U.S Foreign Policy for Middle East: A Critical Review Essay
Several analysts believe that the U.S is losing grip in its relationship with the Middle East or else lacking a coherent policy on its dealing with Middle East issues. In order to argue the assertions, it is necessary to outline U.S historical policy in the region. Also, it would be rational to elucidate the cause of U.S foreign policies in the Middle East. U.S imperialism in Middle East has been felt on every nation in the region. Involvements have included calculated interests comprising of antagonism with Soviet Union. Besides, economic interests have drawn U.S to influence oil trade from the region. Also, immigrants from the region have created cultural ties that oblige U.S to get involved in Middle East matters.
In the eve of Cold War, U.S endeavored to contain a socio-political campaign of Soviet Union in the region and ensure survival of Israel. In addition, for economic reasons, it was to ensure uninterrupted global supply of energy from oil and gas supplies of the area. U.S policy of balancing of power in the Middle East was employed. It embarked on forming allies including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Persian Gulf and Jordan. However, the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran created enmity between Iran and US and confrontations with Saudi Arabia. Israel, a major U.S ally, has been involved in border conflicts with Palestine.
It might have been expected that the end of Cold War would lead to a decline in US interests in the Middle East. Nonetheless, the assault of Kuwait by Iraq was seen by US as a threat to other oil-rich countries especially Saudi Arabia. A new American policy of dual containment obliged the U.S to help in driving out Iraq forces out Kuwait. Lack of support for the Kurdish and Shiite communities who helped fight against Saddam infuriated the groups. The occupation of American troops in Saudi Arabia irritated Muslim fundamentalists. The anti-American dogma began to spread in Middle East Islamic countries. Additionally, sectarian differences arose among the Muslims Sunni and Shiite communities. Most significant was the rise of Al-Qaeda jihadists led by Osama who began terrorism activities against America and its allies. The 9/11 terrorism attack catapulted the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan under Bush Junior administration. However, after the war in Iraq, another anti-U. S terror group, Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group also referred to as Islamic State in Iraq and Syria arose. Selective reactions to Arab Uprising have created hesitant U.S allies in the Middle East.
Terrorism has become a universal threat. ISIS has political ideologies of expanding their territories beyond the already subjugated Syria and Iraq regions to form a caliphate that would use Islamic rule over the world. U.S as the superpower has an obligation to campaign and facilitate for stability in the Middle East. Thus, U.S cannot ignore its role and relationship with Middle East for global political, social and economic stability. Such a relationship is especially significant given the threats posed by terrorism towards global stability. Therefore, the relationship between the US and Middle East tends to impact the whole world as it determines the success or failure in the fight against terrorism. In the section below, the paper attempts to evaluate three main peer-reviewed articles that focus on the US foreign policy of the Middle East and the seemingly withdrawal from Middle East issues. I argue that, in the past issues, confronting stability in the Middle East were well defined and straightforward. However, over the years, burgeoning and complication of issues have risen in the region. On the other hand, I argue that American policy in the Middle East has complicated relations with its allies enabling their rivals to dominate their political intrigues. Political maneuvers by some rival states such as Iran include sectarian divides, Islamic unity, sovereignty, Arab nationalism and imperialism. Consequently, two blocs of status quo versus revolutionary have been created.
Iran has had ambitions of dominating the politics of Islamic states through political control. After removing Saddam and the ruling Baath regime of Sunni Muslims, Iran is taking advantage to influence a possible Shiite dominance in the region. Ron Tira in the article, The United States in the Middle East: An Exercise in Self-Defeat, describes how U.S actions in Middle East have created a room for Iran to penetrate its ideologies and influence in the Middle East. To begin with, Ron says that both Obama and predecessor Bush employed idealistic policies in the Middle East. He explains that Bush made an unpopular decision to engage in military action that weakened Iraq, an Iran adversary. Additionally, Obama efforts of reconciliation further escalated the loss of grip to American Arab allies. The author claims that nature of Middle East issues are profoundly influenced by local dynamics and U.S has had little influence over the region (Tira 42). Accordingly, U.S has been forced to play the strategic game of Middle East nations. The U.S policy in the region has had an accidental result of assisting Iran’s political agenda by weakening the nations that contained Iran in the region.
The article gives the impression that the ability to contain Iran should have been the policy of the U.S. The author uses Iran factor to describe the purported failure of U.S policy in the Middle East. In fact, after reading the article, one finds the article as an explanation of failure in dual containment by America. Interestingly and contrary to traditional analysis, the author refers to the policy of U.S in the Middle East as an act of balancing power (Tira 42). Balance of power refers to reducing the dominance of a rival nation in a region. In this regard, Tira refers to Iran as the powerful rival. However, U.S invaded Iraq who was in the same category of rivals with Iran but a competitor to Iraq. The author is able to illustrate that the effect of Iraq war, was an assistance of Iran in spreading its political ideologies using carrots and sticks (Tira 45). The author succeeds in illustrating the counter-balancing effect throughout the subtitle “Optimizing the Theater for Iran”. Iraq and Afghanistan have become suitable regions for Iran to maneuver and even become a threat to Israel. However, having mentioned the use of carrots and sticks by Iraq, the author does not offer comprehensive information. The outlining of carrots and sticks could have been followed by a precise account of how Iran is using the methods.
