Before World War II, the U.S. had limited foreign involvement in the Middle East. In relation to other world powers that had colonized the region, the U.S. was regarded to be popular and respected all through the Arab world. Prior to World War II, Americans had introduced modern medicine, established schools, and brought highly skilled petroleum engineers, to the Middle East. Therefore, the U.S. had some relations with the Middle East before the 1950s. Nonetheless, as the U.S. was coming of age as a major global power after the Second World War and the start of the Cold War, its interests in the region remarkably increased. The major policy goals that the U.S. has been pursuing in the region include ensuring that the flow of oil is not interrupted, protecting the interests of the state of Israel, supporting the advances of its allies in the Arab world, and thwarting the development of terrorist activities. The U.S. has been successful in achieving these foreign policy goals in the Middle East since 1956.
After the Second World War, some world powers rushed to exert aggressive influence in the Middle East. Apart from Britain and France, the Soviet Union and the U.S. were seen as the main competing powers. Nonetheless, in the end, the U.S., through the implementation of its policy goals, emerged as a stronger power. Notable successes that the U.S. realized at the turn of the millennium were to ensure that the price of oil does not escalate too high in real terms than it was after the Second World War and the state of Israel was more secure and economically vibrant than it was when it was started in 1948. By the start of the new millennium, Israel had managed to reach an agreement with some of its neighbors. These are Egypt and Jordan. Also worth mentioning is that agreements with Syria and Lebanon are still being expected and, maybe, Palestine. The success that the U.S. realized can be attributed to the effective implementation of its foreign policies than did its global and regional rivals.
In order to comprehend better the evolution of the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East, it is of essence to bring in some context as well as some historical developments. Initially, after World War II, the U.S. was less engaged in Middle East affairs leaving the issues for Britain to tackle. However, soon the U.S. started to get involved in the affairs of the region, either providing assistance or competing with Britain on matters associated with the politics of the Middle East (Ismael, 135). In 1947, the British government was compelled to withdraw its assistance to the states of Greece and Turkey because of limitations on funds. This resulted in a potential power vacuum that the U.S. quickly made advances to fill in line with the ensuing cold war atmosphere and its emergence as a major world power. Eventually, the Truman Doctrine was set forth by the government of the U.S. to set apart the southern flank of the Soviet Union for taking care of the interests of America.
The Truman Doctrine assisted the so-called northern tier area of Turkey and Iran to become friendly to the U.S. Turkey and Iran were considered America’s allies; Washington opposed the influence of the Soviet Union in the two countries and promised to protect them from the advances of communism (Dobson and Marsh, 118). And, in 1952, Turkey received an invitation to become a full member of NATO; as a result, the relations between the U.S. and Turkey were enhanced. Despite the fact that Turkey did not engage fully in the affairs of the Middle East, it often took the same side as the U.S. when it participated. Even though Iran was not invited to join NATO, its relations with the U.S. were in several ways as deep. Iran, certainly, had oil and was influential in determining the affairs of the oil-rich Gulf area. Originally, U.S. corporations were not taking part in the exploitation and marketing of Iran’s oil. However, this changed with the overthrow of the Mosaddeq regime in 1953. As a result, for the next 25 years, Americans were actively taking part in every aspect of Iranian development and it was regarded as a major asset in the Cold War as many essential U.S. intelligence facilities were stationed in the country.
In the early 1950s, the U.S. and British governments were against the regime of the Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddeq and they played a role in the overthrow of the regime and reintroduction of the dictatorial rule of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi. The Mosaddeq regime had nationalized Iran’s majorly British-owned oil industry; thus, his forceful removal from power was imminent. By combining forces with the British government in this incident, the U.S. government came to be recognized with the older colonial rule against which the locals had several objections for the past one hundred and fifty years. After a while, the U.S. recognition of the shah administration turned out to be more of a liability. This was because Iranian home rule, which was initially secular in nature, became increasingly religious in nature.
Disagreement, instead of cooperation typified the associations between the U.S. and Britain in the case of Palestinian affairs. British forces were fighting against the tough Zionist movement. Britain had supported efforts to create the movement and now its very creation was turning against itself. The Jewish Yishuv in Palestine was now strong to stand on its own and it received a lot of support from the U.S. because the Jewish community there wanted to see it become a fully-fledged Israeli state. By 1946, the U.S. had started to put forth its influence over the question of Palestine with a suggestion to have about ten thousand homeless survivors of the Holocaust to be relocated to Palestine since the European countries and the U.S. refused to admit them into their own countries. This proposal weakened the advances that the British government was making to continue supporting its Arab allies in thwarting the increasing strength of the Zionist movement. Consequently, in 1947, the British government was compelled to abandon its commitments to its Arab clients and surrendered the question of Palestine to the U.N. General Assembly whereby the U.S. played a pivotal role in the adoption of Resolution 181 that divided Palestine and enabled the establishment of the state of Israel. When the state of Israel was created in May 1948, the U.S. became the first country in the world to offer it official recognition, although most of the Arab countries refuted this.
