U.S Policy towards Middle East has been framed by a certain strategic conception of world order that is widely shared, though there are tactical disagreements, sometimes sharp ones, even we can see this during the debate in the United states over the Gulf Crisis. There are also important changes in the world, to which this strategic conception must be changed.
The Middle East has continued to garner the primary attention of the United States’ foreign policy since World War II, which seeks to explore reasons for this phenomenon, which, to date, has received little research attention. The significance of the Middle East area has increased rapidly since WW II primarily due to economic, strategic, and political factors. Culturally, the region has numerous similarities with the West, dating back to the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages and continuing through modern history with the efforts of the Western missionaries and their educational activities. The Middle East consists of portions of three continents:
ie., Europe, Asia, and Africa. The land possesses vital resources including oil and waterways .
The term “Middle East” is relatively new. In 1902, the name appeared in a series of articles in a British daily newspaper: The Times. After World War II, the term “Middle East” became widely accepted, especially in academic institutions and government agencies . The geographical boundaries of Middle East vary, and it is also called the Near East or Southwest Asia. In academia, Middle East refers to the Arab states of Asia; the Arab states of North Africa; Israel; and the non-Arab states of Afghanistan, Iran, Pakistan, and Turkey (Surratt, 2000)
The United States’ presence in the Middle East has been divided into three distinct periods: the first ends in 1914; the second begins after 1919, and the third begins after 1945.
THE U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST BEFORE WWI :
American trade with the Middle East dates back more than two hundred years. In fact, commercial contacts between Smyrna (an ancient city in Turkey) and Boston began as early as 1767, when Smyrna products appeared in America. Thereafter, an American trading house was established in Smyrna in 1811, laying the groundwork for the first American Ottoman treaty that was signed on May 7, 1831. American religious groups, especially Presbyterians, conducted multiple missions in the Middle East that were not only religious, but charitable and medical as well. The American missionaries in the Middle East appeared as early as 1820, when the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions established the first American religious mission in the region.
The American missionaries and philanthropic organizations began going to the Middle East to carry out their ministries to the population. These missionaries, however, were unable to convert many Muslims or Jews to Christianity, but instead influenced and modernized education in the region; establishing outstanding institutions such as Robert College in Turkey founded in1863, Syrian Protestant College, later renamed American University of Beirut (AUB) founded in1866, Istanbul Women’s College founded in 1871, and The American University of Cairo founded in1919. The AUB “became the most outstanding institution of higher learning in the Middle East. By the end of the nineteenth century, AUB was a highly influential center for the emergence and promotion of Arab nationalism.”.
Contributions to higher education made America popular in the eyes of the local populace, and the lack of the American political motivation strengthened the general goodwill toward American democracy. In light of the foregoing discussion, it is clear that before World War I the United States’ contact with the Middle East region was limited to commercial, missionary, and educational activities. The demise of the Ottoman Empire at the end of World War I placed the entire area of the Middle East underEuropean influence. Egypt, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan, and Transjordan were under the British mandate, while the North African states, Lebanon, and Syria were under the French mandate.
The Gulf region was under the British influence as well. In this context, it is important to point out that, during the period between the two world wars, some states in the region achieved a nominal independence with the Europeans maintaining only some influences until the end of World War II. The European colonialism significantly delayed the Arab dreams to establish their own independence under one unified nation-state. In contrast, the United States showed little interest in international affairs in general during and after World War I. This was especially the case in the Middle East region, as ‘isolationism’ was the predominant feature of the United States’ foreign policy until Japan bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941.
THE U.S. FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST AFTER WW I :
During and after World War I, the American political thoughts, ideas, and principles were appealing to the Middle East. In addition, President Woodrow Wilson’s concept of “self-determination” of nations was essential and supportive to the rights of peoples to decide to have their own political destiny. These concepts were very attractive to the Arabs nationalists’ dreams to attain independence. Moreover, the Wilsonian ideas “…provided a stimulus to Arab nationalism in the years ahead. Until the creation of the State of Israel (in 1948), the United States enjoyed widespread prestige and admiration in the Arab world”
. In 1917, President Woodrow Wilson’s administration endorsed a letter that was sent from the British Foreign Secretary, Arthur Balfour, to Lord Lionel Rothschild, a British Zionist leader, to establish a “national home” for Jewish people in Palestine. Then, in 1922, a joint resolution of Congress voted unopposed for this “Mandate for Palestine”. This mandate validated Jewish claims to settle Palestine anywhere from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Nearly two months later, on September 21, 1922, President Warren G. Harding signed the joint resolution to confirm the establishment of a Jewish national homeland in Palestine. In the aftermath of World War I, even though the Middle East region was under heavy European influence, American contacts, especially petroleum companies, with the region increased steadily. While American companies gained only a partial interest in businesses in Iran and Kuwait, they attained full control in Saudi Arabia and the Bahrain Island in 1972.
The period between the two world wars shows that the United States remained only slightly involved in the Middle Eastern affairs from a political standpoint; on the other hand, the United States had established multiple economic contacts within the Middle East region. The American petroleum companies negotiated a number of concessions in Iran, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and Bahrain. During World War II, the United States’ presence in the Middle East increased.
In addition, the United States government paid closer attention to the region’s significant oil reserve and began to reevaluate its importance to American and Allied security interests but, “It was not until the end of the war that the area came to assume any real significance in U.S. foreign policy.”
THE U.S FOREIGN POLICY TOWARDS MIDDLE EAST AFTER WW II:
The United States’ political presence in the Middle East did not intensify until the end of World War II. Prior to that, three indirect occurrences may be cited in this regard:
1) Iran was used as a transit route for the sending of Lend-Lease supplies to the Soviet Union from 1941-1945
2) Aramco, the Arabian-American Oil Company, was established in Saudi Arabia in 1938
3) America influenced the Arab nationalist movement in the early 1920s through its domestic ideals.