Additionally, another theme observed is how U.S has weakened its support by Arab Allies. The author explains that U.S did not support Mubarak during the uprising against his government. It is a fact that despite flaws in the government of Mubarak, U.S and Israel had used Egypt to mediate talks between conflicting nations in the region (Tira 47). One of the consequences of losing an ally in Egypt includes mistrust among Arab monarchies. The author ignores the possibility of Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood taking over in the future and converting Egypt into an Islamic state. Tira asserts that there could be no revolution in Egypt and only a replacement of Mubarak with Army general who would maintain the traditional role of Egypt (Tira 50). The leaving behind of Mubarak has not only angered Arabs but also Israel due to fear of control of Muslim Brotherhood. Israel feels that U.S could should not have supported or allowed a coup led by an Islamic party. Again, the author connects an advantage to Iran, if Arab allies distant themselves from American policy. In the end, U.S military intervention in Libya to oust Qaddafi is described as inconsistent and confusing. U.S was tight-lipped in uprising in Tunisia against Ben Ali and in Iran against Ahmadinejad. In conclusion, the author advices unipolar American hegemony and Obama’s soft approach as ineffective in containing Iran. It is a good article that describes consequences of past U.S policies that have led to a stronger Iran. It illustrates a U.S that has lost grip and in a quagmire of how to deal with the consequences of the past policies in the region.
America to Stay
There has been a perception that U.S is exiting the Middle East and focusing on the East Asia. In the article, The End of the American Era in the Middle East, Yoel Guzansky explains the actions that have led to such a perception and then expounds how Middle East still remains significant to U.S. The author makes a strong argument about the waning influence of the US in the Middle East affairs. The reasons provided by the author indicating a weakness of US foreign policy on Middle East include the minimal efforts applied in the Israeli-Palestinian peace process, the exit from Afghanistan without a reliable plan, lack of control in the Iran nuclear situation, decline in U.S control in Iraq, lack of power over Syrian civil war, an apprehensive relation with Arab allies and uncertainty over relations with Egypt.
The author provides a convincing discussion about U.S not abandoning the Middle East. The article first tends to convince the reader that there are valid reasons for U.S to exit the region in favor of China. Actually, he says that claims of a possible shift of U.S to far East are “well grounded” in the U.S strategy (Guzansky 25). He illustrates the claims that U.S is heading East. Firstly, he uses the announcements made by Obama’s administration that the pacific region and Asia constitute challenges of the twenty-first century. Another declaration by Defense Secretary Panetta that balancing of Chinese power in the region would occur through increased occupation of U.S naval in the Pacific. Thirdly, the author refers to Hillary Clinton’s description of the next decade as requiring an investment in Asia including diplomatic, economic and other strategic efforts. The author identifies a signaling of importance of the Pacific basin to U.S by Obama’s first visit in the second term to the region (Guzansky 26). U.S has been reaching out to China recognizing the influence its gathering over the region and on global economy. Since it recognizes that China through trade with other countries is gaining ground, it can only try to create a temporary ally for a multilateral support.
When the author says that U.S is cautious not to be drawn into military clash with China, it brings in an issue of balancing of power and not economic ties (Guzansky 26). China has been growing economically and conflicts with Japan over ownership of territories are historical. U.S cannot be relied on for moral authority in dealing with matters of controlling Chinese high-handiness in the border conflicts. U.S has used force before to curb conflicts and even to protect its sovereignty. Guzansky argues that abundance of domestic oil could have led to a lesser concern with Middle East (Guzansky 27). It seems contradictory for the author to use the same issue of oil to support that U.S has to stay in Middle East. The author also makes assertions similar to Ron Tira that that the effects of Arab Spring and selective engagement in Egypt and Libya and ignoring Iran demonstrations have led a nervous relation with Arab allies.
