Let’s go back to 1945. Jewish settlement in Palestine aside, the American president did secure from Ibn Saud the two other requests, American bases and oil. Yet on his way back home, President Roosevelt gave a press conference on board the USS Quincy in which he made some interesting remarks on the state of Arabs in the Middle East: “They’ve got no purchasing power to do anything with. Their only purchasing instrument is oil. Their people are not educated, do not get enough to eat, cannot cope with health problems . . . Now, of course, all that is tied up more or less with peace. A country that isn’t moving forward with civilization is always more of a potential war danger than a country that is making progress.”
So true, and so depressing. Because whenever Americans tried to help the Arabs move towards progress and modernity, they received results opposite to what they had expected. “Liberating” Egypt and Libya from their dictators, without developing civil societies, fighting unemployment, poverty and illiteracy, is worthless. It only frees the most anti-American forces.
Yet even the in Arab countries which remain stable, under their dictators or monarchs, and which have enjoyed American support for so long, anti-Americanism exists. Almost seven decades after the historic Roosevelt-Ibn Saud meeting, al-Qaida terrorists hit America in the most horrible way. Of the 19 9/11 terrorists, 15 were Saudi nationals.
While I have my reservations about the Israeli government under Benjamin Netanyahu, especially on the Palestinian issue, it is worth bearing in mind that the Middle East is more complex than meets the eye, and when Americans wonder what’s wrong with this godforsaken area, Israel should not always be picked as the first culprit.
Uri Dromi is a columnist based in Israel.