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Our involvement pre- September 11 was one for arms, oil, nuclear
power, and peace.
The Middle East is a term that means different things to different
analysts. The most commonly used definition is a dictionary one:
loosely, the area from Libya east to Afghanistan, usually including
Egypt, Sudan, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iraq, Iran,
Saudi Arabia, and the other countries of the Arabian Penninsula. The
major bodies of water around which these countries are clustered are
the Mediterrean Sea, the Red Sea, The Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the
Persian Gulf, the Gulf of Oman, the Gulf of Aden, and the Arabian Sea.
One of the most important man-made bodies of water in the Middle East
is the Suez Canal which connects the Mediterrean and Red Seas.
The Middle East is a region of diverse languages, religions, forms of
government, and natural resources. Arabic, Pesian, Russian, English,
French, Italian, are spoken widely. Although Islam is the most common
religion, the area is also home to numerous Christian and Jewish
people. Forms of government range from secular republics to Islamic
republics to traditional and constitutional monarchies to military
dictatorships. Some Middle Eastern states sit atop oil reserves which
have brought uncounted wealth to the areas elites, if not in all
cases to its ordinary inhabitants.
A Shared Hisitorical Element
If the Middle East is a diverse region in many respects, almost all of
the nations of the region share one common historical ingredient. All
of the nations named above were at one time or another colonies of
European powers or possessions of the Ottoman Empire. Only recently
have those nations become de jure states.
America and the Middle East Before World War II
Until the Second World War, the Middle East held little interest for
the American public or for Americas leaders. Most perceived the
Middle East as an area inhabited by dashing Sheiks ala movie actor
Rudolph Valentino or Bedouin camel riders. Hollywood shaped Americas
view of the region, and many of those old stereotypes remain alive
America and the Middle East During World War II
During World War II, American soldiers were stationed in Egypt and
Iran, and for a perhaps the first time, Americans gained a glimpse of
the area from the letters of their loved ones and from news film of
allied troops engaged in desert warfare against Rommel and his German
tank corps. Although many pre-war stereotypes remained in the minds
of Americans, most became aware for the first time of the strategic
importance of the Middle East.
America and the Middle East During the Cold War
With the end of the war and the resulting American military and
economic dominance throughout the world, the United States replaced
Britain and France as the most important actors in the region. Still,
although American oil companies sought and received oil concessions in
the Middle East, official United States foreign policy regarding the
area assumed a backseat to the concern of policy makers about the
spread of communism. The various presidential administrations,
beginning with Truman and ending with George Bush seniors term when
the Soviet Union collapsed, reflected an overriding foreign policy
approach designed to contain communism, with the Middle East assuming
a role only when it advanced Americas Cold War goal.
Harry S. Truman (1945-1953: Trumans initial foreign policy thrust,
which only slightly touched the Middle East, was the Truman Doctrine
of 1947. I believe that it must be the policy of the U.S. to support
free peoples who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed
minorities or by outside pressures. Virtually all of the $400
million in military and economic aid authorized by congress went to
Turkey and Greece.
The Truman administration is also noted for its recognition of the
new state of Israel in 1948, although a crisis in the U.S. government
over the issue is less widely known. The State Department opposed
recognition of Israel because it would alienate Arab nations. Truman,
however, overruled the State Department.
Not until the outbreak of the Korean War, which lasted from June 1950
until July 1953, did the Truman administration recognize the Middle
East as a potential battleground, although the administration zeroed
in on the region as an ideological battleground rather than an
economic one tied to oil and thus directly affecting the vital
national interests of the U.S. Trumans policy shift brought Turkey
and Greece into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) in 1952
followed by aid to Iran and Egypt.
Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-1961: The major element of foreign policy
during Eisenhowers tenure was the Eisenhower Doctrine of 1957.
Spurred by apprehension about a growing Soviet presence in Egypt,
Eisenhower proclaimed that the U.S. was prepared to come to the aid of
any government in the Middle East threatened by a communist takeover.
Subsequently, Eisenhower dispatched troops to Lebanon in 1958 and
signed defense agreements with Turkey, Iran, and Pakistan. The
containment of communism was the hallmark of Eisenhowers tenure, as
it had been of the Truman administration before it.
John F. Kennedy (1961-1963: Kennedy was the first American president
born in the Twentieth Century and arguably the first president of the
World War Two generation. His policy on the Middle East called for
American friendship toward Israel and the Arab world. Nevertheless,
Kennedy was motivated by an active anti-communist policy throughout
the Third World. To counter the Soviet sale of arms to Egypt and
Iran, Kennedy in 1962 for the first time sold American arms to Israel.
Kennedys assassination on November 22, 1963 ended his brief strategy
of friendship with the two warring sides in the Middle East.
Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-1969): During the Johnson administration,
America lined up squarely with Israel while some Arab countries lined
up with the Soviet Union. The U.S. became Israels main supplier of
arms, as Israel became, in U.S. eyes, the guardian of U.S. interests
in the region. Nevertheless, the Johnson administration, through UN
Security Council Resolution 242, called on Israel to withdraw from
lands occupied as a result of the June 1967 war with Egypt, while at
the same time urging Arab countries to permit Israel to live in
Official United States Policy Toward the Middle East
Additional Websites that may interest you:
US Nuclear Policy Toward Iran By Mark D. Skootsky. June 1, 1995.
Crisis in Iraq By President Clinton. December 1998.
US Oil Policy in the Middle East By Mamoun Fandy. January 1997.
Search Terms Used:
"Official United States Policy" middle east
US Policy Iraq
US Policy Iran
"CIA" "Persian Gulf" oil "US policy"
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