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Arab Spring - Arab Winter

Politics / Middle East Sep 24, 2012 - 09:25 AM GMT

By: Andrew_McKillop


Best Financial Markets Analysis ArticleThe so-called Arab Spring of 2011 has rapidly mutated into a dark and chilling winter scenario of spreading civil war, shia-sunnite conflict and other ethnic-based strife, and rapidly intensifying economic meltdown in the Arab and Muslim world. The latest manifestations include the Mahomet insult saga, supposedly opposing the progressive, lay-minded, open society West against entrenched religious-minded conservatism and fundamentalism in the Arab world, and the long-running mass bloodshed of the Syrian civil war.

"Why is the Arab world so easily offended?", ask  the headlines  in the western media, such as the article by Fouad Ajami, published by Washington Post, 21 September. This story, like others begins on the wrong foot by saying the basic driver, of "Arab Winter", is anti-American violence spreading across Muslim capitals, which include Jakarta, Karachi and Tehran, Bamako and Khartoum.

We can be sure that anti-Americanism is one driver of "Arab Winter", but not the only one. US so-called geostrategic initiatives, not only in the Arab and Muslim world but also in Asia, from Japan and China to Russia, the central southern Muslim republics of the ex-USSR, in former Warsaw pact countries of east Europe, and elsewhere could not have achieved such universal rejection and failure even if they had been specially designed to achieve rejection and failure. Something terrible occurred to US foreign policy, not only flowing from the usually naive, always aggressive speeches and policy statements of American war-prone "strategists" such as Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, Condoleezza Rice and other stalwart troublemakers of the George W Bush years.

Although mostly kept in the background, the economic goals and levers of the always confused, always failed American attempts to exert "global leadership" were important. The defective and simplistic rationale behind this attempt is that like Marxism, Islam is a "market unfriendly" ideology, and being unfriendly to markets is akin to Terror. It can be rationally argued that the systematic support given by the US to Muslim fundamentalists fighting Russian troops during the December 1979-February 1989 Russian Afghan war was targeted at playing off one enermy of market fundamentalism against another, weakening the USSR's economy further and faster than its own mismanagement was already doing, and trigger Soviet economic collapse. Supporting arguments for this being the main US strategy, among a mix-and-mingle of goals including "humiliating the Russian bear" and obtaining revenge for US humiliation in Vietnam and Iran, include the hoped-for slowing of Russian gas pipeline development for creating gas import dependence among European consumers of Russian gas.

The supposed economic imperative of the US to stay on the right side of Saudi Arabia and other sunnite-ruled Arab petro-states, dictated by high oil prices and the Iranian revolution, which we can call a shia muslim fundamentalist revolution, were further supporting rationales for the USA's disastrous Afghan war strategy. Disastrous, that is, if we take Al Qaida seriously, today. For American political deciders and all US mainstream media, taking Al Qaida seriously remains a patriotic duty but recent events, plus any rational look at the Al Qaida sunna muslim fundamentalist story show that this paper tiger is as unthreatening and unserious as the supposed "Soviet threat" of the early 1980s.

In the 1980s, all that the USA had to do was await the internally and domestic driven collapse of the Soviet Union - but it preferred to support Muslim fundamentalists. The higher goal, of "liberating the USSR", was in fact treated by most American political deciders as impossible - after all the Soviets had placed their Sputnik in orbit before Uncle Sam, and their tank batallions were numerous and massed on the borders of eastern Europe. What would happen to the ex-USSR when it collapsed, and how its economic refugees would act, were in no way analyzed rationally: this was gung-ho fact-fleeing and rationality-adverse geopolitics!

The oil driver of American Indiana Jones-style military adventure thinking in what American global mythology believes are lightly populated, backward and impulsive, mostly desert Arab and Muslim lands was given its most telling example in the run-up to the Iraq war of 2003. Through 2002, speeeches by George W. Bush's gang of gung-ho troublemakers are all-time gems, for example Dick Cheney's speeches laying down the law on the terms of reference for the planned attack on Iraq. At the time, the term "the Arab street" was born, with Iraq liberation unquestionably resulting in access to vast quantities of cheap, light, sweet crude and to scenes of joy in "the Arab street". Cheney often claimed that the streets of Basra and Baghdad were certain to "erupt in joy in the same way that throngs in Kabul greeted the Americans", in 2001, when Afghanistan was invaded, Soviet style.