With the public support given to the newly created nation of Israel, the U.S. started a consistent pattern in its associations with the Middle Easterners. The U.S. spearheaded the progress of the new nation while gradually substituting Britain as the main Western power of traditionalist Arab rulers. All through the existence of Israel as a state, the U.S. has had a special relationship with Israel and it has provided it with much aid, both economic and military, and no country has ever received as much assistance from the U.S. on a per capita basis as did Israel (Brown, 61). By the 1980s, it was regarded that the two nations were formal allies, even though they had not signed a written agreement. The U.S. support for the state of Israel was largely based on domestic politics. The small American Jewish community was well organized and made efforts to solicit assistance for Israel and several non-Jews also saw the new nation as a progressive democracy encircled by intransigent Arab regimes. Emotions, values, politics, and responsibility all pushed the United States to rally support for the young nation. Simultaneously, some individuals in the U.S. were not ready to allow it to offer support to Israel. Up to the mid-1960s, the U.S. failed to give Israel adequate military or economic assistance and it was often criticized by official Washington. The Suez crisis of 1956 was an instance in which the two nations had bitter relations. The U.S. was against the support that the Israelis gave the British-French forces to regain control of the Suez Canal. However, after the 1967 Arab-Israeli war, Israel was regarded as one of the major allies of the U.S. in the Middle East, and even the U.S. government instituted policies to sustain its relations with the Arab world (Allin and Simon, 124).
The overall impact of the United States government to ensure the peaceful existence of Israel as a state was to result in successive American presidents’ efforts to look for ways of finding a lasting solution to the Middle East crisis. This is because as long as the Arab-Israeli conflict continued, there would be tension between the United States’ attempts to protect Israel and in maintaining a steady supply of oil as well as other security issues in the region. More so, the U.S. saw that enduring the conflict would enable the Soviet Union to increase its influence in the Middle East by providing its rivals with weapons and giving them diplomatic assistance. Therefore, with differing levels of imagination and commitment, every American president made efforts to broker peace between the Jews and the Palestinians.
Patterns of American diplomacy
An amazing number of advances in the Middle East typified the first stage of U.S. engagement, 1947-1967, in the Middle East. Although Presidents Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, and Johnson implemented different initiatives in the Arab-Israeli arena, they had a commonality in thwarting the spread of communism, easing the rivalry between the Arabs and the Jews, and strengthening relations with Turkey and Iran. During the first phase of American diplomacy, the U.S. increased financial, military, and diplomatic support for Israel and it became one of the deciding factors for the increasing alignment of the Middle East along cold war lines. Numerous Arab nations associated themselves more deeply with the Soviet Union. On the other hand, other countries, such as Israel, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Morocco, and Turkey, took the same side as the Americans, and this trend transcended the boundaries of the Arab-Israeli crisis. Nonetheless, as indicated above, through the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957, the U.S. was making efforts to contain the expansion of the Soviet area of influence by promising to provide military and economic assistance to anti-communist regimes.
The Eisenhower Doctrine turned out to be the foundation for the U.S. assistance to traditionalist administrations who were opposed to their radical local contenders and it was first implemented when the American army landed in Lebanon in 1958 to show their support for the administration of President Camille Chamoun against the regime’s radical local rivals. The most Egyptian- subjugated United Arab Republic assisted various radical groups in Lebanon to oppose the Camille administration. As indicated earlier, the Eisenhower administration joined the British in overthrowing Mosaddeq and although the operation succeeded, the incumbent Shah was mainly seen as a Western puppet. The Eisenhower regime also attempted to make the states in the Middle East aligned with itself during the period of the cold war. However, this effort did not realize much success. The result of this initiative, the Baghdad Pact (1944-1955), was not very popular in several countries since it was seen as a vestige of Western imperialism (Hahn, 207). The member states of the agreement, Turkey, Iraq, Pakistan, and Britain, embraced pro-U.S. ideals. Even though the U.S. was heavily involved in the formulation of the pact, it did not join it officially because it was hoping to retain some credibility with Egypt so as to promote Egyptian-Israeli understanding. Later, the agreement evolved into the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO) after Iraq’s withdrawal in the aftermath of the Iraqi revolution in July 1958.
When President John F. Kennedy assumed office, he started by seeking to differentiate between Arab nationalist and “pro-Soviet” governments. In order to enhance ties with Egypt, the Kennedy administration engaged in one-on-one talks with the Nasser administration. However, the outburst of the Yemeni civil war in 1962 stopped the progress of the talks to enhance U.S. relations with pro-communist regimes. Both Egypt and Yemen were deeply taking part in the Yemeni war. More so, the assassination of President Kennedy in 1963 further complicated the progress of the talks. In time, the U.S. started to show support for Saudi Arabia and its proponents, the Yemeni royalists. The U.S. did this to show disapproval of the pro-communist Egyptian regime, and its proponents, the Yemeni publicans.
