Rustow (Political Science, CUNY) begins his survey of Western involvement in Middle Eastern affairs with the worthwhile...


OIL AND TURMOIL: America Faces OPEC and the Middle East

Rustow (Political Science, CUNY) begins his survey of Western involvement in Middle Eastern affairs with the worthwhile reminder that political interests preceded oil interests and that Western political machinations exacerbated the preexisting politico/cultural fragmentation. He concludes, sensibly enough, by suggesting a ""live and let live"" attitude on the part of the US. And much of what he puts forth by way of interpretive history is useful, if limited. Though united by language and religion, the Middle East is fragmented ethnically; only Turkey and Israel resemble the modern nation-state, and both are atypical. For a long time the region was held together by the Western powers; but American policy, particularly the anticolonialism of Wilson and FDR, helped remove that influence--giving rise to internal conflicts and thwarting several grandiose plans for unification (such as Nasser's dream of a United Arab Republic). OPEC has chiefly succeeded, in Rustow's view, because it allows its member nations to profit from the region's turmoil. Beginning with Qaddafi's threat to close down foreign off companies in Libya in 1970, by which he obtained an increase in both the tax rate and the price per barrel, OPEC countries have consistently followed each others' lead in raising prices, primarily through cuts in production. Qaddafi's action was taken against relatively weak ""independents"" (Libya, whose oil was developed late, demanded such high concessions that the Seven Sisters stayed away), who gave in because they had no other source of oil. But his actions rebounded to the benefit of OPEC as a whole. Similarly, conflicts between OPEC countries, or within a single country, have frequently cut the flow of off, pushing up the price and benefitting the other OPEC nations. Rustow sees no way out of this problem other than for the US to cut consumption and use its strategic reserves as a buffer against price increases. On the political front, he cites Camp David as an example of how, given a mutual willingness to make concessions, tensions can be defused; American strategic interests should be limited, meanwhile, to a nuclear blanket (and not involve an impossible interventionary force). Though Rustow tends to see American cultural and educational outposts in a rosy light (ditto the present Turkish government--per his general unhappiness with Carter's human-rights policy), his reading of the politics-and-oil link-up makes considerable historical sense.

Pub Date: June 28, 1982

ISBN: 0393952339

Page Count: -

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 1982