The Middle East is the area from the Eastern Mediterranean to Iran. The Middle East can also be referred to as the geographic and cultural region in the Southwestern Asia and Northeastern Africa. The term was first coined in 1902 by United States Naval officer Alfred Thayer Mahan, originally to refer to the Asian region south of the Black Sea, between the Mediterranean Sea to the West and India to the east. In modern times however, the term is used to refer collectively to the Asian countries of Bahrain, Cyprus, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Yemen and the African country of Egypt. A broader cultural description may include the Muslim countries of Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.
The Middle East is characterized as being mostly arid, with hot, dry summers and cold winters. It is estimated that the area contains about 65% of the world’s oil resources or reserves.
The history of the Middle East dates back to ancient times. The first civilizations which grew in the valleys of the Nile, Tigris, and Euphrates rivers are among the world’s oldest. Alphabets, law codes, and cities all began in the Middle East. Again, the world’s great monotheistic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – all developed or began in this region. And of the three religions, Islam continues to thrive in the region most profoundly, as more than 90% of the Middle East population is Muslim.
Since ancient times, the region has generally been a major centre of world affairs. And in modern times, the Middle East remains a strategically, economically, culturally and religiously sensitive region. For centuries, the Middle East has fascinated scholars and other observers, and has been the focal point of Great Power attention. The region’s strategic significance and the variety and importance of its political, social, and cultural heritage have generated these interests.
One particular country that has vested interests in the Middle East is the United States. United States pursues its interest in the Middle East assertively and dynamically. These interests include: energy interest; support for its allies in the region; nonproliferation interest; war on terrorism; democratization; settlement of disputes in the region; among other interests. In this essay we shall assess the interest of the United States in the Middle East.
Assessing United States Interest in the Middle East
The United States, a world superpower, has been the dominant Western power in the region particularly after the Gulf War of 1990-91. The United States had replaced the British as the dominant power in the Middle East since the 1960s, but it was not until after the Gulf War did it assert military presence and dominance over the region. The reason for this can be found in the decline of the Soviet Union in the 1990s, and United States desire to police the region themselves, as opposed to supporting a particular country in the Middle East to do so. Ever since, the United States has pursued its interests in the Middle East with dynamic and assertive vigour.
The United States has plenty of interest in Middle East region, ranging from energy interest to protection of its citizens in the region. Subsequently, we shall assess these interests.
Energy Interest: Ever since the events of the 1970s in the Middle East, which caused instability to global oil prices, and threatened the flow of oil to the world, the United States has pursued a policy or interest of ensuring the free flow of oil, from the region, to other parts of the world. Though the United States is reducing its oil imports, the rest of the world still depends on the Middle East oil, especially the industrialized nations of the world. A severe disruption could destabilize the global economy. The pursuit of this interest has often led the United States to interfere, frequently, in Middle East oil producing nation’s affairs. And in some cases, it has caused the United States to try to bring about disharmony among OPEC member-states, in a bid to have influence over them and the price of oil. While oil remains important to the global economy as a whole, increased natural gas production, and progresses on alternative fuel and energy conservation have made the United States’ economy less dependent on oil supplies.
Providing Support for Its Middle East Allies: Another US interest in the Middle East is providing support for its allies in the region. For decades, the US has been a major supporter and closest ally of the State of Israel. The US has provided Israel with aid; in 1992 the US approved aid totaling $10 billion to Israel (CRS 2013). The US always demonstrates that it will stand with its allies when they are under threat. Ensuring Israel’s security from both local and regional threats is in America’s best interest. America helps or supports Israel when it is actively working to resolve conflicts and advance peace, which ultimately ensures Israel’s existence and security in the Middle East. Another of America’s interest in the region is Saudi Arabia, who ships much oil to the US and to other developed countries. US partners with Saudi Arabia in matters of security, political and economic concerns to both countries. In sum, the US pursues the interest of confronting external aggression against allies and partners in the region. Other US allies in the Middle East include Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey.
