By Patrick Dele Cole
PRESIDENT Dwight Eisenhower called the Middle East “the most strategically important area in the world,” “a stupendous source strategic power and probably the richest economic prize in the world in the field of foreign investment.” State Department declared the Middle East “a prize that US intended to keep for itself and its allies in the unfolding new world order of the day.” Delano Roosevelt’s adviser, Adolf Berle, declared: “control of the incomparable energy reserves of the Middle East would yield substantial control of the world.
“Loss of control would threaten America and world domination” – a policy that has not changed since 1945. Oil changed the whole dynamic power in the world: the Middle East had the oil; the world needed the oil and were willing to do anything to get the oil. USSR, also for strategic reasons would not leave the West alone in the Middle East. As the western economy tottered because of the increase in oil prices, they needed to check the influence of USSR, while rebuilding its economy.
For this, both blocks the West and the USSR did all in their power in the Middle East to keep their respective influence, while check mating each other. Any arms wanted by countries in the Middle East, they got. From Atoll and Styx missiles, MIGs, 17, 19, 21, and 29 planes were sold to them. Three quarters of military material of India were supplied by USSR; India was licensed to produce military Soviet MIG fighter aircraft. USSR had denied China the production of this plane.
The USSR signed a 25 years treaty of peace, friendship and cooperation with India and agreed to provide economic, technical and military support. If India went one way, Pakistan would go the other way; hence Pakistan went to the United States. Saddam Hussein emphasising the importance of oil said: “the real moment when Iraq became independent was when it nationalised its oil industries and oil companies began to pay a fair price for the oil.” The Middle East was, at that time, characterised by what was described as an unimpeded unprecedented inflow of cash.1970s -1972-73, Iran’s oil revenue rose eight fold; Iraq revenue rose 50 fold from 26 billion USD to 575 billion USD. The more money that flowed into the Middle East the more Islamic it became. In 1973, Syria and Egypt became one country and attacked Israel in Operation Badr.
Not only did they become more Islamic they also became dynastic.1973 was in some ways a seminal year for the United States; that year saw the Yom Kippur war and this fundamentally changed US’ attitude to the whole of the Middle East because of the Middle East use of oil supplies as a weapon of war. By restricting output it pushed the price of oil by at least 400 per cent. But more fundamentally it showed a major weak point in Europe and America. In November 1973, Nixon spoke to Americans on television telling them that the United States was consuming too much oil and had to cut back. He cut the speed limit to 55mph: heating of home and offices was pegged at the maximum 68°F, air conditioners were to be turned off or down, power plants were to be reconverted back to coal from oil, aviation fuel to be restricted; and all Americans were to lower their thermostat by at least 6°.
The United States, President Nixon insisted, must meet its energy needs. These measures saved 150,000 barrels per day; road accidents were reduced by over 15 per cent – partly as a result lowering speed limits.The new political issue was energy, forcing President Nixon to produce a new energy policy which included solar power, nuclear power and many other theories blossomed. The rising prices of oil justified prospect for oil in difficult places for example in the Gulf of Mexico, North Sea, Alaska and so on in an effort to reduce dependency on oil in the Middle East. As usual the West saw a problem and found ways to deal with it. The Middle East on the other hand, saw an opportunity and failed to exploit it to the maximum. Instead they spent money foolishly, lavishly and saved money in western banks which used their money to dig the West out of a hole. The West did what it always did best: promoted discords and instability in the region to their own advantage. In six month; oil prices had risen from US$ 3 to US$ 12.
The West suffered the effects of rising oil prices, but in the Middle East there was a construction boom. The ruling classes were subject to increasing demographic selfishness. The result was a slowdown towards pluralistic democracy. The rise of liberal democracy was stunted giving way in the Middle East to increasing dynastic rule. Liberal democracy virtually, disappeared everywhere in the Middle East. In fact, some intellectual experts have argued that the US actually preferred autocratic dictators and did not want liberal democracy in the Middle East. Each time a nation moved towards democracy, the US scuttled that government in favour of a dictatorship.The 1970s saw decades of opulence in the Middle East: Iran Air ordered Concorde, but could not fly it because countries in Europe would not allow it to fly over them claiming noise pollution. Lavish spending knew no limits.
