Middle East Conflict and What Comes Next

International Man: The Middle East is on the precipice of the biggest regional war in generations.

What’s your take on the situation and where it’s headed?

Doug Casey: People forget that before World War I, when the Ottoman Empire controlled Palestine, there was very little ethnic or religious antagonism. There were small numbers of traditional, religiously oriented Jews in Palestine, but everybody minded their own business and got along.

The problem started with the Aliyahs. Large numbers of European Jews moved to Palestine as an ethnic/religious homeland. It resulted in the creation of the state of Israel in 1948.

For whatever reasons, tightly knit ethnic groups seem to want their own homelands. The Kurds, for instance, are spread among Syria, Turkey, Iraq, and Iran but don’t have an official homeland; that’s a big problem for the future. The Rohingyas, who are currently powerless Muslims in generally Buddhist Burma, have the same problem. Many AmerIndians throughout the Western Hemisphere have growing revanchist feelings, 500 years after the European conquest. What’s happening between the Israelis and the Palestinians is not unique.

Before Israel was founded, the Jews were pretty much in the same position as the Gypsies, another tightly knit but widely dispersed ethnic group.

At this point, Israel is a real country. The Jews say, “This land was ours from way back when God gave it to us.” And the Palestinians say, “Even your own Bible says that you don’t have a homeland.”

I don’t want to get into that. It’s insoluble. But, more important, it should be irrelevant to outsiders.

Our main interest is keeping the United States out of this thing. We’re 330 million people. About 7.6 million are Jews, and 3.6 million are Arab. The rest of us don’t want to have anything to do with what amounts to a Biblical domestic dispute that could easily turn into World War 3.

On the one hand, I say “a pox on both your houses” because they’re fomenting World War 3. On the other hand, I wish them both well. It’s just none of our business. For the US to take sides is insane and can only make things much, much worse.

I’m friendly towards Israel, if only because it represents Western values far more than do the Muslims. But I can’t see that it has a rosy future for at least two reasons. One, as Yassar Arafat once said, the Palestinians will win because their most effective weapon is the womb of the Palestinian woman. Demographics are on the side of the Palestinians. Not to mention that the Israelis are outnumbered 100-1 by hostile worldwide Muslims—it has to do with what the Prophet (or Allah) said in the Koran. Two, Israel has nuclear weapons. As can any Muslim government that wants them. The result will be like a knife fight in a phone booth.

International Man: Recently, two solid anarcho-capitalists, Saifedean Ammous, who comes from a Palestinian background, and Walter Block, who comes from a Jewish background, debated Israel-Palestine. Click here to watch it.

How do you view the Israel-Palestine conflict as an anarcho-capitalist?

Is there an ancap solution?

Doug Casey: The Block-Ammous debate is excellent and worth watching. Both of these guys are friends of mine. Walter’s been a friend for 40 years.

Incidentally, I’d say Saifedean won. Walter, who normally takes justifiable pride in being accurate and logical, is just factually wrong in saying that Palestine belonged to the Jews since biblical times. Groups have been stealing land from each other since Day One. How far back do you want to go to establish “group” ownership? Which, incidentally, doesn’t exist. Land should be something that’s individually owned. Nobody has a title going back 2,000+ years, although the Palestinians basically possessed it for perhaps 80% of that time.

At this point, I think it’s an insoluble problem. You just have to let these people work it out between themselves. It’s an unfortunate situation, but there are dozens like it around the world. We don’t have a dog in this fight. It’s none of our business. Actually, the US is the biggest problem in this. As in the Ukraine, the US Government is promising to take a regional dispute and turn it into WW3, with scores of smoking nuclear-bombed cities across the globe.

As far as what’s happened so far, it’s clear that Hamas is at fault. They launched an unprovoked attack on the Israelis. But it should be treated as a crime, not a casus belli with a military solution.

It’s very much like 9/11 in the US, which also should have been treated as a crime—not a reason to invade some primitive backwaters. Figure out who did it. Track down the perpetrators and make them answer for their crime. Punishing a country of millions for the acts of individuals or groups is counterproductive.

Invading Gaza, which contains over two million Palestinians, will notch the conflict way up. Gazans are certainly anti-Jewish, but they didn’t commit the crime. Elements of Hamas did. The Israelis should handle the crime the way they did in the 1972 Black September Munich massacre of 11 Israeli athletes.

