China Is Not Ten Feet Tall
How Alarmism Undermines American Strategy
The Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was an immediate disaster for Kuwait and the Palestinians and an ultimate calamity for Iraq. Nonetheless, many Americans, including President Bush, thought good would come from this evil. There would be a "new world order" in which aggression would not be tolerated. Furthermore, the entire Middle East would be transformed. The disparity between rich and poor Arabs was clearly an unstable configuration and would be changed. After the final victory, the rich would move smartly to improve the lot of the poorer 90 percent of the Arab world. Future investments of the oil-rich Arab states would be in North Africa, Syria, Jordan and Yemen, not in Europe, Japan and America. Some American academics proposed that rich Arabs could put a substantial portion of their oil income into a special account for development of the entire Muslim world. Secretary of State James A. Baker thought the rich Arabs should form a new bank to finance projects in the poorer countries. It all seemed reasonable and just. Unfortunately, to one who has spent most of his professional life dealing with the Arab world, it is all only a utopian fantasy. Secretary Baker, for instance, might well have discussed his bank idea with the Arab leaders before he announced it. While Egypt and Syria were enthusiastic, those countries with the financial resources were not. The idea of an Arab bank died before it was born; so did the dreams of a new Arabia-or a new Islam-with its wealth more equitably shared. I can agree with confidence-not necessarily satisfaction-that the future Middle East will indeed be different from what we have known, but it will bear no relationship to the idealized picture of generous gulf Arabs using their riches to transform the Arab world. Instead, the signs of the Middle East will continue to be marked by glaring disparities between the rich few and poor many, and among diverse national and ideological forces in competition for the soul of Arabism. II Every gulf Arab knows or remembers the grim poverty of decades past. All remember the contempt in which they were held by Syrians, Egyptians, Jordanians and Lebanese. No gulf Arab feels any moral obligation to those states now that their relative positions are reversed. While there is some gratitude for the stance taken by the Egyptian and the Syrian leaders during the Gulf War, there are strong feelings of betrayal by the incipient democracies-Jordan, Yemen, Algeria-and by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). The bitterness against the Palestinians in the gulf countries-especially in Kuwait-is intense. Some were expelled immediately after the Iraqi invasion. It was made clear to those remaining that as their contracts expired they would not automatically be extended. Only the most needed and trusted Palestinians would be allowed to stay in the gulf. There is little appreciation of the fact that most Palestinians who stayed in Kuwait during the occupation had no place to go and were forced to cooperate with the occupier. Many were active in the resistance. The common Kuwaiti line now is to condemn all Palestinians: "We took them in; we gave them good jobs; and now they stab us in the back. Never again will we do anything for them." The attitude of rich gulf Arabs toward Jordan and Yemen is only slightly less hostile; it springs from the same admiration for their own past generosity and shock at the lack of present gratitude from the recipients. The gulf Arabs bolstered their hostility toward the ungrateful poor Arabs by accepting uncritically one of the most bizarre tales to sweep the Middle East since Sheherazade: there was a grand plot by villains to divide the Arabian peninsula; Iraq was to keep Kuwait and northern Arabia; the PLO would take the oil fields of the Saudi eastern province; King Hussein of Jordan would establish himself as king of the Hejaz (the holy land of Islam containing Mecca and Medina); Yemen would regain the Asir province it lost to the Saudis in the 1930s and would occupy the Rub al-Khali with its presumed large oil reserves. "Evidence" of this fantasy was the news that "the day before the invasion" King Hussein decreed that henceforth he should be called sharif, as was his great-grandfather who ruled the Hejaz until driven out by the House of Saud in the 1920s. The fact is that Hussein has carried the title since birth and his early passports always included it. Further "proof" of the plot was the statement attributed to Yasir Arafat that "if the Americans invade Iraq, the Palestinians will burn all the oil fields of Arabia." There is no documentation of any such statement by the Palestinian leader; but this does not bother those who insist it is true and relevant. There is allegedly further "proof"; one official told me of 20 documents outlining the plot. None, however, was offered for examination. Whatever these "proofs" might be and whoever might have supplied them, they are believed by many, most notably some leaders and senior officials of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Most Arabs outside the peninsula dismiss the "plot" as a deliberate fabrication by the rich Arabs or others who tried, most successfully, to divide the Arab world. They say that if there had been such a plot, Iraq, Yemen, Jordan and the Palestinians would have attacked Saudi Arabia on August 3, long before the Americans could have arrived. If they had done so, they would have had a good chance of accomplishing the alleged objectives. Yet there was no attack; there was no evidence of any preparation for attack. There was, in short, no plot. III The second of August 1990 will be as important in Arab history as the second of November 1917, the date of the proclamation of the Balfour Declaration providing for a Jewish homeland in Palestine. A large Arab country attacked, occupied and absorbed a smaller Arab country with which it had diplomatic relations. No Arab state endorsed the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait. All Arab governments and the PLO demanded Iraqi withdrawal. Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Algeria, the Sudan and the PLO insisted that the problem could and must be settled by the Arabs themselves. Others, led by Saudi Arabia and Egypt, thought outside help was required, and Riyadh invited American troops to Saudi Arabia to defend the kingdom, to liberate Kuwait and ultimately to destroy the army and the economic infrastructure of Iraq. This presented a problem; the United States had good relations with the GCC, but it was still the main supporter of Israel as well. American outrage at the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait was widely contrasted with its tranquil acceptance of Israel's defiance of a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions on Jerusalem, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and Lebanon. But all this was dismissed in the panic that followed Secretary of Defense Dick Cheney's convincing report to the Saudis of an imminent Iraqi invasion of Saudi Arabia and the rest of the Arabian peninsula. Nonetheless, the Saudi invitation to the United States was extraordinary. Countries that had long opposed "imperialism" and "Zionism" turned to the primary Western military power for protection against another Arab country. Jordan, Yemen and the PLO found this "solution" offensive and dangerous, and they condemned the subsequent American destruction of Iraq. Their principles have cost them dearly. Jordan's markets in Iraq disappeared in the early days of the crisis. All subsidies from the gulf Arabs to Jordan, Yemen and the PLO stopped; Saudi Arabia ceased delivery of oil to Jordan and stopped buying its agricultural produce. Altogether Jordan lost half of its gross domestic product. The damage to Yemen has been almost as severe. Some 800,000 Yemenis who had been long-term residents of Saudi Arabia were dispossessed and expelled. They had been peaceful, even docile, residents of the kingdom; they had taken no action against their Saudi hosts; there were no demonstrations, no sabotage. Yet they were forced to leave their homes on short notice, sell their businesses for small fractions of their value and drive to the Yemeni border where their vehicles and remaining possessions were confiscated. Their expulsion was ordered presumably because the Saudis disapproved of the position held by the government in Yemen-that Iraq could be persuaded or forced to leave Kuwait without war-and possibly because the Saudis believed that the Yemeni government was part of the infamous "plot." The secretary general of the GCC has said that the gulf Arabs would "never forgive and never forget the betrayal" by the poor Arabs. It will also be a long time before the wounds inflicted on Jordanians, Yemenis and Palestinians are healed. The Koranic injunctions to forgive and show compassion have been temporarily suspended by all. Those who opposed the invitation to the Americans accused the GCC and its allies of treason to Arabism and to Islam, but in the GCC itself there was little opposition. In short, the invasion of Kuwait and the Arab reaction to it marked the end of the period when Arabs maintained the pretense that they were part of one great nation. IV The change was long in coming. It started even before Egyptian President Anwar Sadat's "betrayal" of the Palestinians in order to get a bilateral agreement with Israel and to secure Israeli evacuation of the Sinai Peninsula beginning in 1979. With the "Arab awakening" in the period between the two great wars, educated young Arabs deplored the artificial boundaries in their new world. Only one border, that between Saudi Arabia and Yemen, had been drawn by Arabs. All others were products of imperial ambition: Turk, French and British. Yet all have assumed an astounding sanctity. The immediate explanation was the one used by Italian and German nationalists in the middle of the nineteenth century: the kings were attached to their thrones and their privileges; they dismissed the wishes of their peoples. There were several "natural" Arab groupings. A Greater Syria including all the countries of the Fertile Crescent had many adherents in the period immediately after the Second World War; it seemed reasonable and some, most notably Syrian President Hafez al-Assad, still advocate it. The unity of the Nile Valley has been pressed by Egypt for more than a century, but the Sudan is not even united itself. A united Arabian peninsula had much to offer; so did a united Maghreb: Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco and Mauritania. None was achieved. They were opposed by