Although the bulk of the article covers intricacies about the challenges and reasons for focusing on pacific basin, the author offers compelling reasons against the initial assertions. However, they are an indication of a burdensome Middle East or else a region that U.S has left to stabilize itself. Guzansky outlines reasons that indicate U.S cannot abandon the region. Middle East still provides about half of the oil and gas supply (31). Thus, for stability of global economies, U.S cannot lose control of the region. China being second on GDP from U.S relies also Obama led a multilateral action against nuclear proliferation and global disarmament. In order to avoid acquisition of nuclear weapon by Iran and to protect Pakistan nuclear arsenal, Middle East remains of interest to U.S. There is still hope that resolving Israel-Palestine conflicts can help in stabilizing the region. Israel and U.S are tied through shared military investment and technology as well as curbing terrorism (Guzansky 33). Also, there is danger of Al-Qaeda thriving in the war torn Arab countries posing a threat to U.S. America has mega deals of supplying weapons to the Gulf States in order to contain Iran (33). In the end, the author claims that the challenges U.S has encountered of executing policies in the Middle East have not led to a retreat but additional focus to investment China. Although the activities in the Middle East show that U.S has interests in the Middle East, it’s clear from the article that U.S influence has declined if it is not a withdrawal from the region.
Fawaz Gerges analysis of Obama’s foreign policy also alleges a weakness in the Middle East strategy. Entitled as The ‘Obama Doctrine’ in the Middle East, Gerges illustrates how an unclear ideology of engagement with Middle East has complicated U.S foreign policy in the region. The author says that Bush thought he was realistic in leading a war in Iraq based on claims of liberating people from oppressive government. However, it was realpolitik and founded on idealism. Gerges starts with mention of an ambiguous ideology in dealing with Middle East (Gerges n. p). Unlike in the past when conflicts were simply seen as ideological differences between West and East, terrorism and an anti-American Muslim has complicated matters. Specifically, he mentions that the US in general and Obama administration in particular has not been successful in establishing a strong working relationship with the Middle East. The reasons provided by the author include the lack of human right considerations, low risks approach in the Israeli peace process, and the lack of a decisive role in addressing the Arab uprising.
Gerges uses the same arguments as Tira and Guzansky by showing that Obama doesn’t have a clear policy for Middle East. He says that Obama’s appeasement of the Muslims and lack of clear foreign policy has had a little effect in reversing the excesses of Bush in the Middle East. The argument that Obama’s actions of reaching out to Muslims are not a foreign policy does not hold (Gerges n. p). Having recognized the dent that military action caused makes reconciliation a realistic policy. The results of reconciliation may not be immediate and, therefore, arguing that the efforts have been futile may be wrong. Trust from Muslims cannot be regained as quickly as the writer asserts. On the other hand, Obama said that involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq had distracted interest in the more important Pacific Ocean (Gerges n. p). America under Obama administration has been trying to beg allies in the region to be more helpful in containing stability in their region as it seeks leverage in the Pacific region. Besides, it is true that America has been inconsistent in promotion of values of democracy. This could have led the writer to conclude that the world does not trust U.S as a promoter of democracy. In the end, Gerges says that Obama has behaved like a moderate republican. It would be against U.S interests for Obama to ignore the national strategies and withdraw troops without considering consequences of security in the region. Having inherited an Iraq and Afghanistan that were not stable, Obama was trying to change tactics and try soft methods. Unfortunately, the allies in the Middle East including Israel have found the tactics to be blunt.
The above three articles underpin the perception that U.S policy in the Middle East has failed. America got itself at the center of the Middle East cold war, and it would be irresponsible to withdraw from the region issues. Besides, the importance of the region to America and the world continue to pressure America to act. Although as Guzansky writes America is strengthening military force in Saudi Arabia, it needs the support of U.S to confront security challenges. It is an indication that American values and interests are yet to be inculcated in the allies. The situation has been worsened by the Arab uprising that has caused U.S to support depose of autocratic leadership. Regrettably, such uprisings have created vacuum in leadership of the countries. The ungovernable countries escalate the threat of terrorism because terrorists are finding safe havens in those countries. U.S seems to be disoriented both by the consequences of the past policies as well as the politics in the regions. Thus, with such a complexities and obligations, it would be prudent to reach out to other power centers. A multilateral approach would ease the burden of U.S in the Middle East. The balances of power in the region need to be hastened and carefully carried out to reduce U.S attachment. Saudi Arabia is an essential ally that U.S cannot manage to let go. Mistrust with the monarch leadership should be reduced as America pressures for systematic reforms.
Gerges, Fawaz A. “The Obama Doctrine in the Middle East.” Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, October 16, 2012. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.ispu.org/pdfs/ISPU_Brief_Duke_1017_(1).pdf>
Guzansky, Yoel. “The End of the American Era in the Middle East?” Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Strategic Assessment 15. 4, 2013. 25-36. Web. 12 Apr. 2016. <http://www.inss.org.il/uploadImages/systemFiles/adkan15_4ENGd_Guzansky.pdf>
Tira, Ron. “The United States in the Middle East: An Exercise in Self-Defeat.” Institute for National Security Studies (INSS), Strategic Assessment 14.1, 2011. 41-54. <http://kms1.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ISN/135700/ichaptersection_singledocument/1bf751a5-7139-48df-a6e1-d0d8f6dd8655/en/ch_3.pdf>