American Hegemony: Economy Over Democracy
By Slavoj Zizek
“Beneath the opposition between ‘liberal’ and ‘fundamentalist’ societies, ‘McWorld versus Jihad’, there is the embarrassing third term: countries like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait, deeply conservative monarchies but American economies allies, fully integrated into Western capitalism. Here, the USA has a very precise and simple interest: in order that these countries can be counted on for their oil reserves, they have to remain undemocratic (the underlying notion, of course, is that any democratic awakening could give rise to anti-American attitudes).
This is an old story whose infamous first chapter after World War II was the CIA-orchestrated coup d’etat against Iran’s democratically elected Prime Minster, Hedayat Mossadegh, in 1953 – there was no ‘fundamentalism’ there, not even a ‘Soviet threat’, just a plain democratic awakening, with the idea that the country should take control of its oil resources and break up the monopoly of the Western oil companies. The length to which the USA is ready to go in order to maintain this pact were revealed in the Gulf War in 1990, when Jewish American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia had to be transported by helicopters to aircraft carriers in the Gulf in order to pray, since non-Muslim rituals are prohibited on Saudi soil.
This ‘perverted’ position of the truly ‘fundamentalist’ conservative Arab regimes is the key to the (often comical) conundrums of American politics in the Middle East: they stand for the point at which the USA is forced explicitly to acknowledge the primacy of economy over democracy – that is, the secondary and manipulative character of legitimizing international interventions – by claiming to protect democracy and human rights.
“What we should always bear in mind apropos of Afghanistan is that until the 1970s – that is, prior to the time when the country got directly caught up in the superpower struggle – it was one of the most tolerant Muslim societies, with a long secular tradition: Kabul was known as a city with a vibrant cultural and political life. The paradox is thus that the rise of the Taliban, this far from expressing some deep ‘traditionalist’ tendency, was the result of the country being caught up in the whirlpool of international politics – it was not only a defensive reaction to it, it emerged directly as a result of the support of foreign powers (Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, the USA itself).”
(p 42-43 of “Welcome to the Desert of the Real!” by Slavoj Zizek)