the various heads of state and local politicians. They were also opposed by Arab nationalists who thought such regional conglomerations were deliberate attempts to postpone the greater good of a complete Arab union. Many Arabs aspired to lead the Arab nation but only one, Gamal Abd al-Nasser of Egypt, captured the imagination of Arabs from Morocco to Oman with his vision of a united Arab nation restored to its early glories. His admirers thought he was the new Bismarck, but Nasser lacked the subtlety, the cleverness and the power of the Prussian leader. Egypt was not Prussia; it did not have the finances to buy leaders of rival states or the military strength to force its will on those who would not be bought. Muammar al-Qaddafi of Libya aspired to fill the role of Arab leader after Nasser's death. He failed. He had money but he lacked everything else. His followers were limited to those whom he paid and their loyalty did not outlast their subsidies. At least until the mid-1970s young Arabs were usually "nationalist," but as they matured they almost always became "realist." They might cherish the concept of an eventual unity, but they abandoned the dream of seeing it in their lifetimes. The Palestinians were an exception. They retained a pure nationalism. They had been deprived of their homes, and their only hope of regaining their homelands rested with the Arab states. All Arabs agreed that the creation of Israel and the displacement of Palestinians by European Jews was unjust. Many Arabs had sympathy for the Jews but thought that those who had persecuted them should cede land for the Jewish state, not Arabs whose record of tolerance toward minorities was better than that of the most enlightened European state. All Arab states supported the Palestinians; all voted properly in U.N. deliberations on Palestine; some gave Palestinian leaders and institutions financial support. The rich states of the Arabian peninsula employed Palestinians and gave them new homes. Kuwait allowed the PLO to collect taxes from Palestinians employed there. The Arab-Israeli wars before 1973 were fought largely because of the Palestinian problem. The 1973 Yom Kippur War was different. Egypt and Syria fought to regain territory seized by Israel in 1967. The peace treaty ultimately signed by Egypt and Israel provided for the return of the Sinai to Egypt. Sadat called the agreement the first step toward a more comprehensive treaty assuring the rights of the Palestinians; so did President Jimmy Carter. Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin made it clear that as far as he was concerned the treaty was only with Egypt; it held neither promise nor implication of more. The Camp David agreement marked a victory for Israel. It isolated Egypt, the largest Arab country, and forced Israel to relinquish only the Sinai, which Zionists had never considered part of Eretz Israel. Israel could now devote greater attention to the absorption of Judea and Samaria. On the basis of all available evidence most other Arabs reached the same conclusions as Begin, for they did not share the optimism of Sadat or Carter. They assumed that the Israeli leader had hoodwinked the Egyptian and the American, and President Carter himself now wonders if he was deceived. The Arab states broke relations with Egypt, but they would do nothing for the Palestinians. With Egypt isolated and neutralized, Begin was free to move into Lebanon and destroy the Palestinian forces there. Without even the pretense of a provocation from the PLO or the Lebanese, Israel invaded in 1982. It occupied all of southern Lebanon, destroyed much of Beirut and killed at least 15,000 Palestinians and Lebanese. The international community condemned Israel but did nothing more. In Tel Aviv there was a massive demonstration against the invasion. There was none in any Arab capital; most Arab leaders feared that anti-Israel demonstrations might be turned against themselves. In fact, there was little popular indignation in any Arab country. Arab television screens at the time were dominated by the World Cup soccer matches, not by scenes of carnage in Beirut. No Arab forgets the humiliation of the loss of most of Palestine in 1948 and the rest in 1967. Arab honor was at stake and Arabs know they will have no peace as long as Palestinians are clamoring for justice. President Bush also understands this and in November 1990 gave solemn assurances to President Assad of Syria, President Mubarak of Egypt and King Fahd of Saudi Arabia that as soon as the Iraqi aggression in Kuwait was reversed he would devote his full attention to solving the Arab-Israeli conflict. The Arabs are holding him to his promise and he seems to be trying to fulfill it. Whether the administration's attention span will be long enough to accomplish anything is not yet clear. None of this should imply that there is much love or affection for the Palestinians. By 1982 most gulf Arabs were bored by the Palestinians. They worked too hard; they were too intelligent, too educated, too aggressive, too ambitious, too intent on talking about the injustices committed against them. It was sometimes said they had become the "Jews" of the Arab world; their Arab "brothers" reacted against them with some of the same discomfort that polite Christian antisemites show toward Jews. It would delight most Arab leaders-and many others-if