In retrospect, George W. Bush's Middle East policy appears to have been based on two goals supported by the President -- if not by every member of his administration. The first goal was informal U.S. control of Middle Eastern oil supplies. This goal was to be realized by means of alliance with friendly Arab tyrannies (Saudi Arabia and a post-Saddam dictatorship in Iraq).
Giving the Israelis free reign
The second goal was to give Israel's right wing a free hand in carrying out their long-cherished dream of crushing the PLO, reoccupying the territories and -- if they thought they could get away with it -- ethnically cleansing all Arabs from the former Palestine Mandate.
What makes Mr. Bush's pursuit of these twin goals so perplexing is that they pair what used to be considered big opposites. After all, pro-Israel Americans often have been at odds with Americans in the oil industry -- which counts emirs as its friends and business partners.
Weirdly enough, though, Texans like George W. Bush can be Zionists, and Arabists, at the very same time. That is because the traditional culture of Texas combines the religious ethics of the Old Testament with the economics of Arab oil sheikhs.
Don't mess with Texas
I know something about the subject. I am a fifth-generation Texan, whose earliest Texan ancestor came to the state in General Custer's Federal army in 1876. I went to work in the Texas state legislature at the age of nineteen. I received the key to the city of Fort Worth, for my contributions to Texan literature. I am even a distant nephew of the actor Larry Hagman -- TV's "J.R. Ewing."
And, last, but not least, I own a modest ranch in Texas not far from George W. Bush's considerably larger ranch. Thus, I can claim some authority in explaining what appears to the rest of the world to be an insane strategy -- a bilateral Israeli-American alliance lording it over the oil fields of the Middle East and Central Asia.
Back to the Bible
This is, in fact, the archetypal daydream of an Old Testament Protestant Texas oil man such as George W. Bush. Although Mr. Bush's forebears are from the Northeastern United States, the landscape which has shaped him is that of Texas.
It's a culture that combines a violent Scots-Irish strain of Old Testament religiosity and a pre-industrial economy that strongly favors the commodity-driven capitalism of cotton and oil over high-tech manufacturing and scientific R&D.
This unique synthesis has long held back social and economic progress in Texas. And now, as the inspiration for the Bush Administration's disastrous Middle Eastern policy, this traditional Lone Star mentality threatens to undermine U.S. military and diplomatic leadership in the world.
Texas as the Anglo-Celtic frontier
George W. Bush was born in New Haven, Connecticut. But he was raised in Texas -- and he is a genuine cultural Texan. Mainstream Texan culture has important Latino influences, but it has been shaped chiefly by the culture of the American South -- and a particular one at that.
To see all the influences that have shaped the 43rd U.S. President, one has to delve back into religion and history.
Texas has the culture of the Scots-Irish "rednecks" or "hillbillies" of the Highland South -- and not that of the more aristocratic culture of the coastal Southern "Bourbon" elite. Think hoedowns, not debutante balls.
The tribes of Texas
By the time they reached Texas, the Anglo-Celtic ancestors of today's white Texans had conquered and expropriated other cultures and nations for centuries. Originally, they were Protestant Scots whom the English planted in Ulster (on land taken from the native Catholic Irish).
In the 18th century, these same Scots-Irish then crossed the sea to the Ozarks and Appalachians. In the 19th century, they supported the ethnic cleansing of the Cherokees and other Indian nations. (Though, to be fair, a few noble exceptions such as Sam Houston and Davy Crockett -- who both defended the Indians -- did exist.)
Since that time, altogether five major "tribes" have lived in Texas -- namely these Anglo-Celtic Southerners, Tejanos (Mexican-Texans), Germans, blacks and Native Americans.
To make a long story short, one can summarize the history of Texas from 1836 until the 1960s in one sentence: The biggest tribe, the Anglo-Celtic Southerners, expropriated the Tejanos, deported the Indians, crushed the Germans -- and exploited the blacks.
Wars civil -- and uncivil
Only 15 years later, the state's Southern majority led Texas out of the Union and into the Confederacy at the outset of the U.S. Civil War. These Texas Southerners massacred dozens of pro-Lincoln German Texans -- and the liberal and intellectual German community in Central Texas has never recovered.
During Reconstruction in the decade following the Union victory in 1865, schools in Texas were integrated -- and blacks were elected by the legislature. When Federal troops were withdrawn in 1876, however, some Texans imposed a brutal regime of apartheid, enforced by lynchings.
