Some people credit the fall of the Soviet Empire on the massive U.S. military buildup in Europe. Others credit it to capitalism (I prefer “commercialism” in this case to avoid connotations of preferential government treatment). Most believe it was the combination of the two, combined with other elements like internal corruption, foreign aid and western culture. I prefer the latter alternative — and will disagree with some libertarian philosophers (on the efficacy — not the mores — of the military angle) about the ultimate primary reasons for the collapse of the Iron Curtain.
Perhaps there is some hope to be found about the relations between Israel and Islamic mideastern countries. The AP reports:
Staff members at a Riyadh hospital got a surprise when they looked at the fine print on the paper cups they were using. Workers in a storeroom at a Dubai hospital were similarly shocked when they took a close look at the tags on a large shipment of uniforms, towels and sheets.
While officially illegal (the totals are disputed) in almost all of the Islamic states, the black market trade seems substantial:
The hidden trade is worth about $400 million a year about two and a half times what Israel sold to its official Arab trading partners, Egypt and Jordan, in 2004 said Gil Feiler, the director of Info-Prod Research, a Tel Aviv consultancy specializing in Arab markets, and an economic professor at Bar Ilan University.
OK, we now have phase one in what might perhaps build a long term peace in the Middle East. There are other factors in play, too. Clearly, western culture permeates both the Jewish and Islamic communities. As evidence, one merely needs to listen to the songs played on the ubiquitious transistor radios and boomboxes prevalent thoughout the region. Or simply look at the amount of Levis or t-shirts worn which are portrayed on the filmclips which make it to the west.
There are several problems in breaking down the walls between these ancient enemies, though. One is their own military and political culture. As Americans, we can’t do much to help that situation — but we can do a lot to harm it. Let’s take a look at how much we provide to the region in foreign aid. The Christian Science Monitor reports the cost of foreign aid to Israel at $1.6 trillion since 1973. The breaks out to approximately $5,700 per person. More precise details of how this aid is distributed from the Jewish Virtual Library.
In addition to the cost of the war (or perhaps as a direct result of it) in Iraq, we give money away to hundreds of countries around the world. We do this in a disproportionate manner, :
In 2004, the United States is providing some form of foreign assistance to about 150 countries. Israel and Egypt continue, as they have since the late 1970s, as the largest recipients, although Iraq, receiving over $20 billion for reconstruction activities since mid-2003, is the biggest recipient in FY2004.
While outnumbered, it has been clear since 1967 that Israel has a superior military to that of its neighbors, creating a relative balance of military power in the region. What would happen if we quit playing favorites in the Middle East and thereby allow economic forces to prevail? Perhaps if the U.S got out of Israeli politics, the entire region could finally have a lasting peace.
Credit: Thanks to Rick R. for the research assistance.