both Israel and the Palestinians would simply disappear. But Aladdin's lamp is long lost and no one can remember when a genie last appeared to grant unseemly wishes. All sides will be stuck with a difficult peace process. V By the end of the 1970s another "new Nasser" had appeared, Saddam Hussein of Iraq. His credentials were more solid than Qaddafi's and his country was more substantial. But Saddam was a brutal dictator; he oppressed his own people and took them into a catastrophic war with Iran, draining the resources of two large Muslim countries for eight years. He was not a satisfactory model for young Arab nationalists. Nor was he noted for his commitment to "justice for the Palestinians." His position was "reasonable." Iraq was not a confrontation state, he often said, and it would support any agreement the Palestinians worked out with Israel. There was a time when Saddam even encouraged Arafat to recognize Israel and start talks with the United States. Saddam knew Kuwaitis were disliked by their partners in the GCC; he knew Saudi Arabia and Iran were as irritated as Iraq was by Kuwait's refusal to honor agreements reached in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), and he assumed the Americans were indifferent to his "border problem" with Kuwait. He invaded the sheikhdom on August 2, anticipating only pro forma condemnation. He quickly realized that he had miscalculated and began his search for an escape. On August 12, he offered to withdraw from Kuwait if Israel would withdraw from the Arab lands it had occupied since 1967 and if Syria would withdraw from Lebanon. The proposal was clearly unacceptable; it was an opening gambit in the negotiations Saddam thought would be held. Again he miscalculated. There were no negotiations; the United States prepared itself almost from the start of the crisis for a war with Iraq. In the hectic days before the January 15, 1991, deadline for Iraqi withdrawal from Kuwait, Soviet President Mikhail Gorbachev, trying to avoid war, persuaded Saddam to drop any "linkage" of his departure from Kuwait with Israel's relinquishing of Arab lands. Saddam became a hero to many Palestinians in the territories occupied by Israel; they had found a leader who would defy the United States and would demand that Palestinian rights be recognized. His early lack of concern for Palestinians was not widely known, and his abandonment of their cause was ignored. The Palestinian bitterness against the gulf Arabs is at least as strong as the feelings directed against them. Their view is: "We made these countries; they could not or would not work; we were their carpenters, electricians, accountants, bankers and financial managers; they could not have existed without us. And they treated us like slaves; we had no rights; we could not become citizens; we could not own property; we could not open a business without a local 'partner' who contributed nothing but his name and then took half the profits. Now they throw us to the dogs." Palestinians note with grim satisfaction the current inability of the Kuwaiti government to restore basic services to the sheikhdom after having expelled, killed or imprisoned the Palestinians who made the country work. The Jordanians admit that some of their hospitals were built by the sheikhdoms, and many mosques were built by Saudi Arabia. They concede that there were also significant investments by the rich Arabs in the infrastructures of Jordan and other countries. Still, these grants and investments were dwarfed by the enormous sums the princes and the sheikhs spent on palaces and useless arms and by the investments they made outside the Arab world. Recipients of largess, as Americans learned years ago, are never properly grateful. VI Americans and Arabs who were concerned about gulf security feared that the defeat of Iraq and the "killing" of its army would leave Iran as the region's strongest country, a prospect pleasing to no government. The Iraqi infrastructure was destroyed, but the United States left Saddam's Republican Guard largely intact. It was certainly strong enough to crush the Kurdish and Shiite rebellion. This postwar internal Iraqi crisis posed a dilemma for Washington. It might not have wanted the rebellion to be crushed but certainly did not want it to enjoy a victory that would have left Iran as the ultimate winner. Saudi Arabia has quite a different view. It is pleased that Iraq will not be a threat in the near future. And Riyadh is determined that Saudi Arabia, not Iran, will dominate the gulf in the postwar era. If the Saudis do not unify the GCC under their flag, they will be its unquestioned dominant power; never again will the smaller states defy Saudi Arabia on border issues or on oil quotas in OPEC. Furthermore, Saudi Arabia will be the Arab Sparta, the Arab Israel. It will train and arm its own army; it will buy the world's most sophisticated weaponry; it will keep the Americans on hand to give support when needed. The kingdom may take a step or two toward representative government, but the Saudi people will be kept satisfied by growing prosperity. Any opposition to the American presence from religious fundamentalists and the few who still entertain broader Arab nationalist views can be bought off. Everyone has his price. The problem of foreign workers in Arabia seems to have been solved already; the