For the sake of argument

We can’t beat Nasser — let’s join him

PHILIP DEANE September 13 1958
For the sake of argument

We can’t beat Nasser — let’s join him

PHILIP DEANE September 13 1958

We can’t beat Nasser — let’s join him

For the sake of argument


Our best bet in the Middle East is to back Gamal Abdel Nasser, or at least to stop opposing his objectives (retired colonels and other devotees of imperial glory, kindly leave those elephant guns and horsewhips over the mantelpiece and hear me out).

If Nasser achieved his objectives overnight, tonight, he would be the head of a federated Arab state with a population of forty-seven million, uniting Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Lebanon, Jordan, and the oil sheikdoms of the Persian Gulf. In the struggle between the West and Russia he would be irritatingly neutral, refusing to condemn Russian slaughters in Hungary and calling Westerners butchers for landing in Lebanon without firing a shot. The victorious Nasser would still beam his vitriolic and insulting Cairo radio transmitters at Africa, urging the people of that continent to throw off the “blood-sucking” Western imperialist yoke and unite under his leadership. And, of course, blue murder for Israel would still be the main burden of the Egyptian leader’s sermon.

What Nasser could do

Above all, if Nasser reached his objectives overnight, he would be the master of the pipelines and of the oil fields. Tomorrow, his oil fields would be yielding 3.3 million barrels of oil a day (4.1 million if he also took Iran, which is not impossible). Without Iranian oil, under the present custom of splitting profits before taxes fiftyfifty between the oil companies and the land where the oil is, Nasser’s income would be $817 million a year. If he had Iran also. Nasser would have an income of approximately one billion dollars a year from oil.

Europe, as he said in his book, would be very much dependent upon him. The Middle East supplies eighty percent of Europe's oil, twenty-five percent of the free

world’s oil. By shutting off deliveries for a little while, Nasser could plunge Europe into a deep economic crisis.

This is not a pretty prospect. Why then do I say we should not oppose Nasser's drive for his objectives? The answer is rather complex and it starts with a question: what are our main objectives in the Middle East; the real, basic, “sticking point,” devoid-of-emotionalism objectives of the West?

1. To keep Russia from taking the Middle East, or to keep the Middle East from joining Russia.

2. To have Middle East oil (lowing freely to the West.

On the second Western objective, keeping the oil flowing freely, there can certainly be an accommodation with Nasser. He wrote, in the lurid style the Arabs love, that control of oil will give the Arabs a “stranglehold on Europe’s jugular vein.” Up to the point of securing this stranglehold by shaking off Western control of the oil fields, the objectives of Nasserism and of Moscow coincide. From that point onward, the objectives of Nasserism and Moscow diverge. Moscow's principal interest is to deny oil to Europe so as to bring Europe to her knees through economic collapse.

The objective of a Nasser controlling the oil fields must be to sell oil to his only customers—the Western countries. Otherwise he will not make his billionUt year. Of the four million barrels of oil produced daily in the Middle East, Russia does not buy one drop. She has all she wants and exports some ten percent of Europe’s needs.

True, Nasser, as ruler of the Middle East, would demand fiftyseven percent of the oil profits; Japanese companies offer this much now, outbidding Western firms which operate at present on a fifty-fifty basis. There is a limit to how much the Arabs can charge, however: Middle East oil sells so well because it is so much cheaper. If it gets continued on page 74


“Nasser can be trusted to keep a bargain — if it suits him. It suits him to keep oil flowing”

too expensive, the Canadian, Alaskan, U. S., Central American, and South American fields will be developed with feverish speed—this process has already started in Argentina.

But would Nasser, casting reason to the winds and knowing he might be ruining himself and his followers in the process, cut off oil to blackmail us—to force us to throw Israel to the wolves, for instance?

He could try, but the West would not be “strangled” as he boasts it would in his book, Philosophy of the Revolution. Suez proved that, and he wrote his book before Suez. If the total Middle East oil production of 3.3 million barrels a day (not counting Iran) was cut tomorrow, U. S. output could be expanded by two million barrels, Venezuelan by six hundred thousand, Canadian by two hundred thousand and Iranian by another two hundred thousand, overnight. This is “sealed-in capacity,” oil the wells can deliver now but which is not allowed to flow. The shortage would be only three hundred thousand barrels a day—easily taken care of by exercising some economy.