As for oil, the extremes of American apple pie thinking during the run-up to Iraq invasion on the spurious and lying basis of Saddam Hussein "possessing weapons of mass destruction", was shown by claims published by entities as supposedly serious as the American Petroleum Institute. These claims extended to inviting readers to believe that Hussein's palaces had large amounts of cheaply recoverable oil buried beneath them - light sweet crude galore.

By a fantastic irony and today in 2012, all of the USA's major oil and gas corporations, from Exxon Mobil down, need the highest-possible oil prices to offset their huge losses on radically developing shale gas resources in the US, and driving down gas prices by 85% from their peak in 2005-2006. In the 1990s, and even in the 2002 run up to the Iraq invasion, cheap oil was trumpeted by government-friendly media as the best and most important real spinoff from this "liberation war". As we know, the Iraq war did nothing to stop oil prices from rising, and US oil corporate access to Iraqi oil resources is in no way spectacular, today. When (rather than if) oil prices fall below about $75 per barrel, the corporate fortunes of the USA's Big Energy sector will become even more dire but this again concerns the "real world" and is therefore unrelated to the Indiana Jones crusade against The Bearded Ones.

The US "geostrategic initiative" targeted at the Arab and Muslim world in all senses of the term, including killer drone attacks, the use of depleted uranium weapons, torture of prisoners, so-called "selective" assassination and other tricks was so confused as to be dysfunctional, even 10 years ago. Inciting and facilitating civil and inter-community wars, for example by playing on age old shia-sunna animosity, will certainly destabilize or even ruin the local economy. Economic refugees, following the war refugees are one sure and certain result.The need for economic refugees in a world of 7 billion population facing an epic slowdown of the global economy is more than difficult to defend - but the USA "leadership initiative" goes on creating them.

One totally unsurprising result is what the Fouad Ajami article contemptuously calls: "road rage (in the) thwarted Arab world – the congenital condition of a culture yet to take full responsibility for its self-inflicted wounds." Making the wounds deeper, then rubbing salt into them may be a traditional 19th century American snakeoil way of "healing", runnng alongside the Christian fundamentalist snakeoil always close to the surface of latter-day US politics, but spread over wide regions of the planet and huge population numbers, this is a lethal cocktail. Media treatment of current anti-American rage in the Arab and Muslim world dismisses such intellectual rambling, and tells average media consumers that there is an answer to "Why did a YouTube trailer ignite Muslim rage?", to which French media adds its own handfull of salt with the Charlie Hebdo public WC-quality wall drawings and captions.

Mass media treatment is simple to summarize: the turmoil in mostly poor countries with rapidly weakening economies is due to a few hypersensitive, anti-American Muslims doing irrational stuff like killing U.S. diplomats and torching their own public buildings as well as those of the US and the USA's running dog, pork eating, infidel allies. Insulting the Prophet is perhaps distasteful, the Pope and the Chief Rabbis of all major countries do not approve, but Freedom of Speech is regrettably paramount. Forgetting the economic spinoff, ignoring the economic results, western popular media has made a killing out of this blood-on-the-streets media opportunity, like any other.

The same media either does not know, or care that three-only Arab countries - Algeria, Egypt and Saudi Arabia - take about 65% of world total wheat exports, and totally depend on food imports. Their ability to withold oil exports to punish the Prophet-insulting West, is measurable in weeks rather than months.
Media fodder for average consumers of newsfodder restricts the "analysis" to one of Islamic intolerance of and incompatibility with the market values of latter-day democracy, further reinforcing the Bush-level idiocy of "Islam on a collision course with the West".

Much closer to reality, in fact, Islam is on a collision course with itself, and very recent events - such as the lack of interest by "the Arab street" in Prophet baiting - show tis process is at work. This of course has its own dangers, especially the possible or probable attempt by religious powerbrokers in the Arab and Muslim world to regain the iniative - by fomenting "designer atrocities" against Western targets and supposed symbols of Western infidel culture. For the economy of the Arab and Muslim world, already heavily impacted by street revolutions in  countries like Iraq, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Tunisia, Libya, Morocco, Syria, Afghanistan, Mali, Niger, Pakistan and possible others including Indonesia, the outlook is for an already bad situation getting even worse.

