U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East Analysis

U.S. Foreign Policy and the Middle East

At the time of writing this report, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has taken a new twist. Israel has chosen to demolish all norms of the international laws in bombing civilian targets in Lebanon and the U.S. government in its hurry to dismantle the terrorist organizations of the Middle East has chosen to support all Israeli actions. Europe once again fears that support for such gross violation of human rights and international laws will only strengthen terrorism and will be detrimental to the Western interests in the region.

Even our staunchest ally in Europe, United Kingdom, is finding it hard to defend the U.S. support for Israeli actions. Most of our European allies appear to be unhappy with the ‘disproportionate’ use of force and fear that it would further destabilize the region. Lebanon’s government at present is the most pro-American government of the country for the last 40 years and it would be difficult for Prime Minister, Mr. Sinorai’s pro-U.S. government to survive once the present hostilities are over. United States has the fortune of having pro-U.S. governments in most of the Middle East; support of the people of the Arab world is another matter.

Strategic interests of the United States in the Middle East have molded the U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. The entire region has remained in turmoil due to the super power rivalry of the past and concerns for securing oil supplies from the Middle East.

This report reviews the development of U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and its impact on the region and overall U.S. foreign policy.

Beginning of Western Domination of the Middle East

The present dilemma of the Middle East and American interests in the region are a part of the Western domination of the region since the beginning of the 19th century. The present situation in the Middle East is an extension of the colonization of the region by the European powers. United States being an ally of Europe has inherited the influence and the power in the region from the colonizing powers of the 19th and 20th century. The U.S. foreign policy of the region cannot be understood without an understanding of the geopolitical formation of the present day Middle East.

The Ottoman Empire became weak by the beginning of the 19th century and the European powers already having a stranglehold financial interest in the region began to dominate the Middle East. The French annexed Algeria and Tunisia and exercised control over Lebanon and Syria. The British occupied Egypt and Persian Gulf. The Italian seized Libya and Dodecanese Islands in 1912. The Ottoman rulers remained weak and made the fatal mistake of siding with Germany and Austrian-Hungary Empire in World War-1.

As a part of defeating Ottoman rulers, the British used the differences in the Ottoman Empire by exploiting Arab nationalism and used ruler of Mecca, Sherif Hussein ibn Ali to create a revolt against the Ottomans in Arab areas, promising independence of Arab lands.

After the end of the World War-1, Britain and France divided the Middle East between them under a secret treaty. Britain promised the international Zionist movement full support for creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine.

The Middle East was split into various countries under the ‘League of Nations Mandate’. Syria became a French protectorate, the Christian coastal areas were separated to become Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine became British mandated territories. The British installed Faisal, one of the sons of Sherif Hussein’s as King of Iraq. Palestine was divided into two parts; eastern half became Transjordan as Kingdom for Abdullah, another son of Sherif Hussein. Eastern half was kept under direct British control and the Jewish population was allowed to increase under British protection. Another British ally Ibn Saud was allowed to gain control of the Arabian Peninsula to create the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia [Wikipedia, 2006].

During the Second World War, Hitler’s atrocities against the Jews, created urgency for the Jewish land promised by the British in Balfour Declaration. Attempts to carve out a Zionist state in lands settled by Arabs for more than a thousand years created fierce Arab resistance. The struggle resulted in 1947 United Nations Plan to partition Palestine into a Jewish State and a Palestinian state. The Palestinians rejected this plan but the settlers declared the State of Israel in 1948. The Arab states intervening in the war were defeated. About 800,000 Palestinians were evicted or fled from the areas declared as Israeli territory and the refugee problem it created haunts the region and the world politics to this day.

Middle East and the Civil War

The end of the World War 2 and decline of the strength of the colonizing powers in the region brought the responsibility of safeguarding western interest on the United States. The virtual control of the Gulf by the U.S. is in effect transfer of control from Britain to the United States. Since the end of the Second World War, U.S. policy in the Middle East were greatly influenced by the Cold War conflict with the Soviet Union

United States chose to maintain status quo in the Arab countries and that has meant supporting the kings installed by Britain and stifling any attempt to modify the system to the democratic norms. The superpower politics and the Cold War meant that the United States rigorously pursued the policy of maintaining the status quo. Arab nationalists were viewed as challenging that order and a part of Soviet interference in the region. The strategic doctrines of the period concentrated on containing the Soviet influence in the Middle East [Yaqub, 2004]. The Eisenhower doctrine presented to the congress in 1957 specifically warned of the danger ‘that stem from international communism’ and promised to support any country of the Middle East threatened by international communism. United States saw the Soviet Union involvement in Egypt and other countries as a part of power politics. Eisenhower said,” The reason for Russia’s interest in the Middle East is solely that of power politics. Considering her announced purpose of ‘Communizing’ the world, it is easy to understand her hope of dominating the Middle East.” The solution as Eisenhower saw was to “strengthen those countries, or groups of countries, which have governments manifestly dedicated to the preservation of independence and resistance to subversion [The Eisenhower Doctrine, 1957]”

The threat of communism and a desire to protect U.S. interest gave rise to the easy solution of continuing with the kingdoms and pro-U.S. Shahs, Kings and Emirs in the region. The non-representative government suppressed dissent of any kind with the excuse of resisting subversion by the regimes without any political support in their country. Throughout the Arab world (and Iran) U.S. policy created considerable resentment among the people.

