Bacevich in ‘LA Times': Camp David ushered in 4 decades of US militarism in Mid East

Israel/Palestine
on 28 Comments

The LA Times op-ed page has run an important piece by realist Andrew Bacevich saying that military aid to Egypt is symptomatic of a failed US policy across the Middle East of supplanting diplomacy with militarism. The aid was the price of the Camp David accords, and Bacevich argues that in the four decades before Camp David, the US had little military involvement in the region, while in the four decades since it has been endlessly mired in hostilities there. 

Bacevich:

It may help to recall how the United States forged its perverse relationship with the Egyptian army in the first place. That relationship dates from the 1978 Camp David accords brokered by President Jimmy Carter. Rather than receiving a commission, the broker in this case ended up on the hook, promising to compensate the contracting parties for doing what each had agreed to do. From that day to the present, the United States has annually funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to Egypt and Israel. Rather than furthering the cause of mutual understanding — funding education programs or cultural exchanges, for example — most of that money has gone to the purchase of advanced weaponry.

What are we to make of this arrangement? Writing in the New York Times, Thom Shanker and Eric Schmitt recently noted that “in the four decades before Camp David, Israel and Egypt fought several major wars; in the nearly four decades since, none.”

True enough, and a welcome development. Yet no less true, if much less welcome, is this: In the four decades before Camp David, the U.S. had managed to steer clear of war in the Middle East; in the nearly four decades since, U.S. involvement in hostilities throughout the region has become routine, with little to show as a result.

What becomes clear in retrospect is that Camp David mattered less as a milestone on the road to peace than as a departure point signaling a radical transformation of U.S. policy. Before Camp David, in the Pentagon‘s eyes, the region had qualified as an afterthought. After Camp David — and especially as the Cold War wound down — it became the center of attention.

Underlying the shift in U.S. policy inaugurated by Carter was the expectation that military “engagement” (to use a favorite Pentagon term) was going to enhance U.S. leverage throughout the region…. As a means of solving problems, or at least keeping them manageable, military power was displacing diplomacy.

In the years that followed, in ways that Carter himself neither envisioned nor intended, a flurry of military activity ensued. …

First there was the “tanker war” of 1984-88 against Iran, the initiation of hostilities against our erstwhile Iraqi ally in 1991, and armed intervention in Somalia the following year. U.S. airstrikes against various targets throughout the greater Middle East punctuated the Bill Clinton era. Then, after 9/11, came the (ongoing) Afghanistan war, Round 2 of the Iraq war, armed intervention in Libya and small-scale actions in Pakistan, Yemen and elsewhere.

This crowded narrative provides the context for assessing what “engagement” has wrought not only in Egypt but throughout the region.

The piece is a significant contribution to the theory of the Israel lobby. Myself, I am reductive about the role of the lobby: I think the special relationship has driven US policy more than national interest factors or military-industrial-complex factors. And this piece is evidence for my case: Camp David came out of the ’67 and ’73 wars and also the sudden emergence of the Israel lobby. Friends of Israel in the US demanded that the US guarantee Israel’s security; and the peace treaty and the military largesse flowed from that. No doubt military contractors in the US have bought a lot of expensive wine because of this policy, as Chomsky would tell you. But the militarization has done nothing to enhance American access to Arabian oil.

Meantime, the militarization has helped Israel chiefly by reflecting and valorizing Israel’s relationship with its neighbors. What a tough neighborhood, the Israelis always complained; well, now the US is the policeman of that neighborhood and venting in the same angry manner. And occupying Arab countries and experiencing suicide terrorism and fulminating about Islamists. Absent the special relationship, this wouldn’t be happening.

28 Responses

  1. Les
    August 21, 2013, 2:48 pm

    Phil,
    Thanks for bringing this to our attention.

  2. American
    August 21, 2013, 3:21 pm

    Bacevich always brllnat imo.