It was a state of affairs that lasted until the Civil Rights Revolution of the 1960s. My Swedish-American grandmother recalled seeing crosses burn near her immigrant father's farm in the early twentieth century.
The battles were fought in the culture at large as well. Texas' right-wing politicians waged a constant war on the teaching of evolution and other such "heresies." After World War I, Governor "Pa" Ferguson -- an anti-intellectual Texas populist not unlike Mr. Bush -- accused professors at the University of Texas at Austin of using taxpayer money to try to grow hair on the backs of armadillos.
Cornbread and circuses
Folksy populists such as Ferguson, and "Pass the Biscuits Pappy" O'Daniel -- a Depression-era country music star who became first Governor and then U.S. Senator from Texas -- provided the bread and circuses.
Behind the scenes, however, well-educated, conservative businessmen who bought their suits in New York and London and sent their sons to Ivy League universities ran the state.
Colonel Edward M. House, Woodrow Wilson's closest advisor, and James Baker -- the consigliere of the first Bush administration -- belonged to this discreet, cultivated oligarchy.
This Lone Star aristocracy kept its close financial and personal ties to the old Northeastern U.S. establishment.
Biting the bullets
Over time, centuries of frontier conquest have transformed Anglo-Celtic Southerners into a people as militaristic as the ancient Spartans. That is part of the reason why Southerners have always been overrepresented in the U.S. military -- as well as, unfortunately, in the ranks of the nation's murderers and supporters of capital punishment. The legendary feuding families, the Hatfields and McCoys, were, of course, Scots-Irish.
Texas, in short, is where the violent South of the USA meets the violent North of Mexico. Thus it is a land of whizzing bullets -- and not just in Hollywood fiction.
To Texan families, all of this is not just a matter of abstract historical record. My own great-great-uncle was murdered by a highway robber near Austin. As a young attorney, my father socialized once or twice with Frank Hamer -- the legendary Texas Ranger who ambushed and machine-gunned the notorious outlaw couple, Bonnie and Clyde.
The culture of the gun is the culture of Anglo-Scots in Texas. The grandfather of a friend of mine -- a South Texas sheriff -- used to check his tommy-gun (machine gun) with hat-check girls at restaurants in the 1930s.
My scoutmaster grew up on a ranch near the Mexican border where a loaded rifle resting at every door. The former State Comptroller of Texas threatened an acquaintance of mine with a pistol. My niece shot her first deer -- at the tender age of six.
The fierce religiosity of Anglo-Celtic Texans, like so much else, can be traced back to Ulster and Scotland -- via Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. The 18th century Scots who moved to the American colonies from Northern Ireland combined frontier brutality with simple and fervent Calvinism. Much as the Protestant Dutch Afrikaaners of South Africa did, these Protestant Scots-Irish Southerners compared themselves to the ancient Hebrews.
So, of course, did black Americans -- who chose to dwell on the exodus of the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt. The Southerners who populated Texas much preferred other portions of "the Bobble." These were the verses about the conquest of the Promised Land and the annihilation of the Canaanites.
For all their nominal Christianity, white Protestant Southerners have never been comfortable with a meek and mild Jesus. The deity who turned himself over for execution without a fight, counseled his followers to turn the other cheek when struck and commanded forgiveness of one's enemies has never been popular in Texas and other parts south.
Deep down, most Southern men prefer Hebrew tribal generals such as Moses, Joshua, Gideon and David. Their idea of religion is kicking Canaanite butt at God's command.
A lack of recognition
Ironically, some of those U.S. fundamentalists appear not to realize that the Old Testament heroes whom they admire on the one hand and the modern Jewish liberals in Hollywood whom their preachers teach them to despise on the other belong to the same ethnic group.
For example, many illustrated bibles in the United States depict the ancient Hebrews -- as well as Jesus -- with blue eyes and Northern European features.
A friend of mine had an acquaintance who applied for an apartment in Dallas. When he told the landlady that he was from Israel, she replied in relief, "Oh, good. I thought you might be a Jew."
It is with good reason then that Southern religion in the United States has been called "Old Testament Protestantism." Amazingly, Southern Protestant morality resembles that of Orthodox Jews -- or traditional Muslims.
It emphasizes strict religious obedience. Indeed, some of the laws governing morals in Texas and other Southern states are near-literal transcriptions from the Book of Leviticus.