The West, being very much richer, could certainly take the economic havoc of an oil embargo from the Middle East far more easily than the Arabs could. Besides, Nasser is not the cut-your-noseto-spite-your-face type; after the Suez crisis he co-operated fully in getting the canal open for traffic quickly and thereby earning money once more for him. He showed awareness of the need for such things as international confidence, if you want to trade, when he agreed to compensate the old Suez Canal Company for nationalizing its property. It is in Nasser’s interest to do business with the West and he has shown great aptitude for knowing what his interest is. He can be trusted to keep a bargain if it suits him. He did not keep the 1936 Anglo-Egyptian Treaty that made his country a British base because that did not suit him. He has kept the agreement with the United Nations in Gaza scrupulously, because it suits him to have protection against Israel. It also suits him to keep oil flowing freely to Europe, which is one of the two main Western objectives in the Middle East.

How about the other main Western objective in the Middle East—to keep Russia out? Is Nasser a front for communism? Has he sold himself to Moscow? Nasser mortgaged his cotton crop

to Moscow in exchange for—among other things—weapons. His United Arab Republic (Egypt and Syria) accepted, in the past three years, $780 million of Soviet aid, mostly in 2'/2% loans. Of that aid $350 million was military. Hundreds of Soviet technicians are roaming Egypt and Syria.

Why did Nasser commit himself so deeply to Moscow? For one thing, Nasser was frightened of Israel’s military superiority, as he had every reason to be—Suez showed that—and we would not sell him arms. For another, Egypt could not sell her cotton and Syria could not sell her wheat to the West. These are the only agricultural products that the United Arab Republic has to trade. It is sell or starve and beggars can’t be choosers. Cotton is everything to Nasser now and Russia therefore is his best customer. But if he becomes the leader of all the Arab Middle East, oil will be everything to him—cotton will be relatively insignificant. The West will then be his most important customer. Incidentally in the same three-year period when the Russians advanced him $780 million, U. S. aid to the United Arab Republic was only $3.3 million.

Even so, in spite of his close relations with Russia, Nasser is highly suspicious of communists. On July 5 of this year, for instance, Syria’s left-wing transport union went on strike in Aleppo. Nasser rushed in troops, broke the strike and slammed some hundreds of communist sympathizers into jail, without worrying much about legal niceties. He is a nationalist, with a chip on his shoulder about foreign domination. It is highly unlikely that he would—willingly and knowingly—allow Russia to dominate him. Not willingly and knowingly, perhaps, but could he not be duped? Do not all these small-time dictators think they can “handle” the communists and then discover it was Moscow that was doing the handling all the time?

Will not the great poverty, the almost incurable poverty of the Middle East create the conditions of economic chaos and popular resentment which could bring the local communists to power with the advice and help of all those Russian technicians? This is far more likely in the present divided state of the Middle East than it would be if the area was united under Nasser.

The “have not” countries like Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, could literally be saved by a share of the billion

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dollars in oil revenue that the area earns. In such “have” countries as Saudi Arabia and the oil sheikdoms, the rulers, feudal lords that they are, are, inevitably creating smoldering national hatred by their squandering. Saudi Arabia has a yearly oil revenue of $320 million and spends $379 million, a regular inflationary deficit. The country spends $132.6 million on defense and aviation, $44.8 million on public works, and $27.6 million on communications. There is only one road to show for all this. Public health and public education are free, by law, but there are no schools or doctors worth counting. The public works and communications money goes, in reality, to the pockets of the relatives and favorites of the royal family—and this is in addition to the $175 million a year that is openly shown as royal stipends.

Lei small nations lead

The relatively “enlightened” sheik of Kuwait salts away—by his own admission—a hundred million dollars a year in British government securities. Investing such sums in Arab development, investing all or even seventy percent of the billion dollars a year earned from oil, could transform the whole Middle East.

No foreign aid would be needed. The area is so backward that it could not absorb more than a billion a year in development funds for a long time. Only technicians would be necessary and here the West should concentrate all its efforts on taking the business of technical aid. and experts to supervise it. out of the realm of competition with Russia. Let all aid, in money or men. be channeled through the United Nations and let Norwegian, South American, Yugoslav and other small-power experts teach the Arabs about the twentieth century. The Arabs want that. They have backed the idea of aid through the United Nations. It is the West that blocked this scheme, yet it is the best one for getting the Red engineers out of the Middle East.