Palestinians, Yemenis and Jordanians will rapidly be phased out. They will be replaced primarily by Asians, preferably non-Muslim. Of course, some Egyptian and Syrian workers will be hired, but not many and not for long. Saudis remember the Egyptian occupation of the last century. And who knows what the Egyptians might do after Mubarak or the Syrians after Assad. In the meantime, Syria and Egypt will be placated with large subsidies. These will not be sufficient to raise their living standards to that of the gulf Arabs, but not even Mubarak or Assad could expect that. There will be no GCC funds for those who did not support the war against Iraq. If eventually the transgressors make proper obeisance, some help for them might be considered. But the incomes of the rich Arabs are not infinite, and there will be no attempt to solve all Arab or Muslim problems outside the GCC. The poorer non-gulf Arabs who receive no subsidies will charge the Saudis and their cohorts with being American stooges. Arabs are never comfortable with this accusation, but the gulf Arabs will shrug it off, as they do today. The Americans will be presented-as they are today-as "friends," "invited guests" or "protectors." Or, more honestly, as mercenaries. And why not? The Saudis are accustomed to buying what they need. Americans might have problems, not wanting to be the new Hessians, but it should not be beyond the wit of the image-makers to convince Americans that they are defending their own interests. And in the process they will be well paid. If one is to envisage a unified Arabian peninsula state, it would logically include Yemen. It would have a population of some 25 million, comparable to the larger Arab states. But the composition of such a population would be unacceptable to the Saudis. There are almost twice as many Yemenis as there are Saudis and a Yemen in the new Arabia might quickly dominate it. In the past, Saudi Arabia has kept its large southern neighbor quiet, or at least not dangerous, by judicious payments to tribal sheikhs who then fought their central government. This strategy probably would not work in the new order of things. As Yemen develops its own oil it will become stronger, and the brutality of the expulsion of the Yemenis from Saudi Arabia will be remembered for at least as long as Kuwait remembers its occupation by Iraq. VII How long can the glaring disparity in wealth last in the Middle East? How long can the gulf states remain isolated? A decade or two? Probably; possibly even longer; possibly indefinitely. Riches corrupt; great riches corrupt greatly if not absolutely. And for at least a generation, and probably two, there will be great riches in the Arabian peninsula. A few of the gulf leaders might worry about their position in history. It might even occur to some that their names will be cursed by Muslims for centuries, for their greed and their squandering of an extraordinary God-given opportunity to bring His blessings to all of Islam. But what government has ever altered its actions because it listened to scholars' opinions of what future generations will think? As Saudi Arabia completes a program of unification of the Arabian peninsula (minus Yemen) or merely becomes the dominant partner in a revitalized GCC, the trend toward other regional unions will also accelerate. The union of the Maghreb will almost certainly go forward. The union of the Nile Valley will be postponed until the Sudan is unified or partitioned; an old project to bring Libya (and its oil) into the Nile union will probably be revived; Egypt needs the money and it cannot count forever on Saudi largess. The union of the Fertile Crescent might be possible after the departure of Saddam; it could be Baathi, Muslim fundamentalist or even Arab nationalist. If there is to be a final settlement of the Arab-Israeli conflict an obvious outcome would include a confederation of Israel, the Palestinian state and Jordan. Such a confederation might ultimately join the larger Fertile Crescent. All of these regional groupings could be stronger and more efficient than their individual components, but only the Fertile Crescent, once known as Greater Syria, would have a good chance of permanent prosperity. It has land, water (assuming there can be agreements with Turkey) and oil; its population is not yet too great for its resources. The unified GCC, which would mean Greater Saudi Arabia, would have oil and therefore money. It could be permanently wealthy if it were to follow the Kuwaiti pattern and invest its surplus wealth wisely. This would require a break in Saudi patterns and habits and probably is impossible. Arms purchases may be necessary, but they do not constitute "investments." The Israeli/Palestinian confederation with its high level of education and its access to foreign investment might also prosper, particularly if defense expenditures could be reduced substantially. Unfortunately all of the regional conglomerations are burdened with high rates of population growth. Even the Fertile Crescent and the GCC are growing at rates close to three percent. But they at least have time to bring growth under control. Egypt without the Sudan for colonization and without Libya's money seems hopeless. Its population is 55 million and grows by one million every seven months; its productive land area is no larger than the Netherlands. The