THE MIDDLE EAST

Discussion held on 22nd April 2004.
The current situations in Iraq and Israel were first outlined. Discussions then developed on the American 'invasion' of Iraq, American policy towards Iraq and Israel, and more general reflections on the Middle East situation in relation to American global dominance and its alternatives.
Iraq. One contributor argued that Iraqis will not trust the Americans. When Saddam Hussein fought a theocratic Iran, the Americans gave him support. When Iraqis tried to oust him in 1991, the Americans failed to help, with terrible consequences. When a coup d'etat was planned by Iraqis in 1993, the Americans revealed the conspirators to Hussein. They encouraged him to attack Kuwait, but turned against him when he became seen as a threat to American interests. They were responsible for many years of punitive sanctions. Later, they invaded Iraq and their post-invasion behaviour has further alienated Iraqis. To a suggestion that an American 'deal' with Saddam Hussein for oil would have served American interests better than a costly invasion, if oil was seen as motive, he replied that the American politicians want control of Middle East oil supplies overall and that recent Saudi Arabia instability suggested that a stable Iraq would be a preferable ally.
Israel. The fundamentalist Hamas militants offered a 'ceasefire', but Sharon broke the arrangement. Saudi Arabia and 22 Arab states offered to recognize an Israel confined to its 1967 borders, but America and Britain endorsed Sharon's proposal to change boundaries and leave settlers in the West Bank, which effectively diverted attention from the 'road map' policy. As was pointed out, Israel does not yet have its frontiers guaranteed, so it will continue to be militant, as will the Palestinians for their reasons. While the Israelis fear becoming a western-style democratic state within a much larger Middle East collection of undemocratic states, the Palestinians are faced with an influx of returning refugees from Gaza, Jordan, etc when a settlement is reached.
Population pressures. The post-1967 population of Gaza increased from 250,000 to 1,300,000, but over a period of 50 years the population of the Middle East has swelled to 450,000,000, in excess of the population of Europe. This may produce a struggle for land, but there are other factors. Those who migrate are predominately young and there is a gender imbalance- in Saudi Arabia, for example, there are nearly three times as many men as there are women. Because the local populations have become greatly outnumbered, these developments have produced great instability. However, when it was suggested that the Americans might have chosen to invade an unstable Saudi Arabia rather than Iraq, it was noted that with Mecca on site the wrath of 1.3 billion Moslems would have been involved, whereas a secular Iraq offered no such problem then.
American hegemony. One suggestion was that American global dominance arose from the lack of unity of alternates. Both the United Nations and Europe were seen as disunited and subservient to America, whereas 'sleeping giants' such as China in particular, India and others are likely to become dominant in future. Given demographic and other trends, Europe would be well advised to develop real unity if it hopes to retain effective influence on global policies. As one contributor declared - 'What chance do we have to influence the rest of the world if we cannot work effectively with our next-door neighbours?' Another suggestion was that 'press misrepresentation' of the rest of the world prevents 'empathy' with their citizens. As a person from Northern Ireland commented - 'simply declaring a war on terrorism is insufficient' if basic causes of conflict are not understood. As with the Israel/Palestinian situation, intolerance and 'one-sided' assumptions cannot resolve issues. While one person argued that rather than having military intervention as policy, Americans achieve hegemony by virtue of their business pursuits, as is now evident in Vietnam, Japan, etc., another maintained that the desire to impose American 'culture' is dominant and that refusal to recognize the nature and importance of other people's cultures causes many problems. Further, the term 'piracy ' was used in relation to American international policy and it was noted that in over 160 countries America maintains military bases. This comment led to comparison with Britain's role as 'policeman to the world' in the 19th century and to a further observation that all governments with power act similarly. In the absence of any comparable body at present to act as 'policeman' any withdrawal by America from global responsibilities was not favoured. Whatever solutions for Middle East problems are needed, America