    And
    “I think the special relationship has driven US policy more than national interest factors or military-industrial-complex factors. And this piece is evidence for my case: Camp David came out of the ’67 and ’73 wars and also the sudden emergence of the Israel lobby. Friends of Israel in the US demanded that the US guarantee Israel’s security; and the peace treaty and the military largesse flowed from that. No doubt military contractors in the US have bought a lot of expensive wine because of this policy, as Chomsky would tell you. But the militarization has done nothing to enhance American access to Arabian oil.”……Phl

    Agree and how it happens is when Isr has a wish or problem,whatever it is, it always necessitates bringing congress or State or the pentagon or intellgence agencies and this and that expert and on and on to bear on the problem or demand.. Each person or party brought in to consult on Isr’s wish list or problem can often have some interest of their own they want to fit into the Isr problem/request—-might be one they hope to personally or career wise profit from by insertng it into the ‘solution’. Then you have the I-firster who wants to make the problem appear ‘not to be just Israel’s problem’ so he adds somethng to make it look like complyng wth Israel wouldnt be done ‘just for Israel’ and would solve a US problem so he throws an extra terrier or potentialy troublesome ruler or whatever in to the pot for good measure. And another interested expert party just happens to own a firm/industry/country whose services could also help in the US solution for Isr.
    Pretty soon the Isr problem or demand and it’s solution has gone from a 2 layer get well soon cake to a six layer cake.

    • James Canning
      August 22, 2013, 1:48 pm

      Yes, “friends of Israel in the US demanded that the US guarantee Israel’s security”.
      And those friends gain in wealth and power as the years go by.

  3. seafoid
    August 21, 2013, 4:22 pm

    Camp David was the signal to go for broke with YESHA as well.
    F$cking stupid Israel.

    • Daniel Rich
      August 22, 2013, 3:47 am

      @ seafoid,

      I don’t agree with the special US-Israeli bond, but I have to admit that [I think/believe] Israel has played it cards ruthlessly extremely well. Look around you, if you don’t believe me.

  4. fnlevit
    August 21, 2013, 4:38 pm

    First of all Camp David help tremendously to get Russia (sorry USSR) out of its dominating position in the Middle East. Russia (at least formaly) was at its full might in 1978 and removing great chunkof its influence was an important achievement of the Camp David.
    For Israel it was a real gift. First peace treaty with an Arab country with full (although cold) diplomatic relations, worry free southern border. Untill lately there was not even a fence along it.

    Also Israel demonstrated how much it is willing and reday to do for peace. Complete withdrawal from the area of 60K sq. km. Not many countries did that after a victorious war. Area sparsly populated with population which actually became mostly friendly (I know I was there in 70’s). Israel dismantled two cities it constructed (Ofira and Yamit) and a number of other settlements.
    Despite so many caraclisms in the surroundin world the peace is still holding although the border is not worry three these days.

    • Eva Smagacz
      August 23, 2013, 2:39 am

      If Israel wanted to demonstrate its commitment to peace, it would not steal Sinai from Egipt in the first place. Don’t coach the return of stolen property in terms of Israel’s benevolent generosity. It’s bul***t and propaganda.

  5. American
    August 21, 2013, 6:03 pm

    ”Viewpoint: Egypt No Longer Matters
    It’s time for Washington to recognize that Cairo is not the center of the Arab world”
    link to world.time.com

    this probably true for US –except for the Isr factor.

    • James Canning
      August 22, 2013, 1:45 pm

      Arabs generally regard Cairo as the intellectual center of Arab world. Beirut was the financial center.

  6. ritzl
    August 21, 2013, 6:10 pm

    Great article. Bacevich is always refreshingly clear.

    I would add that the ’70s was a pivotal decade on all fronts. The Lobby sure used:

    • Munich;
    • The oil embargoes/OPEC as poster group/hatred toward Arabs for dislocations;
    • Nixon opening up China to US standard-of-living-killing investment and trade (more dislocations);
    • Insular US manufacturing ceding its global tech and production edge to the rest of the world (even more dislocations);
    • A shift to a significant dependence on imported oil and the region (nascent, but still unstructured, military interests);
    • Iran hostages, and perhaps most notably for the evolution of the mechanics of regional military involvement, the failure of the rescue raid;

    to springboard its own agenda. Camp David seemed to codify the acceptable nature and “springiness” for that agenda. But cause, effect, or principle ingredient (the “portland cement”) of our current situation? Hard to tell.

    Thoughtful analysis. Thanks.

    • Kathleen
      August 21, 2013, 9:38 pm

      So clear. No nonsense

    • James Canning
      August 22, 2013, 1:42 pm

      @ritzl – – Yes, let us recall the absurd, and very dangerous to the US itself, creation of US news media, of “the America held hostage”! Preposterous.