Last week's violence reflects the deep anger and distrust of the U.S. across the Islamic world, to be sure, but it has also probably accelerated the separation of political revolt in the Arab and Muslim world, from traditional and conservative religious control of the masses in these countries. The Arab Spring revolts, which at least at first were little-infiltrated by religious power and influence, could in their Arab Winter format become highly "modern style" political revolts - and civil wars. Whether US dreamers of the Cheney or Wolfowitz or Brzezinski mould ever dreamed of this is for the least unsure.

US global leadership lunges and feints in the Arab and Muslim world have always been costly and counterproductive - for the USA. One sure loser is the USA, more precisely its taxpayers. Until now, that is last week, it was always easy to assemble a crowd of young protesters in the teeming cities of the Arab and Muslim world, using American embassies and consulates as magnets for the disgruntled. This western mass media-friendly "vision" of the primitive-minded Islamic masses is now possibly on its way into the dustbin of History.

The notorious, and notoriously trashy video film trashing the Prophet was able to be called a catalyst for angry street protests, with the underlying causes left blank. Decades, even a century of the most impeccably incompetent laisser-faire management of the economy in the Arab and Muslim world has created the tinder, ignited by sparks such as caricatures of the Prophet, but since Arab Spring of 2011 this is already superceded by widespread Arab street attack on out-to-lunch governing minorities. Much more serious, the US neocon "vision" of an unchanging Arab and Muslim world appears to be embedded in American minds. Again, the US is the loser.

The supposed ultimate beneficiary of US war spending, and war action in the Arab and Muslim world - Israel - has more than enough of its own domestic crises, and highly rational fears of what happens when the Arab street becomes the democratic majority in Israel's neighbour countries, and inherits a devastated economy. Israel's own distancing from the chaotic crisis-prone real world nature of US leadership attempts in the Arab and Muslim world are mirrored by the USA's own distancing from Israel's war-hungry current leaderships, called democratic but as crony corporate as in the US or Europe, making for certain but unpredictably timed change in this "sacred relationship".

One key example is the media presentation of all Israelis hungering for the destruction of Iran: the conceivable benefits to Israel from devastating Iran are at best a will-of-the-wisp and most Israelis fear Iran bombing, because of its certainly massive and negative, but unpredictable sequels. The longtime focus of local conflict, hinged on Israel denying Palestinian rights, has been completely upstaged by the emerging street Arab revolt against local tyrannies, starting with the Arab Spring countries but also including Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, Jordan, Morocco, Algeria, Syria and even Pakistan.

Until even last week, the mass media and mass politics spin on the issue focused the received wisdom that the Arab and Muslim world has a grievances against the US, Europe and other non-Muslim countries and regions, due to their freedom of speech and religion, democracy, equal rights for women, support for Israel or simple jealousy concerning living standards and rational expectations of average people. This was bundled together as "War on Terror". For the moment, still trapped in "logic" dating from before the collapse of the Soviet Union, the only real beneficiaries of War on Terror -in the west -  are the military-industrial complex and the politicians favoured by an ersatz "clash of civilizations" but times are changing fast.

By Andrew McKillop


Former chief policy analyst, Division A Policy, DG XVII Energy, European Commission. Andrew McKillop Biographic Highlights

Co-author 'The Doomsday Machine', Palgrave Macmillan USA, 2012

Andrew McKillop has more than 30 years experience in the energy, economic and finance domains. Trained at London UK’s University College, he has had specially long experience of energy policy, project administration and the development and financing of alternate energy. This included his role of in-house Expert on Policy and Programming at the DG XVII-Energy of the European Commission, Director of Information of the OAPEC technology transfer subsidiary, AREC and researcher for UN agencies including the ILO.

© 2012 Copyright Andrew McKillop - All Rights Reserved Disclaimer: The above is a matter of opinion provided for general information purposes only and is not intended as investment advice. Information and analysis above are derived from sources and utilising methods believed to be reliable, but we cannot accept responsibility for any losses you may incur as a result of this analysis. Individuals should consult with their personal financial advisors.

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