Thursday, May 28, 2015

Time Will Tell

So the first draft of history is in and it looks like it's written off Tony Blair's slapstick attempt at playing Middle East peace envoy for the quartet as a failure.  And if we assume that the purpose of "the peace envoy" is to foster harmony and amity between bitter enemies, then I suppose that it has been.

If, on the other hand, you see the main duties of the peace envoy as being

- Giving speeches to Israeli political organisations reassuring them that their opinions are wholly correct and need only to be sold a little more savvily, and issuing the occasional solemn tut-tut noise whenever their government starts smashing up Gaza again, and

- Noisily finger-wagging everyone who will listen about how the best thing to do at any point is whatever the White House wants them to do, and

- Maintaining the reputation of Mr Tony Blair as a political titan, by giving him a suitably statesmanlike backdrop to stand against...

...Well, then I'd say that Tony's tenure has been a rip-roaring success. 

Similarly, there are a lot of LOLS to be had today in comparing Tony's lofty rhetoric to the paltry progress of the peace process, but this surely only works if you assume that "peace" is the point of the process.

Again, if you think that the purpose of having a peace envoy is to convince the Israelis and the Palestinians to come together and to thrash out a painful but mutually-beneficial solution to their neverending pissfight, then Tony has been comically useless.

Mind you, if the actual purpose of the envoy is to make a big, empty song and dance about how you're just questing for peace like a motherfucker, while occasionally squirting a soupcon of legitimacy onto a fairly bare-faced attempt to deliver as many of the Israelis' core desires as possible, so that they incur the minimum amount of meaningful international resistance possible...

...Then I'd say that Tony's tenure has again been a barnstorming triumph, effortlessly achieving all of the key goals that he was set. 

And there's actually a way to measure which of these roles Tony was tasked with fulfilling.  We can look back to 2007 and compare what Tony said he wanted to do, and then compare it to what he actually did do, all the while assuming that he did what he always wanted to do throughout. 

He said he wanted to "try to give effect to what is now the consensus across the international community - that the only way of bringing stability and peace to the Middle East is the two-state solution".  A more modest goal than it may at first sound, given that it's a vow to "try" to do some shit that people think is, like, right.

And what did he do? 

Well, let's just say that he spent rather more time in Tel Aviv telling the locals that they needed to deploy more effective propaganda, than he did banging heads together around the negotiating table, kicking ass and taking names.

All of which suggests to me that far from being seen as a failure, Tony is going to be hailed as a hero in Washington and can now surely walk into whatever thinktank or diplomatic mission he wishes to bless with his patronage.

Time will tell whether I'm right about that, I suppose. 


gregorach said...

Time to dig up this classic from Robert Higgs again:

As a general rule for understanding public policies, I insist that there are no persistent “failed” policies. Policies that do not achieve their desired outcomes for the actual powers-that-be are quickly changed. If you want to know why the U.S. policies have been what they have been for the past sixty years, you need only comply with that invaluable rule of inquiry in politics: follow the money.

When you do so, I believe you will find U.S. policies in the Middle East to have been wildly successful, so successful that the gains they have produced for the movers and shakers in the petrochemical, financial, and weapons industries (which is approximately to say, for those who have the greatest influence in determining U.S. foreign policies) must surely be counted in the hundreds of billions of dollars.

So U.S. soldiers get killed, so Palestinians get insulted, robbed, and confined to a set of squalid concentration areas, so the “peace process” never gets far from square one, etc., etc. — none of this makes the policies failures; these things are all surface froth, costs not born by the policy makers themselves but by the cannon-fodder masses, the bovine taxpayers at large, and foreigners who count for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Gregorach - Ouch. I'm not sure, though, that any analysis of US policy in the Middle East as having been driven primarily by commercial interests holds water (I note that Robert Higgs provides no evidence for his assertions). On the face of it, if the US had been motivated solely by commercial considerations then it would have abandoned support for Israel long ago - it's the Arabs who have the oil.

gregorach said...

If you read the rest of the article, he explicitly addresses that point. Whilst it's true that the Arabs have the oil, US foreign policy has nevertheless managed to ensure that much of the profits arising from it have ended up in the coffers of US companies:

To be as brief as possible, the U.S. is not dependent on Persian Gulf oil in any significant economic way. Yes, the Persian Gulf pours substantial amounts of oil into the world supply pool, and U.S. demanders draw heavily from that pool. But the Persian Gulf sheikdoms have every interest in selling their oil, whether Exxon Mobil, Shell, Texaco, or somebody else does the grunt work to bring it to the surface and transport it to the harbors. The U.S. government need do nothing special to see that this oil continues to flow into the world’s supply pool, any more than it needs a policy of coercing the Russians to sell their oil on the world market.


But the U.S. military presence in the Gulf serves not to ensure that the oil keeps flowing; it merely ensures that U.S. corporations (oil and weapons companies in particular), banks, insurance companies, and so forth will be the specific parties raking in the profits from dealing in the Gulf oil.

Anonymous said...

@ gregorach: Thanks for your reply. However, I still I don't follow Rockwell's argument. And I did read the full article.

Of course oil is, broadly speaking, a fungible commodity. Once out in the marketplace it has no nationality. (Though no doubt most Middle Eastern producers would be extremely irritated by Rockwell's description of their output as "Persian Gulf Oil". It isn't.) And of course all oil exporters have a vested interest in selling their oil, though on their own terms as far as practicable.

The only issues then remaining for historically big oil importers like the US - over 12 million barrels a day in 2005, for example - are, firstly, price, and secondly, reliability of supply. Which brings us to Saudi Arabia. As the world's most important swing producer, Saudi has always been prepared to increase or decrease production to serve its own interests - like right now, for example.

So Rockwell's characterisation of "Persian Gulf" oil producers as simply motivated by "selling their oil" is, quite simply, mistaken.

Nor do I understand how he imagines that US "weapons companies...banks, insurance companies, and so forth" are the "specific parties raking in the profits from dealing in...Gulf oil". If oil is, as he says, a fungible commodity, then how can a "US weapons company" specifically benefit from the international oil market?

All the US can do to affect price and supply of oil is to maintain the warmest possible diplomatic relations in the hope of influence over the policies of major swing producers such as Saudi Arabia. And the "warmest possible" relations would not include US support for Israel.


gregorach said...

I think you're focussing too much on the price of crude oil as a commodity, and not enough on the role of US companies like GE and Halliburton in the oil services and related industries (including providing project finance). Production is a major industry in itself. I'm reminded of a famous remark to the effect that the best way to get rich in the Californian gold rush wasn't to dig for gold, it was to sell shovels...

I also think you're overlooking the rather significant empirical fact that the US actually does enjoy extremely cordial relations with Saudi Arabia, regardless of their position on Israel.