Global War on Terror: The foremost area the US based its fight against terrorism has been the Middle East. Particularly after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks on the United States, when the doctrine or policy of a war on terror came about, the US has made clear it will “dismantle terrorist networks that threaten” Americans (Garamone 2013). Following this incident, the US invaded both Afghanistan and Iraq, and took other measures against terrorism. With the rise of terrorists groups such as Al Qaeda, ISIS, Hamas, and Hezbollah, there has been a proliferation of such groups in other parts of the world, following their mode of operation and receiving funding and training from them. For instance, Al Shabab, Boko Haram, and Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), are some terror groups that have sprung up in different parts of the world. In 2013, US president Barack Obama declared “wherever possible, we will build the capacity of our partners, respect the sovereignty of nations, and work to address the root causes of terror. But when it is necessary to defend the US against terrorist attack we will take direction action.” Efforts to defeat Al Qaeda and other terror groups in the Middle East pushed the US into close ties with sclerotic regimes, such as Yemen and Egypt.
Nonproliferation Interest: the US pursues an interest of trying to deter the development or use of Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD). It also sought to deter the development or use or possession of unconventional weapons, such as chemical weapons or biological weapons. The US rejects the development of nuclear weapons that could trigger a nuclear arms race in the region, and undermine the global nonproliferation regime. It was under this guise that the US invaded and toppled the Iraqi government of Saddam Hussein. And it was this fear that led the US to force Syria to give up its chemical weapons arsenal, or risk an invasion. The issue of whether or not Iran is pursuing or reaching nuclear capabilities or programs has been a major argument on the international scene. The US believes this could be a threat to Israel, its ally in the region.
Democratization of the Middle East: For decades, America a placed priority on security cooperation with authoritarian regimes to counter Soviet influence and stabilize oil prices. Democracy and human rights was ignored. However, since the late 1990s, and into the 21st century, the US believes that it is in its best interest to “see a peaceful, prosperous, stable and democratic Middle East.” Nevertheless, the US cannot force this, as the case of Iraq shows; democracy cannot simply be imposed by force. According to Obama, “we can rarely achieve these objectives through military action… Rather, these objectives are best achieved when we partner with the international community and with the countries and people of the region (Garamone 2013).
Peaceful Co-existence in the Middle East: The US pursues the interest of promoting peaceful co-existence in the Middle East. It tries to achieve this by pursuing peaceful resolutions to conflicts in the region. As a result, resolving the Palestine-Israeli and Arab-Israeli conflicts (particularly through a regional, comprehensive approach) is a paramount foreign policy interest of the US in the Middle East. Resolving the Iranian pursuit of nuclear weapons is also an important interest of the US in the region. According to Obama in 2013, real breakthroughs on the Iranian nuclear program and Palestine-Israeli peace would have a profound impact on the entire Middle East and North Africa (Garamone 2013). According to the US, the nations of the world must recognize that peace will be a powerful tool to defeat extremists throughout the region, and embolden those who are prepared to build a better future.
In summary, the US has always had interest in the Middle East since the early 20th century. Since the 1960s, the US has replaced the British as the dominant power in the region. However, in recent times, the US has pursued the interest of maintaining free flow of oil to the world; pursuing Democratization of Middle East regimes; Global war on terrorism; promoting peaceful coexistence in the region; among many others. The vigour with which the US has pursued these interests has led her to interfere in the affairs of Middle Eastern states. In this essay we have been able to assess the interest of the US in the Middle East.
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Garamone, Jim. Obama Describes Core US Interest In The Middle East. 2013. American Forces Press Service, Washington. 24 September, 2013 http://www.defence.gov/news/newsarticle.aspx?id=120847.
Goldschmidt, Arthur Jr., Lawrence Davidson. Concise History of the Middle East: 9th Edition. Philadelphia: Westview Press, 2010.
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