population problems of Algeria and Morocco are scarcely less severe. In the absence of self-discipline or draconian programs to limit population growth, the only "solution" for all of North Africa will be emigration. Unfortunately, the logical destination-Europe-is not inclined to accept more Africans than it already has. Many Third World countries recognize their demographic problems and some are trying to face them. But in the Middle East a growing population is still considered by most religious leaders and many political leaders as a source of strength. The concept of a Saudi-dominated superstate is farther advanced than that of other regional groupings, but even it is flawed. It will not be possible to give Egypt and Syria as much financial assistance as they think they deserve. And it will not be possible to suppress, subvert or co-opt all hostile groups in those two countries. When their inevitable nationalist or fundamentalist revolutions come, they will be bitterly anti-gulf Arab and anti-American. And by then the Americans may have tired of their role. They certainly will as soon as "radicals" start bombing American barracks. Ultimately, it seems doubtful that the "new Sparta" would have either sufficient force or the will to defend itself against a unified Arab world, supported by a strong Iran. VIII The reaction might not come until the next century. For as long as the gulf states remain secure the United States can reap great rewards. Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates together hold almost 40 percent of the world's oil reserves, and they dominate OPEC. Both owe a debt to the United States for having saved them from the fate of Kuwait. Furthermore, the United States now occupies both countries and it will be militarily indispensable to both for the foreseeable future. It seems unlikely that either could take action to push up the price of oil or to depress it without American concurrence. Iraq and Kuwait hold some 20 percent of the world's reserves, but neither exports oil today and neither will be a major exporter in the next few years. Their future production and exports will be contingent on American approval. America's hand on the oil valves of Arabia may be light but the United States will surely take control. Washington has no real choice, having shown no intention of exerting enough self-discipline to free itself from dependence on oil. America will not cut its consumption; it will not even consider a modest increase in gasoline prices. So the United States is constrained to look to the Persian Gulf for its oil and perhaps solutions to its energy problems. Fortunately, Saudi Arabia provides many of the answers. It needs more income and must soon raise the price of oil. A higher price will rescue the American domestic oil industry; it will also lead Americans to conserve energy and to develop alternative energy sources. Unfortunately, the United States cannot afford a higher price for its oil imports. But here is one of history's few opportunities to have it both ways. The American balance of payments problem could be handled by a special deal whereby the United States would either pay much less than the OPEC price or the Saudis could make off-setting payments to the United States. It would be difficult for the Saudis to refuse. Many Americans will argue, as they did through the 1970s, that the United States must use its political and military influence to keep the price of oil low. President Bush probably does not agree now, but he could next year. If the economy is then not rebounding fast enough low oil prices would provide an obvious stimulus to growth. The Saudis would need only to raise production to capacity and the collapse of oil prices to $10 a barrel would be assured. In 1985, during an official visit to Riyadh, then Vice President Bush asked the Saudis to "let the market set the price of oil." They were astounded; they know a truly "free market" would drive the price down to $4 a barrel and the American energy industry would be destroyed. They understood only imperfectly the Reagan commitment to the market but they knew Bush as an "oilman"; they knew he could not advocate suicide, and they concluded he could not be serious. He must have been speaking to some domestic constituency that they could not hope to understand; they ignored his request. A similar appeal today could not be ignored. It would, however, place a strain on the alliance as compliance would sharply reduce their own income. Still, the price could always be restored after the American economy recovered. This sweet arrangement could, with luck, last a decade or two. Eventually the current Arab leaders or their successors will tire of the U.S. presence and ask America to leave. The United States will have to withdraw or face a hostile population. In either case America will once again have to deal with the reality of insecure energy supply and high oil prices. Washington might use to good advantage the comfortable period that is now opening up. If the United States recognizes the temporary nature of the respite it could start to practice self-discipline; it could develop alternative energies; it could conserve its resources, tighten its belt and bring its financial house into order. But that is a tale Sheherazade would never have told; her caliph would have found the fantasy too bizarre.