Since that time, influenced by shifts in power, interest in oil, and the Palestine Question, the United States has consistently focused their attention on the Middle East. At the end of World War II, a new balance of power prevailed in the international arena. The United States and the Soviet Union emerged as the only two superpowers in the international system. The main European powers (Britain and France) faced substantial economic difficulties and were no longer capable of playing their traditional leading roles in the Middle East. In the early 1940s, President Roosevelt and his administration initially expected that Britain would remain the security chief in the region. However, by the spring of 1944 observers reported, “Soviet policy in the Arab world appears to be aimed at the reduction of British influence in that area and the acquisition of the balance of power.”
Then, on May 8, 1945, State Department personnel determined that Britain was unable to maintain the Soviet Union and realized the United States might have to take charge of “fostering the economic advancement of the Middle East people” and “facilitating freedom from external interference and exploitation.”. After World War II, the Kremlin wanted to spread its influence along Russia’s southern border. In 1941, Josef Stalin ordered Soviet troops into Iran and increased diplomatic pressure on Turkey, which had previously refused the “Red Navy” to cross the Dardanelles (the channels between the Black Sea and the Mediterranean).
By the fall of 1945, the United States’ policymakers expected the worst. “The British publicly admit that they are no longer able to keep the Middle East in order without … [US] help.” The State Department cautioned the President that “Soviet Russia is showing a marked interest in the area.” If the United States did not respond “firmly and adequately,” another world war might result. Washington, responded by issuing the Truman Doctrine in 1947 that indicated that the United States would take over Britain’s commitment to Greece and Turkey.”In the mid-1950s, concern regarding possible Soviet expansion in the Middle East region motivated Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, to seek out allies in the states closest to the Soviet Union.
In February 1955, the United States’ efforts resulted in the formation of the Baghdad Pact Organization (also known as the Middle East Treaty Organization [METO]). METO was formed by Iraq, Turkey, Britain, Pakistan, and Iran. The main purpose of METO was to limit possible Soviet Union expansion in the Middle East region. After ten years of Anglo-Arab confrontations, the United States’ policymakers presented the Eisenhower Doctrine, making Washington a high-ranking member of the Anglo-American Association in 1957 (Little, 2002).
The Eisenhower Doctrine was made in response to the 1956 Suez War, the Soviet Union’s infiltration of the Arab states, and to limit Nasser’s broad pan-Arabism. Following the 1958 Lebanon crisis, Baghdad Pact members, except Iraq, endorsed American intervention in Lebanon. In 1959, Iraq withdrew from METO resulting in METO to be renamed as the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO), and its headquarters to be moved from Baghdad to Ankara. The United States’ support to CENTO continued as a non-signatory associate until it completely dissolved in 1979 (“The Baghdad Pact (1955) and the Central Treaty Organization (CENTO).
Through the 1960’s, Britain continued to experience financial difficulties and was eventually forced to give up its remaining imperial stations in the Arabian Peninsula and the Gulf region. It was at this time that American officials began moving toward what would come to be known as the Nixon Doctrine, which appointed countries in the region, including Iran and Saudi Arabia, to join in the opposition against the Soviet Union. However, when the appointed Middle Eastern countries proved they were ultimately unable to fill this role effectively, Jimmy Carter created his own doctrine and “informed the world in January 1980 that the United States had vital security interests in the Middle East for which it was willing to fight, whether it had dependable partners or not”.
It is important to point out that since the beginning of the Cold War, the United States had developed several policies, strategies, and tactics to limit possible Soviet expansion in the world and in the Middle East region in particular. Containment, détente, and deterrence were among the most notable policies during the context of the Cold War. In the early 1990s, the Cold War era came to an end, and the Soviet Union threat to the region ended, with the impact of international communism at its lowest in decades.
As a result of the Cold War, the United States remained as the sole dominant superpower in the post-Cold War era. Hegemony, leadership, primacy, and military power clearly marked American foreign policy in international affairs in the late twentieth century and early twenty-first century.
The goal of ensuring secure access to oil resources in the Middle East region, especially in the Arab oil-rich states and the Palestine Question, motivated the United States’ presence in the region since early in the twentieth century. These incentives just scratched the surface of what would be a much deeper involvement in the Middle East from the fall of the Soviet Union to the present.
In sum, the Middle East has continued to be a primary attention of the United States’ foreign policy since World War II. Notably, three primary issues focused the United States’ attention on the Middle East, including security concerns, interests in oil reserves, and the Palestine Question. Indeed, these factors are also inter-related as security and stability of the Middle East is important to ensure reaching oil to North America, Europe, and Japan and to ensure Israel’s sovereignty.
Here we discussed about the United States’ economic and political presence in the Middle East region before and after World War I and after World War II aids in the understanding of how United States’ presence has developed in the region and what motives were behind its presence. The current research also highlights the United States’ primary interests in the Middle East including securing strategic access to oil in the Gulf region, supporting and protecting Israel’s sovereignty, maintaining the United States’ military bases, defending client-states and friendly regimes, and resisting Islamic movements and terrorist groups .
Hence the integration of the United States’ foreign policy has continued the area critical to its national security interests due to available oil, its motivation to protect Israel, to support security by maintaining military bases, to hold the role as protectorate of client states and friendly regimes, and to resist Islamic movements and terrorist groups. These five factors are the primary motivators that have propelled American decision-makers to control the area and continue to remain important to America today.
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- Encyclopedia of World history – Anita Ganeri, Hazel Mary Martell, Brian William –Parragon publications
- http://www. Parragon.com/
- The Modern Middle East – a political history since the First World War- third edition – MehranKamrava- University of California Press 1964