  7. Patrick
    August 21, 2013, 7:57 pm

    Yes, increased U.S. militarism in the Middle East followed the Camp David accords. But to imply that these accords were the cause of subsequent military actions is an unfortunate bit of ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ reasoning from Bacevich.

    You could equally well attribute U.S. militarism in the Middle East to the Carter Doctrine (link to en.wikipedia.org), which was enunciated around the same time (Jan. 1980). With this policy, which was declared following the Iranian revolution, the U.S. took upon itself the role of policing the Persian Gulf.

    • Hostage
      August 22, 2013, 3:47 am

      to imply that these accords were the cause of subsequent military actions is an unfortunate bit of ‘post hoc ergo propter hoc’ reasoning

      Agreed. The US government has used military intervention and polite bribes in the region since the days of the Barbary Treaties. I’ve commented on that fact before. link to mondoweiss.net

      Our government was up to its eyes in the business of the international oil cartel, from the time it sat in as an observer on the British and French negotiations over the Iraqi oil fields at the San Remo Conference (1920), to its active participation in demanding some of the spoils during the Lausanne Peace Conference (1923) and the Cartel Red Line Agreement of 1928.

      By the Eisenhower era, the government was keeping the oil cartel’s monopoly a secret from the public. The Eisenhower administration intervened with both conventional forces and financial assistance in Lebanon decades before Camp David. The US had 14,000 troops on the ground – a much larger number than even the Lebanese had at the time. We were also providing arms to regimes in Iraq, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia, and using covert operations to overthrow the elected regime in Iran, e.g. link to dtic.mil.

      We were doing much worse things in the Caribbean and Latin America, for the likes of the United Fruit Company and a few others.

      • seafoid
        August 22, 2013, 4:51 am

        And Indonesia, too, Hostage.
        What the Yank Government did to its Lat Am backyard won’t ever be forgotten.

        “We didn’t start the fire” is one of the worst popular culture defences of US imperialism

      • Kathleen
        August 22, 2013, 1:32 pm

        So as you have pointed out the U.S. was operating covertly in this part of the world long before Camp David. Bacevich seems to be drawing the distinction that more aggressive military actions on a large scale accelerated after Camp David. Is that a fair distinction in your opinion?

      • Hostage
        August 26, 2013, 2:33 am

        Bacevich seems to be drawing the distinction that more aggressive military actions on a large scale accelerated after Camp David. Is that a fair distinction in your opinion?

        Bacevich implies that Camp David was a turning point. I’m just pointing out that the decades before Camp David were not all that tranquil and that Camp David was in line with the Eisenhower Doctrine on the use of conventional forces and financial assistance.

    • James Canning
      August 22, 2013, 1:40 pm

      @Patrick – – We should remember that Jimmy Carter, Cyrus Vance, Zbig Brzezinski, thought invasion of Afghanistan by USSR was part of scheme intended to obtain access to Persian Gulf. Which was not true.

  8. Blank State
    August 21, 2013, 8:13 pm

    Camp David resulted in a policy of bribery, paying Egypt countless billions of U.S. taxpayer’s money to protect Israel. These billions upon billions of dollars of bribes paid to Egypt, to protect Israel’s security, need to be included in the sum total of monies we have squandered away to this ungrateful and duplicitous psuedo “ally” known as “Israel”.

    Frankly, I wish we would cut aid to both Israel and Egypt, and watch the two of them come out from behind thier masks and show us what they are REALLY made of when we aren’t comping thier group hug. Never happen, though. We’ll pay them off no matter what, even if these DC scumbags have to hide the envelope.

  9. John Douglas
    August 21, 2013, 9:18 pm

    I agree with Partick on this. There is also the issue of attributing a single cause to a myriad of complex events. If my arm was twisted to do this, I would suggest, “follow the money.” The U.S. is literally addicted to warfare, more specifically the elites who run Washington get super rich from the federal money doled out to combat phoney threats to U.S. security.

  10. gingershot
    August 21, 2013, 9:56 pm

    Interesting long view of Israeli strategic thinking – if it was an actual strategy (refined as it went along) to dominate the Middle East by means of the US (via the Israeli Lobby in the US), rather than as a peace plan

  11. OlegR
    August 22, 2013, 3:41 am

    Really Philip not even a single mention of the gas attack in Syria ?

