Why is the United States caught up in a crosscurrent of conflicting forces in the Middle East? Why are there no easy answers to the Arab-Jewish strife over Palestine? Why is the Western world being strangled by OPEC? How did we get ourselves into the Middle Eastern muddle? What are some of the basic root causes of the problem?
First, let's take a look at some of the unhappy effects. Begin with the stark fact that inflation has been virtually out of control ever since the 1973 oil debacle. Economies in the Western world are in a constant state of subjugation to the shifting sands of OPEC pricing policies. Add to our current economic woes and gasoline shortfalls the continual question of how many arms to give what Middle Eastern nation in what proportion. Then mix a "little" terrorism into the problem to get the pot to really begin to boil. For instance, a bomb explodes in the arrival area of Brussels airport and bullets are pumped into a nearby restaurant. An event entirely unrelated to the Mideast? No! Just one more piecemeal incident in the warfare of terror precipitated by the PLO quarrel with the recent Israeli-Egyptian accord.
Leaving aside the ugly acts of terrorists, how much should one support friendly or would-be friendly dictators in the area? Western diplomacy left a lot to be desired in the Iranian crisis.
I confess that it's very easy to be a Monday-morning quarterback by simply pointing out the unfortunate impact of the various and sundry problems in the Middle East. Far more important is a genuine quest to understand the fundamental causes of unrest in the area!
For more than fifty years, the Editor-in-Chief of this magazine has dedicated his life to promoting better understanding between all peoples everywhere. In so doing, he has stressed that there is a basic cause for all human conflict, whether it be conflict between private parties, conflict between classes, or conflict between sovereign nations.
Mr. Armstrong has based his conclusions on many, many years of observation and travel, as well as upon study and research. He has managed to isolate the basic root cause of human conflict in a very simple but profound statement: "Men and nations have been living throughout all recorded history according to the get principle rather than in accordance with the give principle."
The Middle Eastern conflagration is a classic case of violating the "give" way of life. First of all, much of the area's trouble, controversy and suffering has its roots in the Abrahamic relationship with Hagar. If you remember the story, Abraham was childless and his wife Sarah was already past the age of childbearing. Ishmael (the father of the Arabs) was Abraham's son by Hagar. Isaac (the great grandfather of the Jewish race) came along years later when Sarah conceived and brought forth a son long after her apparent menopause. This three-cornered triangle, with the inevitable jealousy between the two women, is a definite historical factor underlying some of the tensions in the Holy Land. You can read the intriguing story for yourself in the Old Testament book of Genesis (chapter 21).
Bringing the problem down to the twentieth century, Great Britain became a dominant force in the Middle East following World War I. This was concurrent with the general emergence of oil as the critical key to industrial success in the modern world.
British Petroleum (BP) eventually came to control the lion's share of Iranian oil. When the first Shah refused to part company with the Nazis during World War II, Great Britain and Russia conquered Iran in order to protect obvious oil interests. The Shah was promptly exiled! Then his son, the present Shah (now himself in exile), took the reins of government as a supposed puppet ruler. As Winston Churchill said: "We have chased a dictator into exile, and installed a constitutional sovereign." But this was not to be the case.
In 1951 the Iranian government expropriated the oilfields of the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (BP). The British subsequently ruled out the use of force because President Truman and Dean Acheson simply would not support it. The only reasonable alternative was a British boycott of Iranian oil. However, this policy was also to eventually fail because of a lack of American support.
But the British cannot blame it all on their brothers across the Atlantic. A memo published in 1975 showed the displeasure of Her Majesty's government with BP. It reads: "The principal reason why our advance information [before the takeover] was inadequate was the shortsightedness and the lack of political awareness shown by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company. They were far better placed than anybody else to make a proper estimate of the situation but, as far as I am aware, they never even seriously tried to do so." BP's corporate managers simply did not grasp the fact that European dependence on Middle Eastern oil was a highly strategic political issue and not exclusively economic in nature.
Though a general agreement was reached with the Shah in 1954, this turnabout of events marked the beginning of the end of British dominance in the Middle East. Other reverses were soon to follow.
The importance of Western oil flow from the Mideast was not lost on the late Egyptian President Gamal Abdul Nasser. In his own words, "Petroleum is the vital nerve of civilization." He boldly nationalized the Suez Canal in July of 1956, following the announcement by U.S. Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that Washington was withdrawing its offer of a $56 million grant to aid in constructing a high dam on the Nile at Aswan. Nasser declared he would use Suez toll revenues to build the dam.
The British response was not long in coming. (Britain was a major stockholder in the Suez Canal Company.) Anthony Eden and Harold MacMillan were adamant in their desire to use force to oust Nasser from control. Prime Minister Eden went ahead with his invasion plans in spite of opposition from President Eisenhower, who had previously made the U.S. position clear to Sir Anthony.
Washington's reaction was as promised. Brotherly advice was backed up by hard financial pressure. When the Anglo-Israeli invasion strained the pound sterling severely, American monetary help suddenly became contingent on an immediate cease-fire. Westminster had to acquiesce.
The British presence in the Middle East had suffered another severe regression. A vacuum was being created which America never fully filled. British withdrawal from east of Suez followed in the sixties.
From a Western point of view, the folding of the British umbrella must be looked upon as an important causal factor in the instability now plaguing the Mideast.
There is a cause for every effect. Men and nations do reap what they sow. When will mankind finally learn this most basic of all lessons?