Allies Don’t Need Lobbies

In a recent article on Counterpunch, Rob Urie defended the traditional Marxist analysis of US policy in the Middle East. He argues that support for Israel is driven primarily by economic interest, not the Jewish lobby.

He starts by paying tribute to the idea that Western societies are uniquely racist. He says that the “Western narrative” claims there is an “Arab character”, and that this is “antique racist blather”. He gives no definition of these terms. Further, he establishes his credentials as part of the dominant current in the American left by claiming that “over a million people in Iraq died so ‘we’ in the West can drive SUVs.” ((Rob Urie, “The Profits of War and De-Stabilization: Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics,” Counterpunch, 20-22 September 2013.))

When he tries to criticize bourgeois economics, he makes it clear he doesn’t understand the developments it has made since Marx’s day, using the mathematical discipline known as “game theory”. He dismisses the basic abstraction of economic theory, the idea of the rational individual, on the grounds that it is “devoid of history, culture and political context”. But abstractions are always devoid of something.

He defends a more concrete economic theory, mostly Marxist, with some input from another theorist of capitalist crisis, Hyman Minsky. This concrete theory leads him to the view that US activity in the Middle East is primarily driven by rational capitalist motives, the need to secure a supply of oil.

“Taking the totality of circumstance — former oil company executives launching war on an oil rich nation on a pretext they publicly proclaimed they didn’t believe shortly before taking office — and that upon launching their war proved to be non-existent, requires a willingness to overlook the obvious — that the war on Iraq was for oil, that is difficult to support.” ((Rob Urie, “The Profits of War and De-Stabilization: Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics,” Counterpunch, 20-22 September 2013.))

Perhaps I’ve misunderstood him, but based on what he says in the rest of the article, this convoluted sentence seems to argue that, because president Bush and vice-president Cheney attacked Iraq on false premises, and they also said it was all about oil, and they are former oil executives, and Iraq has a lot of oil, it’s difficult to deny US attacks on Iraq are all about oil.

In fact, it’s not hard at all. As Urie points out, at times Bush and co. said that attacking Iraq was “protecting the world’s supply of oil.” ((Rob Urie, “The Profits of War and De-Stabilization: Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics,” Counterpunch, 20-22 September 2013.)) But, as he also points out, they are congenital liars. Why should we believe them when they say they are trying to “protect” the oil supply? Protect it against what? When politicians “admit” attacks on Middle Eastern countries are wars for oil, they are parroting the neo-con party line, feeding the public, both left and right, with a plausible-sounding pretext. For right-wingers, “it’s a war for oil” is a reason to support war, and for leftists, it’s a way to feel better by complaining impotently about corporate greed. Both approaches help the war drive.

Fortunately, the American public isn’t listening to the “war for oil” canard. Americans of all classes are listening to those who argue, on coherent capitalist grounds, against war in the Middle East. That helped avoid war on Syria.

The predictions of Urie’s theory failed even as he was writing them: “Finally, for those who have moved on from the U.S. war on Syria story, the war is proceeding largely as planned.”

“War for oil” is a lie, and more sophisticated slogans such as “geo-political rationales” ((Rob Urie, “The Profits of War and De-Stabilization: Capitalism and US Oil Geo-Politics,” Counterpunch, 20-22 September 2013.)) are too vague to explain anything. If, as a result of an American military adventure in the Middle East, the price of oil goes up, the Marxist left says it was a war for oil because the oil companies benefit. If it goes down, they say it was a war for oil because most of the other companies benefit. Their hypothesis is unfalsifiable.

But their argument that Israel defends America’s interest in the world’s most oil-rich region is easily falsified. Israelis do not fight in America’s wars. It it were in US interests to support Israel, it would not need a multi-million dollar lobby working day and night to undermine any squeak of defiance, corrupting and intimidating politicians from the president down. ((John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2007).)) Real friends don’t need lobbies.

Urie rejects the view that the Jewish lobby can explain US support for Israel, on the grounds that, since Israel has a much smaller economy than the USA, it cannot influence the USA to act against its own interests in the Middle East. But that’s not how it works. It’s not that the Lobby has more money than Microsoft. Through its influence on the US government, AIPAC is able to appropriate some of Microsoft’s profits, and use them for a purpose contrary to the interests of most of Microsoft’s shareholders, and almost all Americans, rich and poor. The question is how it does that.

The quaint ideas of Marx and Urie do not explain the curious phenomenon of US support for the Jewish state. The facts are more compatible with the views of Mearsheimer and Walt. ((John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, The Israel Lobby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, August 2007).)) The long history of US politicians’ groveling to Israel is more economically explained as a real example of Jewish power rather than a facade designed to make us believe it’s an example of Jewish power.

Capitalism is the world’s current economic system. Oil companies like to make a profit. The Pentagon wants to ensure its oil supply and deny it to putative enemies if necessary. There is a lot of oil in the Middle East.

None of these banal observations even begin to explain US policy in the Middle East.

As I wrote three years ago, in a response to Noam Chomsky,

“By means of the Lobby, the tail wags the dog. Its the simplest, clearest, and most economical explanation of the facts.” ((Jay Knott, “Faithful Circle,” Dissident Voice, 18 September 2010.))

But my explanation still requires an explanation. If ethnic interests, such as the Israel lobby, [Is the “Israel lobby” an “ethnic interest? — DV ed.] can trump class interests, such as the need for stability, and one’s theory says it cannot, something has to give. The power of Israel in the USA and all the other Western countries falsifies the predictions of Marxism so comprehensively, one must conclude that Marxism, at least when it comes to analyzing US Middle East policy, is part of the problem. A radically different approach is needed.

Jay Knott wrote The Mass Psychology of Anti-Fascism. Read other articles by Jay.