  12. giladg
    August 22, 2013, 7:13 am

    It is amazing how you keep missing the point Philip. Pre 1967 there were no settlements. The West Bank was controlled by Jordan, as was East Jerusalem. This did not stop the Palestinians and their Arab and Muslim brethren supporting war against Israel and from massing troops on its borders and then blocking ships from reaching Israel which is a clear act of war. Instead of punishing the Arabs, Jimmy Carter rewarded them and stuck one to the Russians. The Russians lost many customers for their weapons. Most of the US aid is spent in the US as the US just prints more dollars. And now the region is flooded with US made killing machines.
    Correct US policy should have been to humiliate and punish the Arab and Muslim countries for waging war. The Arabs and Muslims have never been held to account for what they have done towards Israel and the Jewish people. They rejected the UN partition plan in 1947 and still no one has held them to account for going to war in 1948. The US needs to stand behind Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people and it needs to make this clear to the Palestinians and all the Muslims and Arabs who don’t want to hear this. And they need to stop supplying offensive weapons to the Egyptians. For example, the US has supplied depleted Uranium tank shells to the Egyptians. How many tanks and plans do the Egyptians need? We all know the answer. The US has exacerbated the situation by kowtowing to the Arabs.

  13. Citizen
    August 22, 2013, 7:31 am

    “Rather than receiving a commission, the broker in this case ended up on the hook, promising to compensate the contracting parties for doing what each had agreed to do. From that day to the present, the United States has annually funneled billions of taxpayer dollars to Egypt and Israel. Rather than furthering the cause of mutual understanding — funding education programs or cultural exchanges, for example — most of that money has gone to the purchase of advanced weaponry.”

    Has Jimmy Carter ever written details why his team found this a good solution? Did he assume the annual aid formula would be for just a few years or forever? The US has spent more on aid to Israel alone than it did for the entire Vietnam War. Did Carter think the US itself was going to benefit from the treaty and the bribe it promised to both parties? If so, how?

  14. Sin Nombre
    August 22, 2013, 7:54 am

    I for one am delighted to see this Bacevich piece moving the understanding of how we got where we are closer to the nub of the issue which isn’t whether Israel is more or less right than its neighbors but our own national interest.

    What Jimmy Carter inaugurated with Camp David was essentially a new, moralistic-based U.S. policy towards the ME, and now we see just where exactly such an idea-rejecting stance gets one. In essence, mired in the sins of damn near everyone on every side of a fight that we have no real interest in whatsoever, and being ruthlessly taken advantage of all those parties to boot so as to try to validate that initial hopeless stance.

    Not that Carter was a bad man—manifestly, he isn’t—but what this shows is the wages of supporting a leader based not on his smarts but on the perceived purity or goodness of his or her soul or desires.

    But then … even Bacevich somewhat falls into this, lamenting that instead of supplying military equipment per Camp David we should have been supplying … educational stuff and etc. I.e., yet another of the ridiculous, endless arguments that … gee, if only we had meddled *differently* things would be just hunky-dory.

    It’s all so tiresome and stupid: Everyone looking at that photo of Carter so proud holding up the hands of Begin and Sadat and thinking Carter such a great guy. Instead of the guy who—garnering all sorts of boost for his own ego—his just simply staked an incalculable and perhaps endless amount of our blood and treasure into a fight in which we have no vital or even important interest.

    That’s what you get when you get behind a moral crusader. That’s what you get when you move from the idea of your President as just someone to handle the nation’s business and leave the moralizing to the pulpits (such as exemplified by Eisenhower, say), and go supporting some Great and Shining White God of Goodness. The latter get the adoration and the Nobel Peace Prizes, we get their results.

  15. James Canning
    August 22, 2013, 1:37 pm

    Should one note here that what Egypt needed, after Sinai was reclaimed, was the ability to control the growth of its population?

  16. James Canning
    August 22, 2013, 1:50 pm

    Israel of course complains about its “tough neighborhood” while spurning the opportunity for peace with all Arab countries. Thanks, Israel lobby.

  17. gingershot
    August 22, 2013, 6:58 pm

    Senior Israel [official] warns Washington:

    “Back Egypt’s military or ‘good luck with your peace efforts between Israel and Palestinians’.”

    From Ali Gharib
    link to thedailybeast.com

    Hmmm – These Israelis seem to think we CARE about Apartheid Israel going down the tubes

Leave a Reply