During this highly polarized state of affairs, the June 1967 war started between the Arabs and the Israelis. This created a set of troubles for the United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East, of which the majority of them are still in existence currently. Primarily, the U.S. is still struggling to reconcile its kindness and support to Israel with the desire to increase its relations with the Islamic nations in the Middle East. The Arab countries are still pained by Israel’s lack of willingness to leave the provinces it started to control after the 1967 conflict. The U.S., to a certain extent, alleviated this problem when Egypt started to side with it after 1970 on a number of issues. More so, the brokering of a deal between the Israelis and the Egyptians during the peace treaty of 1979 further assisted the U.S. in establishing a strong footing in the Arab world. Thus, the 1967 Arab-Israeli war ushered in an important new era of America’s policy changes toward the Middle East.
From 1967 to 1979, the United States’ foreign policy in the Middle East was being determined by its dealings with three countries. These were Israel, Iran, and, to some extent, Saudi Arabia. During this period, America’s diplomatic efforts concentrated on finding a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict and ensuring that a steady supply of oil from the region to the rest of the world was maintained (Fawcett, Part II). Importantly, the U.S. made two basic judgments that differentiated this period from the earlier one. First, it resolved to actively embrace Israel as a partner and supply it with both economic and military assistance. Second, the U.S. resolved to regard the shah of Iran as a major supporter in the region and establish him as a regional military power. The support that the U.S. was giving to shah aggravated tensions between Iran and her neighbors, particularly Iraq. More so, it made the Iranians become critical of their nation’s continued subordination to a western power and the regime’s oppressive rule. As a result, in 1979, a popular Islamic uprising overthrew the regime of the shah and brought in a virulent anti-Americanism regime. This threw U.S. policy in the Gulf region into confusion (Ansari, 2). Thereafter, the U.S. tried a number of diplomatic responses to bring the situation to normal again. These include the adoption of the Carter Doctrine and attempts by the Reagan administration to offer military assistance to Kuwait to shield its oil from Iranian attacks during the Iraq and Iran conflict.
The theme that dominated U.S. foreign policy to the Middle East during the 1979 to 1990 era continued to be how to solve the conflict between the Arabs and Israelis and the issue of a steady supply of oil. Israel and the Gulf dominated America’s policy issues. The former was perceived to be friendly while the latter was hostile. Therefore, in Lebanon in 1982-1983, the Reagan regime aided Israel’s invasion of that country with the intention of showing support for Israel’s goals in Lebanon and opposition to its local foes, the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) and Syria. However, the U.S. and Israel did not succeed in this initiative. It led to serious harm to the U.S. interests it had established for a long time in terms of missionary, education, and medical endeavors.
In the 1990s, the U.S. focused on thwarting Iraq’s influence and the continuation of efforts to bring peace between the Arabs and the Israelis. Since the Soviet Union had stopped playing a role in the affairs of the Middle East, Saddam perceived this as the best moment to make war with its weak neighbor, Kuwait. The Bush administration, however, managed to mobilize a great coalition to oppose Iraq’s aggression against Kuwait in August 1990 that included several Western allies and also Egypt and Syria. Eventually, the massive use of force substantially reduced Iraq’s power and made it cease to be a military threat to the surrounding nations thus benefitting American regional interests. Further, sanctions were placed on the Iraqi government so as to ensure the security of the Persian Gulf region (Clawson, 33-47).
Iraq’s defeat reopened the door for efforts to find a lasting solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict, as several of the Arab partners of the U.S. in the campaign against Saddam were willing to support negotiations to that end. Major breakthroughs occurred in 1993 and in 1995-1996 in which the two sides were almost agreeing on general principles. However, the peace process was disrupted in mid-1996 by terrorist activities undertaken by radical Islamist Palestinian organizations and there was little progress on the peace efforts.
At the turn of the millennium, in addition to its earlier objectives, American diplomacy focused on thwarting the development of terrorist activities in the region. The U.S. initiated the campaign to fight terrorism after terrorists attacked it on 11 September 2001. As a result, the U.S. declared that all the countries that are supporting terrorist activities are its enemies. And, in 2003, the U.S. waged a war against Iraq with the intention of eliminating all terrorist activities that it was supporting. The war led to the capture and death of Saddam Hussein who had fallen out with the U.S. since 1990. The U.S. has also been keen on supporting the peace process in the Arab-Israeli conflict. In 2002, the United States started to give limited economic aid to the Palestinian Authority. It has also persuaded other countries in the world to assist them too.
Thus, through the implementation of various foreign policy goals that have evolved since the Second World War, the U.S. has succeeded in achieving them. Nonetheless, it is important to note that there were challenges to American interests to become the preeminent power in the region. With the intention of protecting the interests of the new state of Israel, supporting the friendly Arab states, protecting access to oil, and preventing the development of terrorist groups, successive U.S. administrations endeavored to fulfill these goals in the Middle East.
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Clawson, Patrick. “The Continuing Logic of Dual Containment.” Survival 40.1 (1998): 33-47. Print.
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