Even today, Protestant preachers mobilize their flocks to prevent the repeal of archaic sodomy laws. They fear that cities such as Dallas and Houston will be punished like Sodom and Gomorrah.
A sterile morality
In addition to its legalism, this Old Testament Protestant morality is also communal. Its single, seamless moral code is enforced by the community, employers, schools, the state and -- until a few decades ago -- by the lynch mob. Among clannish, tight-knit, old-fashioned Anglo-Celtic Southern Protestants, as among Orthodox Jews, there is little toleration for deviance from tribal norm.
The result has been intellectual and cultural sterility -- and the persistence of pre-modern superstition. When I was growing up in Austin, a liberal university town, fundamentalists a few hundred miles away in Waco regularly burned "satanic" books and records.
In the 1980s, when I worked at the state capital, Brother Lester Roloff -- a sort of Protestant mullah -- put a curse on the Texas legislature. An acquaintance of mine who studied paleontology at Harvard was asked by a rural Texan neighbor, "Are they teaching you about that Karl Darwin?"
That's right -- "Karl Darwin" -- the bearded foreign theorist of both socialism and evolution. Was it any surprise when George W. Bush, during the 2000 presidential campaign, announced that Jesus was his favorite philosopher -- and that the jury is still out on the theory of evolution?
One more surprise: The gun-toting, Bible-thumping Anglo-Celtic Texan in conquered Mexican and Indian territories -- with his admiration for the Hebrew patriarchs and professed devotion to the Ten Commandments -- is remarkably similar to the gun-toting, Torah-thumping Israeli settler in the conquered Arab territories.
The "sabra" ideal of a certain strain of Zionism -- macho and militaristic -- is a cousin of the Southern/Western "redneck" or "cowboy," right down to the contempt for the disposable "Canaanites."
And that is precisely why the Sharon edition of present-day Israel and Texas before the civil rights revolution have so much in common. In my view, both combine populism within the majority ethnic nation with the cruel subordination of ethnic minorities.
A generation ago, T.R. Fehrenbach, the great Texan historian, compared the Texans to the Israelis. Is it no coincidence, then, that the products of two very similar societies, Texas's George W. Bush and Israel's Ariel Sharon, appear to be most themselves when they are waging war on behalf of their tribes -- or relaxing on their ranches?
If Texas were an independent republic, as it was from 1836-1845, it would be a third world country -- with a small first world sector embedded in it. Think of it as a big Saudi Arabia enfolding a small Japan.
The older Texan economy is based on primitive commodity capitalism -- cotton, cattle, oil. The mentality of the traditional Texan businessman is that of the premodern "seigneurial" elite. According to the Italian historian Raimondo Luraghi, this grouping included not only the slave-owners of the U.S. South -- but also the British "Nabobs" of the West Indies, the Mexican hacendados, and Brazil's plantation owners.
A lack of industry
Thus, it is not an industrial capitalist mindset at all. Rather, this strain of the Texas mentality is that of the Spanish conquistador -- who dreamed of quickly acquiring fabulous wealth by plunder rather than effort.
One of the most popular tales in the impoverished folklore of Anglo-Celtic Texas is a story about fabled knife-fighter Jim Bowie. In this story, the legendary Mr. Bowie discovered a lost Spanish silver mine near San Antonio -- just before he was killed in the Battle of the Alamo.
As Cortes and Pizarro and other Spanish thugs dreamed of American Indian treasure, Bowie and other Anglo-Celtic Texan thugs dreamed of Spanish treasure. The idea of making one's fortune through hard, steady, patient work has been strange and repugnant on both sides of the Rio Grande River.
Equally alien to this older Texas economy is the idea of invention. The "Yankee inventor" -- Thomas Edison, Henry Ford -- is a familiar icon. But there has only been one famous Southern inventor -- Cyrus McCormick, a Virginian.
As it turns out, his invention, the McCormick Reaper, was not wanted in the pre-Civil War South -- simply because slaves were cheaper than machines. McCormick made his fortune in the North, where high wages among free workers created incentives for mechanized agriculture.
Lay the blame on oil
The discovery of oil in Texas was a social disaster. It made the Texas oil man a global symbol of the crass parvenu -- at least until the vulgar Saudi sheikh appeared.