The Arms Race began in earnest. Spending was massive, lavish and even reckless. The Western nations lobbied aggressively to sell arms to Middle East. In Iran, the defence expenditure rose 100 per cent in six years, orders to US companies for military materiel was US$ 20 billion. Which surface to air missile will they buy? The US or the French or the British or that of USSR? Between 1975-1978, Iran spent 40 per cent of its budget on arms. Iran ordered hundreds of chieftain tanks; the Israelis ordered large number Mirage fighter jets. MIGs – 21, 23, 25 and 29 were ordered by Syria, Soviet 772 tanks and US 5 jets were ordered by Iraq. US sold F5 and F16s to Saudi Arabia. The Middle East arms race was truly on, to the benefit of the economies of Britain, France, the USSR and USA. The up shoot of all these war materiel, the pampering of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait by the US started in the 1970s and still continues today, resulting in the endemic instability of the area which continues today.
A few years ago, Iran wanted to become a nuclear power. Today this is a big issue. It may be said that the handling of the Iranian pursuit of nuclear power defined President Obama’s administration. But it was not so earlier. Western countries were falling over themselves to provide nuclear technology and knowhow to the Middle East.
Iraq’s nuclear potential and the inability of the Atomic Energy Commission, AEC, to locate them led to war and were used by President Bush as a deliberate policy to hoodwink the United Nations,UN. In 2003, the US declared war against Iraq, citing the laboratories for weapons of Mass Destruction, and the facilities, the centrifuges for nuclear weapons. President Bush and Prime Minister Blair gave these facts as a justification for war. Hans Blix, the UN inspector’s team could not find any. Iran’s desire to have nuclear power has provoked similar questions. If Iraq, Israel were to have nuclear weapons, the Iranians did not understand why they should be denied. Moreover, some have argued that Iran’s pursuit of nuclear weapons was essentially defensive and as a deterrent.
The role of the US in Iraq is rather unedifying. President Bush encouraged Saddam Hussein’s Iraq to attack Iran in a bitter war. He invited hundreds of Iraqi scientists to the US to train and research in nuclear technology.
When Secretary of State, Kerry said “we can’t let politics and mythology cloud reality”. What did he mean?
Kissinger said that for major oil producer to pursue policy such as trans-nuclear energy was a wasteful use of resources. But was it the place of the US to dictate how a nation ran its economy? The US position, followed slavishly by the west, was a smoke screen. Moreover, these were materials that a decade or generation before were being openly offered in the Middle East.
US actively encouraged these countries, despite the 1968 nuclear nonproliferation treaty, to acquire nuclear power technology. US had a policy named “Atoms for Peace” which allowed its participation in the International Atomic Pool and thus gave friendly governments access of 40,000 kilograms of Uranium – 235 for nonmilitary research.
For 30 years the US and indeed all western countries were sharing nuclear technology, components and materials with countries in the Middle East. It was a center point in US policy so long as that country, enjoying the nuclear sharing privilege, would oppose USSR. For example the US supports the Shah; who needed nuclear power.
In 1974, US sold two reactors to Iran. It also sold enriched Uranium to Iran. This agreement was extended in 1975 with a new US$ 15 billion trade deal which included the purchase of 8 nuclear reactors for US$ 6.4 billion with a processing facility that would extract plutonium from nuclear reactor fuel, thus enabling Iran to operate a nuclear fuel cycle. From that to nuclear weapons was but a small step.
Both Iraq and Iran had major nuclear programs. They sent scores of Iranians and Iraqis worldwide for nuclear training!! 1975 work began in Bashihr with the aid of a West German company, Craftwork union AG, to provide internal nuclear fuel load and reloading for 10 years.
Eight (8) more reactors were to be provided by Brown Boveri and Framatome. Contracts were signed for France to undertake and to reprocess Uranium for Iran.