The US picking sides guarantees that it will spin out of control. FWIW, the US almost always picks the wrong side. We did it in Vietnam; Hanoi now passes for a friend. We back criminal groups and regimes in South America and Africa all the time. Getting involved can only impoverish Americans, bankrupt and slaughter the locals, and make lots of new enemies.

International Man: Both sides of the conflict are engaged in an aggressive information war. It’s often challenging to tell fact from fiction.

Doug, you have traveled throughout much of the Middle East. What insights have you gleaned from this first-hand experience, and how does it contrast with what you see in the mainstream media?

Doug Casey: It’s very clear that the average Jew is anti-Arab and anti-Muslim. That’s just a fact for reasons that we don’t have to go into here. It’s also clear that the average Muslim is anti-Jew and anti-Israeli. That’s the way the cards have been dealt.

I don’t see how that’s going to change for at least two big reasons. One, they both want the same real estate. Two, lots of fanatics on both sides are stirring the pot. But it’s not up to us to decide who’s right and who’s wrong. Who’s good, and who’s evil? Who owns the land, or who doesn’t? It’s none of our business.

It’s not our problem. Taking sides in what amounts to a Hatfield-McCoy-type dispute—times several million—can only make it much, much worse.

International Man: It’s impossible to hear a discussion about the Middle East without the word “terrorism” coming up.

Doug, you’ve often emphasized the importance of using precise language. What are your thoughts on the use and meaning of the word terrorism?

Doug Casey: If John Hunt and I ever write the fourth Charles Knight book, Terrorist, I’ll go into this in some detail.

The fact is, believe it or not, there are over 100 distinct definitions of terrorism out there, mostly put out by various US government agencies. Perhaps they can’t agree on a definition because it’s useful to leave the concept as a floating abstraction to be used when convenient.

I would define terrorism as a tactic of warfare intended to have mainly psychological effects on a civilian population.

But, remember, terrorism is a tactic of warfare—like artillery barrages, cavalry charges, frontal assaults, and a hundred other tactics. They’re all nasty. But properly applied, terrorism can often achieve an objective with vastly fewer casualties than the alternatives.

Napoleon said, quite correctly, that in warfare, the psychological is to the physical as three is to one. That’s why there’s an emphasis on winning—or at least changing—the hearts and minds of both the enemy’s troops and his people. Terror is one way to do that. And it’s typically the lowest-cost alternative. The US, currently still a rich country, rails against “terror” because it’s mainly a poor man’s tactic. But we use it when it suits us.

In the last century or so, the US has fought a lot of guerrilla conflicts. But it typically forgets that when you’re an outside third party fighting a guerrilla war in someone else’s homeland, you’re almost certainly on the wrong side because guerrilla wars are people’s wars. And it’s a thin line between a guerrilla war and terrorism. I’m a freedom fighter; you’re a rebel; he’s a terrorist.

Governments have always used terror. The Assyrians—proto–Middle Easterners, if you will—liked to scare enemies by skinning alive those who resisted. Genghis Khan and Tamerlane purposefully used terror by piling up skulls into pyramids. The Romans purposefully committed genocide as a method of warfare on occasion and reserved crucifixion as a terror punishment.

Let’s not be too sanctimonious about terrorism. Bombing cities, which are by definition full of civilians, is just state terrorism, tarted up, justified, and rationalized with legalities and rhetoric. The real enemy here isn’t terrorism, writ small or large, it’s politics. The real enemies are the institutions of politics and governments themselves.

International Man: Given all we have discussed today, what are the investment implications?

Doug Casey: The obvious one is oil.

It’s unpredictable to what degree the Mohammedans of the world will get together and use the oil weapon. They’re fortunate in that most of our oil is under their sand.

I’m fundamentally bullish on oil for many reasons not germane to this discussion. Oil has limited downside and could easily go way, way up from here for political reasons. It’s the most political of commodities, at least right now.

The second most political of commodities is gold. Gold, as I’ve been saying for years, has been, and still is, reasonably priced relative to everything else. But from here, it can only go up.

Last, let me point out that mining stocks are inordinately cheap. It’s a crappy, 19th-century choo-choo train business that no one likes these days. But that’s great for us as speculators; miners are about as cheap as they’ve ever been—ever. In either absolute or relative terms much cheaper than they “should” be relative to gold. I expect we’ll be well-rewarded, even as the Greater Depression deepens.

Reprinted with permission from International Man.

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