Saturday, September 17, 2005

What happened to free oil?

The decision by the government of Adnan Badran to raise the prices of fuel for the second time during his short tenure begs the question "what is going on?". Close reading of the statements issued by the government shows that world oil prices were not the only factor. What slipped out additionally is that the levels of foreign aid have fallen drastically as well. What is the deal?

Conspiracy theorists in Jordan (there are many of them) believe that the US is applying economic pressure in order to ease the way for people to accept the concept of relocation of displaced Palestinians residing in Syria and Lebanon to Jordan. The idea is that if economic conditions deteriorate, then the lure of financial aid might make the concept of relocation palatable. While this idea is widely accepted, it is not the only one being discussed. Historically, economic deprivation leads to increased xenophobia and lower tolerance to outsiders. I believe that if the turning of the economic screws on Jordan is to achieve more receptive attitudes towards relocation, then this approach defies the logic of social history.

The second theory is premised on the idea that aid is given to people who need the help. The widespread belief that aid given to Jordan is misused has led donor countries to limit their help. While this theory makes sense for western donor countries, it is not very credible when thinking about our rich Arab neighbors. Aid from Saudi Arabia and other gulf countries is viewed as a way to buy influence, and not because Jordan is particularly needy.

This leads to the third theory, which I believe is the closest to what is going on. Jordan is doing everything it is supposed to do vis a vis the Iraqi problem, the Palestinian issue and the "war on terror". In essence, since aid is designed to achieve certain results, then if these results are achieved, why give aid? Political and personal relationships between the leaders of the Gulf States and Jordan have never been better. The failure to make this translate into tangible help is a colossal failure in diplomacy. The idea that diplomatic issues are separated from economic ones is ludicrous. In essence, Jordan is failing to gain any leverage despite the total cooperation it is giving to the US, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinians and the Gulf States. Since many of the policies that are achieving this are very unpopular in Jordan, the Jordanian diplomatic stature should be more hard line until we get levels of aid that we have always received.


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