There would of course remain Israel. Here, the only solution lies in getting Russia to join the West in a guarantee of Middle East frontiers against Arab attacks on Jews but also against Israeli expansionism. The weight of the AfroAsians (other than Arabs) in the United Nations would be all on our side for such a solution. Nasser has already accepted a United Nations force to guard his frontiers against Israel. This force should be extended all around Israel. It would be worth paying Russia a price for co-sponsoring such a scheme—for instance, give up now things we will have to give up later anyway, such as the American base at Dahran in Saudi Arabia. Failing that we should unilaterally pledge to fight to preserve the present Arab-Israeli frontiers intact.

The very existence of Israel would remain a bone of contention between us and the Arabs, but that is no reason for not removing other bones of contention. such as our opposition to Nasserism which is synonymous with Arab nationalism these days. Besides, by getting Russia to underwrite Middle East frontiers we would get her to share the blame in Arab eyes for Israeli's existence. Preventing an Arab-Israeli war is very important, because it could bring Russian military forces into the Middle East for good.

Finally, how about Nasser’s radio calling on the Africans to revolt against Western imperialism? Well, this is very unpleasant for the white men in Kenya, but it has the advantage of giving African nationalism a Mecca other than Moscow.

Nasser’s call concords also with the great growth of Islam on the African continent. Better a Moslem, Arab-led Africa than a communist, Moscow-led Africa. Besides, silencing Cairo radio will not end the black man’s desire to throw off his white master.

Arc these not far too many concessions to make to an essentially unpleasant, abusive, garrulous dictator like Nasser? Why not oppose him, if not with force, by building up competitors? The trouble here is that no competitor stands a chance unless he pursues the aspirations of the Arabs. These aspirations are:

1. To be free of foreign and especially Western domination.

2. To control Middle East oil and use it for economic development.

3. To unite so that Arabs will be powerful and proud and listened-to once more, able to lead at least Africa.

4. (This is an aspiration of the nascent Arab middle class principally.) To break the feudal system of pashas; to achieve if not democracy at once, at least social equality. The peasant version of this aspiration is land reform. There is one more, the aspiration to cock a snook at the West, to insult the West, to show the former master he can now be taunted with impunity.

Nuri Said, the strong man of Iraq whom we backed and who was assassinated during the Iraqi rebellion of July 14, did not carry out land reform. Iraq’s peasants, if they are lucky, get half the crop they grow for a landlord. Some peasants get only a quarter of the crop. Nuri’s splendid development of water resources irrigated only the landlords’ fields. His so-called parliament was packed in rigged elections with medieval sheiks. That is why, even though he spent seventy percent of his country's oil revenue on development, Nuri could not compete with Nasserism.

Nasser carried out a successful land reform—even though there was little land to distribute and people's standards did not go up appreciably. He abolished the privileges of the landlord class. He espoused all Middle Eastern Arab aspirations, especially that of abusing the former master. Any successful competitor we back—leaving aside the fact that he would be doomed just because we back him—would have to be as unpleasant to us as Nasser is.

The myth of imperialism

Force then? In the Middle East we have used force on two occasions: during the Suez crisis in 1956 and on July 15 this year when the U. S. landed Marines in Lebanon and Britain started sending troops into Jordan. On each occasion we did not use enough force to stem the tide of Nasserism, but more than enough to help Nasser perpetuate the myth of “Western imperialism” and to make him a greater hero in Arab eyes each time.

We did not use sufficient force because the West's power is now challenged in the Middle East by the power of Russia, as the power of the United Kingdom never was challenged during the years when Britannia ruled the waves. We hesitate to use sufficient power for fear of starting a nuclear war.

And to swallow our fears, to say that Russia is bluffing, and go in to impose our policy in the Middle East by force, cutting Nasser down to size, would involve us in a situation like the one in Algeria. Eight million Moslems in Algeria have produced thirty thousand guerrillas who occupy half a million French troops costing France a billion dollars a year. How much would it cost to hold down six times as many Moslems? it