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The Geopolitics Apprentice

January 13, 2020 - Monday 4:01 AM by JD Vergara

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So what was it all about? This is the bottom line question protruding in people’s minds with the recent US-Iran “World War III” scare. The world was pushed on the very edge of the apocalypse, political pundits howled. Was there any moral or pragmatic justification behind the unwanted madness? Most of us, those who would simply be dragged into the eventual outcome, want to be affirmed that this failed doomsday scenario was not a fruit of a capricious and whimsical mind. Nothing would be more horrifying than knowing that the whole thing was simply the by-product of the seemingly narcissistic philosophy coming right out of the pages of “The Art of the Deal.”
Was it oil? Nope, Trump clarified this in his press conference in the aftermath of Iran’s retaliatory missile attack: “We are now the number one producer of oil and natural gas anywhere in the world. We are independent and we do not need Middle East oil.” Maybe so, but others are sceptical. The Miami Herald reports that the US still relies on oil from overseas despite having effectively cut down its energy reliance to a large degree. It still needs to import about 7 billion barrels of oil a day to supply its mammoth energy requirement. Until it is totally emancipated from this vital need, the US will still be a primary political actor in the Middle East.

In his 2006 speech, George W. Bush Jr. admitted America’s addiction to oil. This addiction, as David Halberstam pointed out, was symbolized by America’s preference for massive motor engines back in the years prior to the oil crisis in 1973. Larger, bigger, and powerful were the norms of the day until the Arab world pulled the plug out of this vanity by realizing its true political leverage -- oil. The OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) unleashed an oil embargo against Canada, Japan, Netherlands, United Kingdom, and the United States for supporting the Yom Kippur War. As a result, oil price sky-rocketed to a whooping 400 percent. America was in a drunken stupor and once fully awake became perennially involved in the Middle East.

How about the high and lofty, self imposed, global obligation to export democracy? Absolutely. Christopher Coyne, writing for The Future of Freedom Foundation, explains: “In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson justified the American entry into World War I on the ground that it was necessary to make the world ‘safe for democracy.’ Since that time, U.S. presidents have used this same line of reasoning to justify military interventions around the world. More than eight decades after Wilson’s decree, George W. Bush stated that ‘it is the policy of the United States to seek and support the growth of democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world.’ And a 2011 White House press release noted the Obama administration’s commitment to the ‘goal of helping provide the Libyan people an opportunity to transform their country, by installing a democratic system that respects the people’s will.’”

Trump was categorical that for as long as he is president, Iran would have no nuclear arms. Tyrannical regimes like Iran’s Ayatollahs must be denied such deadly weapons. Heck, they must not be in government at all. Transporting democracy therefore seems imperative, but this prospect is festered with complexity. There is the persistent idea that Islam and democracy make strange bedfellows. Can Islam and democracy go together? Bernard Lewis’ says it’s up to the Muslims themselves: ”It is of course for Muslims, primarily and perhaps exclusively, to interpret and reinterpret the pristine original message of their faith, and to decide how much to retain, and in what form, of the rich accumulated heritage of fourteen centuries of Islamic history and culture.” Some pointed at Turkey as a case in point for a positive answer. Islam and democracy seem to be working well among the Turks. But while this debate continues, the actual situation in the Middle East seems to favor the negative answer.

All in all, this geopolitical quagmire may have been a bit too much for a businessman like Trump. The gap between dealing real estate and dealing with nation states on nuclear armaments is humongous. While the former may simply end in lawsuits and loss of capital, the latter may end in an apocalyptic catastrophe with millions of lives lost. In his recent press conference, we see a Trump that is not only behaved but subdued, like a person profusely grateful to have gotten out from hell alive. Now, what to do with the thousands of US army deployed in Iraq and elsewhere? That’s another headache our Geopolitics Apprentice has to survive for another day.