Essays on American politics and foreign policy
By Donald E. Nuechterlein
Donald Nuechterlein is a political scientist
and writer who resides near Charlottesville, Virginia. He is the
author of numerous books on American politics and foreign policy,
- Defiant Superpower: The New American Hegemony, 2005
- America Recommitted: A Superpower Assesses its Role in a Turbulent World, 2000
- A Cold War Odyssey, 1997
U.S. POLICY IN THE MIDDLE EAST: WHERE ARE WE HEADED?
Presented at University Village, Charlottesville, June 27, 2012
U.S. policies in the Middle East since World War II can be separated into four overlapping periods:
- Postwar years, 1945-1949.
- The Cold War years, 1950 -1990
- American hegemony, 1991-2004
- Overreach and retrenchment, 2005-2012
- Until 1940, Britain and France dominated the Arab world after collapse of the Ottoman Empire in World War I. Britain then exercised major influence in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Palestine, and Iraq.
- In 1947, Britain, severely weakened by War II, withdrew from Palestine and Jordan and greatly reduced its role in Iraq.
- The Truman administration was then faced a major choice: Should it replace Britain's security role in the Middle East, or permit local Arab leaders to emerge? America had three overriding national interests in the Middle East in 1947:
- Protect and exploit Persian Gulf oil reserves
- Prevent Soviet exploitation of growing Arab nationalism
- Support creation of a state of Israel
- These three basic interests have dominated U.S. policy ever since 1948
Cold War Years
- The Korean War persuaded Washington that Moscow was now prepared to extend its power into the Middle East and East Asia
- The Arab countries turned nationalistic and played both sides during the early Cold War Years. Egypt (Nasser), Syria (Assad), and Iraq (Saddam Hussein), signed defense pacts with Moscow in the w1960s and received large arms supplies, including\fighter planes.
- Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Iran allied themselves with the West and received large arms shipments from the U.S. Turkey became a member of NATO in 1941 and provided the U.S. with bases.
- Egypt switched sides in 1973 and joined the Western camp.
- In 1979, Iran's Islamic revolution overthrew the pro-western regime and adopted an anti-U.S., anti-Israel policy. (hostage crisis)
Brief period of American Hegemony
- The Soviet Union's rapid demise after the Cold War and the remarkable U.S. and allied victory over Iraq in the 1991 Gulf War resulted a period of unparalleled American influence in the world.
- Presidents George Bush I and Bill Clinton then pressed Israel to agree to a two-state solution to the vexing Palestinian homeland issue, which had long strained U.S. relations with all the Arab countries.
- Egypt under Mubarak remained a strong U.S. ally in the 1990s, while the Saudi monarchy used its vast oil wealth to support pro-western leaders, while denouncing Israel for its Palestinian policy.
- Major problems in the 1990s were Iran, whose Islamic regime showed no signs of moderating its policies, and Iraq, whose dictator, Saddam Hussein, blatantly violated U.N. restrictions on the use of arms.
Overreach and Retrenchment
- By 1995, the Iraq War became a near disaster for U.S. policy in the Middle East, and risked becoming another Vietnam-type legacy.
- It gave Iran an entry into Iraq's political affairs
- It caused Saudi Arabia to question U.S. policy in the M.E.
- It resulted in a huge drain on U.S. financial mesources
- It damaged U.S. credibility among many NATO allies
- The economic impact of the Sept. 2008 financial crisis has weakened America's ability to help stabilize the euro crisis in Europe
- Cuts in the U.S. defense budget and foreign aid make it more difficult to assert U.S. influence in the volatile Middle East
- Retrenchment requires the United States to coordinate with allies, and not wage war without U.N. support unless truly vital interests are at stake. as it did in Kosovo Iraq
Where are we Headed?
- Arab nationalism is a force that can no longer be contained and will take a decade or more to run its course. Perhaps democratic regimes will emerge, but this is not certain. Egypt is the biggest test.
- A weakened United States, from wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, is not in a good position to manage political change in the Middle East. And Europe has no stomach for military operations there.
- Turkey, a NATO member and major player in the new Middle East, should be supported by Washington to expand its influence.
- Iran's quest for nuclear weapons, in order to establish its own hegemony in the Persian Gulf, is a danger that must be confronted. But force should be a last resort for the United States. Attacking Iran would unleash a wider war in the Gulf area and threaten its huge oil exports.
My outlook? American policy faces a period of prolonged caution, regardless of who wins the coming election, because the United States has neither the financial resources nor popular support needed for new adventures (Syria). As a result, patient diplomacy rather than military shows of force is now needed. Retrenchment may persist for ten years, as occurred after the failure in Vietnam. Hopefully, the politics of the 2010s will be less traumatic and less painful than those in the 1970s.
File last modified on Wednesday, 11-JUL-2012 11:45 PM EST