Until the end of the Cold War, threat of Soviet influence in the region affected all subsequent ‘doctrines’. Kennedy’s threat of flexible response to Soviet intentions, Nixon-Kissinger doctrine of “strategic consensus” [Nixon, 1969]: shifting balance in the management of regional affairs to local surrogates, esp. Israel & Iran attempted to control local dissent presented as communist influence in the region. Nixon warned that, “The U.S. would view any effort by the Soviet Union to seek predominance in the Middle East as a matter of grave concern.” Henry Kissinger called for the expulsion of Soviet personnel from Egypt in 1972 with which Soviet Union duly complied.

Foreign Policy and the U.S. Economic Interest

The discovery of oil in the Middle East in early 20th century gave the Middle East its importance and the history of turmoil and made it the center of international attention. Middle East has the largest known oil reserves in the world. The countries of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq, Iran and UAE have more oil than United States. This oil is also the most easily recoverable with an extraction cost of less than 20% of that of oil reserves such as Alaska. While Middle East oil accounts for less than 2% of U.S. investments, its share of total U.S. foreign earnings is about 33% [Aruri, 1997].

US Foreign policy in support of dynastic regimes has given the U.S. huge economic benefits. Middle East is the largest market of U.S. arms. In 1980, Middle East accounted for $40 billion of the $500 billion used on military spending. Tiny emirates spent billions on arms purchases from United States. After the first Gulf War, all of the expenses of the war were reimbursed to the United States by the countries of the Middle East notably Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. The United States is the largest beneficiary of hundreds of billions of dollars development work involving industrial construction, infrastructure development and the status symbols being collected by the Arab countries.

The maintenance of status quo pledged in the succeeding doctrines has allowed the United States to maintain the most favorable economic climate for U.S. businesses in which the levels of U.S. economic penetration have been maintained and enhanced.

Most economic pundits believe that with this favorable economic advantage obtainable in from the Arab countries, United States policy should be more inclined towards the Arab countries and not towards their archrival Israel. They however fail to see the strategic linkage in the U.S. foreign policy. Israel is the most trusted ally of United States in the region. It has the same strategic interest as the United States and has a firm foundation of democratic support.

The Arab governments on the other hand are unpopular, non-democratic and are in power due to the western interest in maintaining the status quo. Overthrow of the Shah of Iran, a most trusted ally of United States shows that the governments maintained in power by western support without the popular support could not be relied upon for maintaining U.S. strategic interests in the region.

Saddam Hussein of Iraq is another example of a government following pro-U.S. policy and then working against its strategic interests in the region. Dictator Saddam Hussein was a virtual proxy in the Iran-Iraq war (1980-1988) and protector of the pro-American dynastic regimes. His involvement in activities detrimental to U.S. strategic interests has destabilized the region for the last two decades and has been the cause of two wars.

US Foreign Policy and Israel-Arab Countries

United States has long recognized Israel as its prime ally in the region. United States saw Israel and Iran (in the days of the Shah) as its proxy in the region. New York Times in its June 1966 issue wrote, “The United States has come to the conclusion that it can no longer respond to every incident around the world, that it must rely on local power, the deterrent of a friendly power as a first line to stave off America’s direct involvement. Israel feels that it fits this definition.” A spokesman for the Israeli foreign office expressed that readiness on 11 June 1966. Israel, a trusted ally has always been willing to play that role. When Egypt and Syria formed the United Arab Republic (UAR), United States saw it as an ‘obstacle to peace’. A congressional Committee declared UAR as the principal obstacle to peace in April 1967 just before the Six Day War, which resulted in Israel occupying large areas of Syria, Egypt and Jordan. Nixon doctrine of using strategic consensus to use local surrogates supports Israel role in U.S. foreign policy.

The 1967 Arab-Israel war was a great success for Israel. It also helped U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East by forcing the Arab countries to recognize that they cannot continue with the policy of isolating Israel and refusing to recognize Israel. The war forced Palestinian Liberation Authority (PLO) to finally recognize that in return for control over the territories of West Bank and Gaza they could accept the existence of the State of Israel. President Sadaat of Egypt made peace with Israel in return for most of the territories occupied by Israel. Jordan gave up claim on the West Bank territory occupied by Israel for use as a future Palestinian State and recognized Israel. All of these changes took place with the active support of United States.

Israel-U.S. relationship is the most important and reliable part of the U.S. foreign policy. The Arab countries, even those, which have recognized Israel, remain in the hands of autocratic government and the political arrangement in these countries remains subject to U.S. pleasure and suppression of democracy. It still has little support from the masses and the role of Israel as the policeman of the region and proxy of United States remains an important part of U.S. foreign policy for the region.

US Foreign Policy in the Middle East and Western Europe

During the Cold War, United States foreign policy needed allies and a multilateral approach to the world issues. After World War 2, NATO, World Bank and United Nations were the instruments of choice for implementing U.S. foreign policy. United States started moving away from the multilateral policy after the end of the Cold War.

