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These Iraqi protestations surely have a familiar ring. The right to "defend our interests" by force is conferred upon the United States by the U.N. Charter, according to the official view presented in justification of the invasion of Panama (see p. 147). Israel's attack on Egypt in 1967 was in large measure motivated by the economic problems caused by the mobilization of the reserves during a period of crisis and tension. A potential threat to U.S. economic interests was invoked by the United States to justify its steps to counter Iraqi aggression, as in many cases of intervention and subversion. The threat posed by Kuwait's actions to Iraq's interests was not potential.
More broadly, the Iraqi dictator justified his aggression as a noble act "in defense of the Arab nation," charging that Kuwait was an artificial entity, part of the legacy of European colonialists who carved up the Arab world for their own selfish interests. These machinations ensured that the vast oil wealth of the Arab world would benefit not the Arab masses, but the Western industrial powers and a tiny domestic elite linked to them. Despite the utter cynicism of Saddam Hussein's posturing, the charges themselves are not without merit, and have considerable popular appeal, not least among the 60% non-Kuwaiti population that did the work that enriched the native minority, though not their "Arab brothers."
Hatred for the United States in the Arab world was noted, but without any serious analysis of why this should be the case. The standard reflex is to attribute the antagonism to the emotional problems of people who have been bypassed by the march of history because of their own inadequacies. It would have been next to impossible to offer a rational account of such central matters as the U.S.-Israel-Palestine interactions, since the long and very successful U.S. efforts to bar a peaceful political settlement have been excised from history with such admirable efficiency.36 The deep strain of anti-Arab racism in the dominant culture facilitates the familiar gambit of attributing antagonism to the United States to the faults of others.
The undercurrent is that the Arabs basically have no right to the oil that geological accident happened to place under their feet. As Walter Laqueur put the matter in 1973, Middle East oil "could be internationalized, not on behalf of a few oil companies but for the benefit of the rest of mankind." This could only be done by force, but that raises no moral problem because "all that is at stake is the fate of some desert sheikdoms." It is only necessary to decode slightly. For "internationalization," read: "control by the U.S. and its clients" (as long as they remain firm supporters of Israel). For "few oil companies," read: "undeserving Arabs." The logic is that of the Moroccans conquering the Sahara: "one Kuwait is enough"; it is unfair for rich resources to be in the hands of the unimportant people when the rich men who run the world need them. The vision of the West, of course, is much vaster than that of Morocco, covering the whole region and its resources, in fact, the resources of the entire world.
Correspondingly, the uplifting concern "for the benefit of mankind" expressed by Laqueur and others does not lead them to suggest that North American and Middle East oil should have been internationalized during the postwar years when the West (with the U.S. well in the lead) had effective control over energy resources, nor does it lead them to draw the same conclusion for the industrial, agricultural, and mineral resources of the West, happily exploited by and for the rich and satisfied nations. The distinction, as always, rests on the scale of "significance."37
It is worth recalling how little is new in any of this. Recall the earlier explanations of why the "miserable, inefficient" Mexicans have no right "to control the destinies" of their rich lands. At the turn of the century, the influential strategist and historian Admiral Alfred T. Mahan, known for his devotion to Christian values and the doctrine of natural rights, argued that these rights had to be modified in the case of "inefficient" countries such as China, which must be administered "in such a manner as to insure the natural right of the world at large that resources should not be left idle," or misused. The rights of humanity transcend those of the Chinese, who are "sheep without a shepherd" and must be led, their country partitioned, taught Christian truths, and otherwise controlled by Western policies of "just self-assertion" -- not for selfish motive, but "for the welfare of humanity." Great thoughts have a way of reappearing in every age.38
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36 See references of note 21.
37 Laqueur, NYT Magazine, Dec. 16, 1973. For further comment, see my Peace in the Middle East (Pantheon, 1974), introduction.
38 See chapter 1, p. 35f.; Marilyn B. Young, Rhetoric of Empire: American China Policy, 1985-1901 (Harvard, 1968).