Reflections on the foreign policies of major nations

by Dr Edo McGowan

In the film of Kipling's The Man Who Would Be King, Michael Cain, who plays Peachey Carnehan, meets Kipling through first stealing (pickpocketing) his watch. He looks at his prize and suddenly realizes that Kipling is a Freemason. Thus he must return the watch. Kipling is on a train bound for some destination within India and Peachey locates the cabin of the first class containing Kipling. The train is about to pull away and a wealthy Indian joins the coach. He is insulted by Peachey several times and responds by smiling and saying thank you and is finally thrown out of the moving train and one hears the words of the now flying man, thank you sir.

This thank you sir is the expected response when one is kicked in the teeth. Here in the U.S., it is tugging on the forelock while dragging ones toe across the other foot and saying Yass-sah, yass-sah.

The film made by Huston does a good job of showing foreigners in the light of abrupt overbearing with little respect in their role as a guest in another's land---they are not guests but masters. This status of overlord or master also prevails in Iraq and Afghanistan. It also prevails in the Palestine issues.

The film is also useful in opening a discussion of the long-standing abuses due to U.S. Foreign policy, as seen by those living in the Middle East. Others have noted that the backlash against US foreign policy is the main generator of umbrage expressed by the Muslims. I would agree and believe that our own hypocrisy, hubris, greed, and laziness brings it full circle. The Ugly American along with the character of Peachey Carnehan  sums it up accurately and nicely, as we have sewn and thus we shall reap.

The American public is too isolated from the world's real problems----it always happens over there and that's their problem. The corporate held media assure a bias in reporting. I see a lot of this driven by the industrial-military complex and the need for war, even if it is only a proxy war. This is aided by the big corporations and their media, including the impacts from the resource extraction sector. These groups can and do get the best politicians money can buy. I can see why Usama bin Laden feels the way he does based on history, his background, and also his reaction is merely one of a natural human response to the uneven situation. In communication, aggression usually starts when one party feels that the other, usually in a position of power, fails to hear the one with less power. This is seen in the character Billy Budd. Thus when respect and evenhandedness are dismissed, rage builds. America has done a fine job engendering rage.

Iran, a Muslim country, is perhaps a good example to discuss. The country was variously controlled and influenced by foreigners, mainly Christians. Once, Persia's territory was much larger and encompassed Iraq and portions of Afghanistan. Churchill as head of the Admiralty saw into the future early in the 20th Century. He realized that German industrial production would best Britain's. In shipping, the critical factor turned on oil. Britannia may have ruled the seas based on coal but oil was far superior for a number of reasons. It took teams of men to shovel coal in capital ships and these men required quartering and support. In German capital ships, running on oil, all those men could be replaced by a simple pump, the men could then be shifted into the gun turrets. Oil was found in Persia by the Brits and the D'Arcy oil concession was signed around 1901 that gave the British effective control of Persian oil reserves for the next 60 years. After WW II, Iran became fed up with the foreign system taking its natural resources. The nation of Iran wanted to nationalize the production of oil, i.e., take control of Iranian oil away from the Brits. To stop this nationalization of the oil reserves, in 1951, we saw to the removal of the democratically elected Iranian Prime Minister by the efforts of the Brits, assisted by covert action of our own intelligence arm. The Shah, essentially a US puppet, was returned to power. The quid pro quo for our help in stopping the nationalization was a major portion of the oil (40%). I was there in the mid 1950s doing research on the potential for a shrimp industry. We fueled our vehicles in Abadan at 6 cents a gallon.

If we go back to the period between roughly 1500 and 1740, we see the Safavid's Persian Empire and a territory much larger than present Iran. That territory took in Armenia, Iraq, Azerbaijan, Mazandaran, about ½ of the shore of the Caspian Sea, portions of Khorasan, and portions of Afganistan, the north western borders of the Persian Gulf down to Bahrain, and Sea of Oman including portions of the Sind. This is strategic territory.

Thus the question that might be asked here is one of a diplomatic and foreign policy equivalence or parallels between U.S. actions taken on Iran and China.

The West has stood by while China had gathered into its fold its older territories---example, Tibet and we just stood by and let it happen---but of what strategic good is Tibet to us? Thus the act of irredentism by Iran to re-annex old areas would see considerable disruption in the region. That kind of disruption would thus affect oil production. Another example is the Afghan border at Pakistan, a result of British colonial efforts but this border is disputed by the Afghans.

The whole of the area could be disrupted if we treat Iran with the same dispassionate eye as we use on China. Thus, the normative agenda espoused to the American public probably has little to do with the pragmatic foreign policy agenda. That agenda, just as the clandestine cooperation with Britain over Iraq and Saddam Hussein will likely see the continuation of lies and a duping of the American public. It is, for potential territorial reasons, perhaps more than is acknowledged, that we are having the issues with Iran. Thus if Iran gains the “bomb”, to use an older expression, we and the rest of the oil-dependent US allies, would be in for some difficulty. This difficulty could also be exacerbated if Iran sold its oil for Euros and to our trading competitors. Obviously we (including our allies) can no more let this happen that we did when Dr. Mohammad Mosaddeq nationalized Iran's oil.

Mosaddeq's action caused essentially the cessation of production, but at that time, production was tied to foreign technicians, mainly British who left the country, hence the cessation of production. That would not happen today as technicians are easily available. The Brits, at the time, also imposed a worldwide embargo purchasing Iranian oil. That, as an effective result, would not happen today. In the early 1950s, to squeeze Iran yet further its assets held within British banks were frozen and exports to Iran were banned by the British. That might happen but would it work? Exports are easily available from China and Russia and former USSR territories. In the 1950s, Brittan ran Iran through the world court in The Hague and and much to the British surprise, Iran won the case, but at the time, that did not matter. The British enlisted the CIA to topple the standing democratically elected Iranian government and re-positioned the deposed Shah back on the seat of power as a puppet. All these actions were well disguised by the aggressive parties and the American people were fed a pack of lies. That strategy would likely also not work today because one has any number of information avenues, like Twitter, available that are not well controlled by state governments and that make end runs around the corporate media and government propaganda.

Oil has been a major mover of policy in the Middle East, but that policy has been, not for those who lived in the area, but for foreign interests. Being foreign, many of the local customs are lost on expats who work in the Middle East. Our habits are offensive, but we often do not realize that. Usama bin Laden, as an example, takes this as an intrusion by people who should not be there.