Saddam Hussein’s unprovoked attack on U.S. ally Kuwait and launching of Scud missiles on Israel required U.S. To take action to remove this ally turned belligerent ruler from power. When 11 years of sanctions failed to remove Saddam from power, United States had to take necessary action to remove him from power. Like other Arab rulers supporting U.S. policies in the region, Saddam Hussein had been in power for close to 20 years. Ten more years of rule under UN imposed sanctions also failed to dislodge him.

The U.S. allies in Western Europe wanted to give the sanctions more time to work but years of searches for weapons of mass destruction had not resulted in any discoveries. United States in its impatience decided to go it alone. [Prestowitz, 2003] says, “U.S. moved away from multilateral actions in 1991 after the break up of the Soviet Union and the first Gulf war. Since 9/11, America’s unilateral actions have become rampant. Now, we have coalitions of the willing.” [Prestowitz, 2003] blames the fundamentalist Christian influence for preventing in resolving the Middle East problem. “The Christian right is more Israeli that the Israelis.

When United States decided to remove Saddam Hussein from power, Germany and France opposed the move. Britain being a traditional ally joined the coalition of willing as did many other countries not a part of traditional alliance. The Iraq War has proved somewhat embarrassing for U.S. And UK foreign policy as all reasons for attacking Iraq have been proved incorrect. Moreover, the war, which was supposed to end in a short campaign, has developed into a quagmire. All kinds of fundamentalists, terrorists and anti-American Arabs have joined the war to create terror in the country and keep the United States involved in this war.

The Arab population sees U.S. policy in the Middle East as anti-Arab [Nakhoul, 2002], support for dictators and kings to retain status quo is also seen as the reason for prolonging unrepresentative rulers upon these countries. Al Qaeda the terrorist organization founded by Osama Bin Laden recruited its sympathizers from these fanatics. Middle East has seen more than its fair share of terrorists due to the desire to retain status quo, as peaceful and democratic elements in the Arab countries have been suppressed as communist sympathizers and enemies of the government.

The present support of Israel attack for Lebanon may eliminate many Hezbollah fighters but as European countries and many of the Western European nations fear, it may convert the present moderates into radicals and in effect leave a worse situation for the Middle East.

The present support of Bush government for Israeli attack on Lebanon to eliminate Hezbollah terrorist may end leaving more problems for U.S. foreign policy to solve.


Aruri, N., The U.S. And the Arabs: a woeful history – U.S. Middle East policy, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), 1997

Nakhoul, S., Arabs Seethe with Anger at U.S. Mideast Policy, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs. Volume: 21. Issue: 9. Publication Date: December 2002.

Nixon’s State of the World Message, The New York Times, 4 November 1969

Prestowitz, C., Rogue Nation: American Unilateralism and the Failure of Good Intentions, 2003, Cited by Pasquini, E., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Volume 22, Issue 8, October 2003.

The Eisenhower Doctrine, The Department of State Bulletin, XXXV1, No. 917 (January 21, 1957), pp. 83-87.

Wikipedia Encyclopedia, History of the Middle East, 2006, Retrieved from ” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_the_Middle_East”

Yaqub, S., Containing Arab Nationalism: The Eisenhower Doctrine and the Middle East, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004

On the other hand many, if not all, of the nations of the Middle East are aware of the danger that stems from International Communism and welcome closer cooperation with the United States to realize for themselves the United Nations goals of independence, economic well-being and spiritual growth

In his doctrine, Eisenhower sought approval from the Congress for, first of all, authorize the United States to cooperate with and assist any nation or group of nations in the general area of the Middle East in the development of economic strength dedicated to the maintenance of national independence.

In the second place, authorize the Executive to undertake in the same region programs of military assistance and cooperation with any nation or group of nations, which desires such aid. In the third place, authorize such assistance and cooperation to include the employment of the armed forces of the United States to secure and protect the territorial integrity and political independence of such nations, requesting such aid, against overt armed aggression from any nation controlled by International Communism.

Kennedy devised a new strategy of “flexible response” to deal with the U.S.S.R. Crafted with the aid of foreign policy veteran Defense Secretary Robert S. McNamara, the flexible response doctrine was meant to allow the president to combat Soviet advances around the world through a variety of means. In other words, Kennedy could send money or troops to fight Communist insurgents, authorize the CIA to topple an unfriendly government, or, as a last resort, use nuclear weapons.

The post-World War 2 period has witnessed increases in arms sales to the region at astronomical levels: The region spent $2.36 billion during the entire fifteen-year period between 1955-1969. The arms sales rose to $3.2 billion per year between 1970 and 1975, and to $8.9 billion per year between 1975 and 1979. The Middle East accounted for $40 billion of the world military spending of $500 billion in 1980, with Saudi Arabia leading at the level of $20.7 billion. In 1992, Saudi Arabia spent $17.88 billion, while tiny Bahrain spent $1.48 billion and Kuwait expended $2.49 billion. Most of these purchases were made in the United States.



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