As in Saudi Arabia, oil riches prevented the reform of antiquated social structures and archaic habits of mind.Thanks to oil, Texas did not need to reform its pathetic school system to produce world-class professionals and thinkers. Texan Christianity remained in a fundamentalist rut.
Oil also permitted the rich families of Texas to import technicians, scientists and intellectuals for Texan companies and Texan universities from other parts of the United States and the world.
In this way, it is reminiscent of the manner in which Arab monarchies -- afraid of educating their subjects -- bring in foreign experts. (Of course, the Saudis also segregate these interlopers by invitation in separate compounds.)
The gusher elite
Members of Texas' old cotton-farming and cattle-ranching elite -- allying themselves sometimes with wealthy immigrants like George Bush, Sr. -- grew easily into an oil-patch elite.
The strategy was always the same. First, buy land. Then, use market power to try to rig the prices of the commodities on top of it -- or the minerals underneath it.
Until it was replaced by OPEC, it was the Texas Railroad Commission that rigged the world price for oil from the 1920s until the 1970s. A few years back, the wealthy Hunt brothers of Fort Worth actually tried to corner the global silver market. Jim Bowie must have congratulated Coronado in Hell.
A different breed
A minority of Texan leaders -- mostly from poor or middle-class backgrounds -- have shared a different vision. It is a vision of a high-tech, multi-racial Texas based on brainpower and meritocracy -- and not on resource extraction and inherited wealth. These visionary modernizers -- including Lyndon Johnson, Ross Perot and former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman -- have sought to replace Saudi-style commodity capitalism with Japanese-style state capitalism.
The logic that they have employed has been similar to that of modernizers in many newly-industrializing countries. In such backward rural societies, the government must lead the way in technological modernization.
Thanks to Lyndon Johnson's influence in the U.S. Congress in the 1930s and 1940s, the federal government built the industrial infrastructure of Texas around hydroelectric power. It was a bold move that helped to turn poor farmers into a suburban middle class.
A military solution
In the 1980s and 1990s, Mr. Perot campaigned for higher educational standards in Texas, as Mr. Inman and others helped to transform Austin into today's "Silicon Hills" -- a high-tech government-university-private-sector research park.
As is the case in many third world countries, the middle-class modernizers such as Mr. Inman and Mr. Perot often have military backgrounds. In a society such as Texas -- in which a few rich families dominate the civilian economy -- the military is often the only institution that is meritocratic and open to fresh talent. Leftists and liberals, who reflexively equate the military with conservatism, have never figured this out.
The Texas civil war
This civil war between competing visions of a Saudi Texas and a Japanese Texas explains the epic struggle between the Bush dynasty and Mr. Perot in 1992 -- when Mr. Perot's run for president may have cost the senior Bush his job as President of the United States.
The Bush family stood for oil wells and cheap labor on farms and ranches. On the other hand, Mr. Perot stood for computers and air-conditioned office parks. He viewed the Bush family as upper-class parasites enriching themselves through the exploitation of natural resources.
And George W. Bush? Like the father from whom he inherited the White House, "Dubya" is a product of commodity-exporting third world Texas -- and not high-tech first world Texas. He plays the pre-modern country gentleman on his vast hacienda near rural, pious Crawford.
Bush also avoids Austin -- a city which has been over-run by brainy scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs from East Asia and South Asia who do not share the Southern disdain for hard work and creative thought. In fact, Austin's most prominent high-tech business leader, Michael Dell, is Jewish.
The heart of Bush country
The diverse and cosmopolitan world of computers and biotech is as much a puzzlement to the Bush dynasty as it is to their friends in the Saudi royal family. Indeed, both families have similarly used oil revenues to keep social liberalism and secularism at bay.
What's the analytical conclusion of all this? Combine primitive Saudi-style oil-patch economics with primitive West Bank settler-type religion, and you have the milieu from which George W. Bush emerged -- and in which he feels most at home.
As fate would have it, at the beginning of the 20th-century -- thanks to rural over-representation in the U.S. electoral college -- leadership of the most advanced technological economy and the leading liberal society on earth has fallen to a reactionary politician.
This U.S. President hails from a pre-modern religious subculture, rooted in a backward region -- and dependent upon a primitive extractive economy. In siding uncritically with God's chosen people in the Holy Land and hoping to use military force to try to control as much mineral-rich territory as possible, George W. Bush has been acting like a man of his century -- the 17th century.
Copyright 2002, The Globalist