Iraq had a plan to build 6 nuclear bombs a year and sought co-operation from France, Italy, and Canada. France built the Osiris reactor. All this was done under the watchful eye of the Israeli who had begun to feel that they may be sold out of this race to get nuclear bomb in Iraq. They should know because their own bombs were obtained through clandestine research and help from outside Israel. It became Israeli policy to sabotage nuclear programmes in the rest of the Middle East.
The US tried to dissuade Pakistan from pursuing its own nuclear project by promising Pakistan that it could benefit from the facility being built in Iran under a scheme devised by no other than Dick Cheney, for the plant to serve as hub for energy needs in the area.
In Pakistan’s case, their nuclear activity was built so deep underground in the 1970’s and thus was able, covertly, to test its nuclear programme. Ultimately a successful detonation was carried out. Its programme went unchecked. They built 5 tunnels each capable of withstanding 20 kethon detonation. The West believed that an under developed country like Pakistan could never master nuclear bomb technology, and “yet Western countries sold everything to us”; “literally begged us to buy their equipment”, according to Chief Pakistani nuclear sources. Double standards were the name of the game. France, UK, US refused inspection of their facilities by the Atomic Energy Agency. They, however, would insist that other nations be subject to IAA inspection. But the real hypocrisy, in the cold light of day, lay in the enthusiasm with which the developed world rushed to earn hard cash or gain access to cheap oil. In 1976, Kissinger advised Pakistan to wind down its reprocessing project and rely instead on a Dick Cheney devised US facility in Iran.
Since the Second World War resources had been poured into Iran and neighboring countries. Leaders had been courted, indulged and those who would not play, were deposed. Syria and Iraq looked to USSR. The net result of the arms race was that everybody lost, but the Middle East lost most, emerging as an endemically, unstable place.
Nevertheless, India built its own nuclear arsenal. Pakistan turned to the US. But as Khomeini put it “All our problems come from America”. The fall of the Shah produced major panic in US; and corresponding hope in USSR that they would soon take over influence in Iran.
To balance the influence of the West in the Middle East, the USSR invaded Afghanistan. Under the USSR, Afghanistan was en route to modernity. It expanded education, male and female, new schools, hospitals increase tremendously, so did the literacy levels thus broke the feudal structure of tribal system, ending ethnic discrimination. Job security, women’s rights were promoted, regardless of the latter day propaganda epitomized by Miss Molalla. After the ousting of Dawud in 1973 by Taraki who was himself was overthrown by Hafianllas Aminu, thought to have been recruited by the CIA!! This is the beginning of the widely held belief that Al Qaeda was a CIA creation.
Oil was and is abundant. There was a rising demand between 1940s – 80s ushering in a fundamental rebalancing of power; or at least ought to.
For example, during the Yom Kippur war, Algeria and Libya which provided 30% of Europe’s oil needs suspended shipments to Britain and United States. In 1970, Iraq attitude stiffened further to the West, when Prime Minister Qasim was ousted from power and publicly executed on television “for the whole world to see”. The Iraqi war led to a broader struggle to free the Arab nations from the domination of western imperialism and from exploitation by oil monopolists. Khomeini is reported to have said: “The American President is the most repellent member of the human race”. British and American oil men were equated with “blood suckers”. Now, such strong statements were a clear sign that the West had to respond to such rhetoric by the only way they knew how – by regime change.
Is there continuity in West’s Policy in Middle East and Africa? I hope this dive into the history emphasizes the theses that the Middle East and Africa are doomed to failure because of the unhinged policy of the US and the West, China and Russia. How about Arab instability? This has been stoked by a continuity of the policy of exploitation – and a result of US policy in 1950s and later. The West has treated Saudi Arabia and Kuwait with Kid cloves. Why is the West not pressing on Arab countries such as Saudi Arabia and Kuwait and more Arab nations apart from Jordan to take Arab Immigrants? Is it that they do not want to antagonized Saudi Arabia and Kuwait?