan, and could work to frustrate any Russian, Chinese, or Indian attempts to broker a potent reconciliation of nuclear Pakistan and nuclear India.
A genuinely realist policy for the US would necessarily be aimed at competing with Russia and China for an improved standing with Iran, and would be aimed at steering Iran, Turkey, Syria, and Egypt to cooperate to jointly construct the infrastructure required for extraction and transfer of natural resources.
Indeed, part of this realism is seen at work in the de-escalation of tensions with Iran. Rapprochement with Iran, and getting it to develop one of several of the pre-sanctions pipeline plans which either (or both) involved Syria and Turkey was critical to this.
In a brief glimpse of rational realism, John Kerry explained to the congress that the failure of the Iran deal would have a very negative impact on the stability of the US dollar. This was indeed an accurate assessment.
But we continue to hear or read that the main US threat to the US in the middle-east region is Iran.
We have read and heard this so many times, that subsequent threats or actions taken against Iran – and its ally Syria – are taken for granted as being realist approaches to hegemony building or maintenance.
But Iran’s position indeed is not objectively problematic for the US. In terms of energy markets, they are a required player for any number of US plans – whether this is Nabucco, as Azerbaijan cannot have a sustainable policy which is simultaneously at odds with both Russia and Iran, or the Southern Corridor, or the Persian pipeline (or similar).
US’s policy, which cannot be explained either in realist or rational idealist terms forces us to look at how where this irrational idealism stems from. It tends to mirror dependency theory, but as stated above, it is extraordinary that a relatively weak state such as Israel could have this kind ‘controlling’ relationship with a strong state such as the US.
This leaves us to focus on other facts which we have not yet considered.
It is true that Iran’s claim to hegemony has increased as a result of the US destruction of the Ba’athist state in Iraq. In particular, it has increased in a westward direction, towards the Levant. Its influence in Lebanon with Hezbollah or through the March 8th Alliance, and in Syria with the government, has grown.
We must move past the ‘inherent bad faith model in international relations and political psychology’ projected onto Iran. This is necessary because Iran has shown itself to be a pragmatic player. Once we get past this we are left with an unanswered question.
In what way does Iran’s growing power threaten the US’s influence in the region?
It does not. It threatens Israel’s.
The US’s Irrational Idealism is Israel’s Realism
Israel through AIPAC, and also through Neo-cons, controls much of US policy formulation at the level of think tanks and advocacy, and implementation at the congressional and executive level, for the Middle-East.
IR theory indicates that the US is not acting rationally, and is acting out of a professed and irrational fidelity to Israel. Strangely, the US acts rationally in other areas; which is separate distinction as discussed above from questions surrounding ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
The alliance is irrational because the US is weaker and more vulnerable as a result, and is pushed to take actions in the region against both regional (Iran) and neighboring (Russia) hegemons. The US is not projected to emerge successful in these confrontations in terms of its own sovereign interests. It will result in a real (and not simulated) power vacuum which is aimed at rolling back Iranian hegemony in favor of Israeli.
The aim is likely create a single and large Israeli presence, whether in state form or informal forms, situated between a friendly Saudi Arabia and Turkey. The plan to achieve this is popularly termed the ”Yinon Plan”.
The term “Yinon Plan” refers to an Article published in February 1982 in the journal Kivounim (“Guidance” in Hebrew), published by the World Zionist Organization, based in Jerusalem. The article, entitled A Strategy for Israel in the 80’s, is authored by Oded Yinon, an analyst and former official of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It considers that it is in the interests of the Jewish state to foster the creation of a Greater Israel in the collapse of the Arab world. To achieve this will mean the creation of weak and mutually antagonistic mini-states too divided to effectively oppose it.
Of course this term reflects a more public understanding of one of several possible or likely Israeli plans. While it is most definitely referred to something else within military and intelligence circles in Israel, it is also likely to generally reflect this basic concept of creating a large hegemonic sphere”From the Brook of Egypt to the Euphrates.”
A nearly identical plan was submitted to Benjamin Netanyahu titled A Clean Break : A New Strategy for Securing the Realm. This Israeli policy paper was written by Richard Perle and the study group on “A new Israeli strategy towards the year 2000” (Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies) which also included James Colbert, Charles Fairbanks Jr., Douglas Feith, Robert Loewenberg, Jonathan Torop, David Wurmser and Meyrav Wurmser. It was also published again in the journal the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies, in July 2006. It argues both for a break with the philosophy behind the Oslo Accords and for a regional hegemonic plan which mirrors the Yinon plan.
After obtaining a genuine regional hegemonic status not reliant on US support, Israel will be well positioned to resolve any differences with prior global opponents, even along win-win lines. It will place Israel chiefly in control of the water and energy resources in all the lands west of Iran. To do this also means breaking Iran into about five weaker and manageable states. This will involve the devolution of the Iranian identity into its constituent parts.
The US will have mostly spent its capacity to project into the middle-east, and instead will grapple with maintaining its NATO hegemony over Europe. Other results from Israel’s realist strategy are difficult to project, and involve too many then evolving variable to accurately project or succinctly list.
What is clear is that without Israeli control over the US’s middle-east policy, it would still be an Empire oriented power which would employ a combination of idealist rhetoric and realist strategic planning to maintain. But its policy in the middle-east region would be quite different, and would likely see a different alignment of powers aimed at checking Russia and China.
Along its current course, the US is likely to lose to the Syria-Iran-Russia alliance in the region. If Chinese efforts figure in these defeat is certain.
Israel’s realist goals may ultimately be poorly conceived, but they are probably rooted in the realist school. Conversely, if there is any religious fundamentalism – idealism – influencing Israel, in its desire to create a larger Israel which mirrors the mythical ‘promised land’, they are using rational methods to obtain it.
Israel is facing a series of internal crises and numerous analysts have indicated that on its present course it is an unsustainable project. Israel has probably correctly assessed that its survival will be based upon its expansion; this means a weaker Iran. If they use overtures to myth and religion to obtain this, it would be considered a rhetorical use of idealism to obtain a realist-determined position.
In connection with this, Israeli analysts have also properly surmised that the developing trend globally is multipolarity. Because the US is the only guarantor of Israel in the region, it means that presently Israel depends on the US to exist. But multipolarity means a decreased role for the US, which itself threatens Israel. If the US is projected continue to lose its former (and short-lived) uni-polar status, then it makes sense for Israel to attempt to steer the still useful US military into a target of its own choosing. Time is running out.
Israel’s work with Saudi Arabia and Turkey through the ISIS project has been an invaluable component of this general plan for Greater Israel. Israel’s control of the US policy has effectively made it the prime broker between other regional states like Turkey or the KSA and the US.
The remaining questions surround whether the US will rationally disengage and continue its officially stated surrender (“deconfliction talks”) of the Syria position to Russia, and continue its new agreement with Iran, or if the Israel lobby will succeed in pushing the US towards an irrational cataclysm that breaks its spine on the rock of Syria.
Joaquin Flores is a Mexican-American expat based in Belgrade. He is a full-time analyst and director at the Center for Syncretic Studies, a public geostrategic think-tank and consultancy firm, as well as the co-editor of Fort Russ news service. His expertise encompasses Eastern Europe, Eurasia, and he has a strong proficiency in Middle East affairs.
Source: The Center for Syncretic Studies.