People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 24

June 12, 2011

Meddling West in Middle East


R Arun Kumar


THE West, led by the US is doing what it does best – meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign countries and trying to influence their destiny. The theatre for them now is the Middle East, where many countries are facing turmoil. They are aggressively trying to play 'catch-up', after the initial developments in Tunisia and to an extent in Egypt caught them off-guard. Their involvement in Libya, through the military operations under the NATO command is well known. But what is little known and is now emerging in a big way, is their 'chequebook diplomacy' – the way they are trying to use their economic power to ensure that these countries remain in their orbit of control.




Recently Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state stepped up the US support for anti-government forces in Libya, announcing that it would 'free up' part of the $30 billion it holds in frozen Libyan assets to provide cash to the rebels. The self-styled Transitional National Council (TNC) based in Benghazi says it needs billions of dollars for 'basic supplies'. Clinton's announcement came at a 'contact group' meeting on Libya in Rome, which also established an international fund to supply food, medicine and salaries to militants and civilians in rebel-controlled areas. Around $245 million has already been pledged to this international fund. This is a boost for the TNC, which has not been officially recognised by the US although France, Italy and Qatar have done so. It is interesting to note that not satisfied with this 'monetary assistance', the Libyan rebel leader Mahmoud Jibril visited the US with a request for a cool $3 billion!


Obama in his May 19 speech on Middle East, announced $1 billion in debt relief over several years and another $1 billion in loans to finance infrastructure improvements in Egypt. Not satisfied with their individual efforts to fund the rebels, they have roped in the G-8 (which they had felt insufficient to deal with the global economic crisis and expanded to G-20), to influence the 'crisis' in Middle East for their benefit. It should be noted here that many of the G-8 countries, severely affected by the economic crisis are drastically cutting social welfare expenditures in their countries in the name of austerity. They have money to bailout the corporates and ensure that corporate profits remain unaffected, but none to carry out welfare measures for the working class. To come out of the resultant sovereign insolvency staring at them, they are accentuating the misery of the working class. It is this similar urge to gobble profits that is driving them to control the countries of the Middle East by extending loans and aid.


Leaders of the G-8 announced that they would extend loans worth billions to new governments in the Middle East and North Africa as part of efforts to influence the outcome of the 'Arab Spring'. The G-8 released a statement declaring that banks could provide over $20 billion for Egypt and Tunisia through 2013 to support 'suitable reform efforts'. The money would be administered by the International Monetary Fund, the European Investment Bank and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development. Lest the message be lost in ambiguity, US officials emphasised that the loans will 'only' be delivered to governments which agree to implement 'overall reform programmes'.


World Bank president Robert Zoellick, announced that his institution is ready to do its best by pledging billions to this 'democratic enterprise'. He hinted that billions are available from the World Bank kitty for the 'Arab Spring' countries, provided they are committed to 'good governance'. Zoellick stated that World Bank aims to fund “community empowerment which would bypass the State and target the people directly through their communities”.


It is not just the G-8 or the developed Western countries that are trying to 'aid' the protests in their favour. Growing protests in Bahrain and Oman have rattled the other members of the six-nation Gulf Co-operation Council (GCC), raising concerns that the unrest tearing through the Middle East will affect OPEC members. The GCC pledged the $20bn in aid over 10 years to be split between the two nations. The aid package is intended to allow Oman and Bahrain to introduce 'long-needed social initiatives'.


The countries that are so eager to announce aid, are not ready to completely write-off the debts of the recipient countries – Egypt alone has a debt of over $30 billion. This in fact would have eased the financial burden of these countries and would have helped them introduce some pro-poor social programmes. But this was not supposed to be. Naturally, chequebook diplomacy is not about 'values' but about 'donor interests'.




Even a cursory glance at the way the Western countries are spending their monies in Middle East, will prove that they are not at all serious about values. The US defence secretary Robert Gates admitted that the Obama administration's involvement in the war in Libya had so far cost around $750 million. The Pentagon officials estimate that the continuing cost could be $40 million a month. The Daily Telegraph estimated that the costs of the Libya operation for the UK has reached almost $212 million and that the total cost “is likely to reach $1.6 billion if it runs for a year”.


Contrast this with the tepid response to the UN appeal for humanitarian aid. According to UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Libya Panos Moumtzis, 1.6 million people in the country need aid as fighting had disrupted services and depleted stocks of food and medicine. The UN estimates that around 500,000 Libyans who have fled the country since the insurgency erupted in mid-February also needed urgent humanitarian assistance. Above it, roughly 330,000 people have also been internally displaced. The UN estimates that 3.6 million Libyan people could eventually require humanitarian assistance and has launched a $310 million 'flash appeal' for Libya which is so far only 39 per cent funded.


The following question hence would be, what are their interests? As has been extensively written, their interests are naked – control over these resource rich and strategically located countries. That the entire talk of 'values' is bogus can be easily understood when we just look at the way they are standing-by the regime in Bahrain and Yemen, while being involved in a military campaign, overtly in Libya and covertly in Syria. In Tunisia and Egypt, though they have reacted late, they have used their deep-rooted connections in the army and administration to prop up a regime that is not hostile to them. The change of faces succeeded to water down the protests to an extent, but failed to kill the protests completely. People are still on the streets, especially the workers and other poorer classes in the society. They are continuing their fight for their livelihoods.


It is in this scenario, that the financial aid they are providing becomes all the more important. The aid is intended to provide the financial means to the ruling classes of these countries for 'throwing temporary doles' to the struggling people and thus ensure that they retain State power. The long term interests of the imperial powers is to use the leverage of aid to control these countries as was done after the collapse of erstwhile socialist, East European countries. Obama in his speech on Middle East stated, “These (aid mechanisms) will be modelled on funds that supported the transitions in Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin Wall”. And we all know how ruined – socially and economically – are the East European countries today.


The US and its imperial allies want to come out of their current economic crisis by prising open the economies of these countries. To quote Obama once again, “We will work with the EU to facilitate more trade within the region, build on existing agreements to promote integration with US and European markets, and open the door for those countries who adopt high standards of reform and trade liberalisation to construct a regional trade arrangement”. In short, as a top economic aide to Obama stated, “They need to privatise, to open the economy to trade”. In this zealousness, they are conveniently forgetting the fact that the genesis of the current unrest among the Middle East countries is not only due to the absence of democratic rights but also due to the economic hardships – growing unemployment, rising prices, etc. The global economic crisis, whatever extent these countries tied up their economies with the 'globalised world', is also responsible for these economic hardships. To ask them to further 'open', 'privatise', is nothing but pushing them from 'the pan into the fire'.


The economic prescriptions accompanying the 'financial aid' will tie these Middle East countries more closely with the US and its allies, further burden them and accentuate the crisis in which these countries already find themselves in. The people of these countries, who have ushered in the 'Arab Spring' hopefully would see through these nefarious designs. They should carry on their struggles until they rid their countries from imperialist intervention and establish real democracy that guarantees social, political and economic rights, in their true sense.