May 19, 2024
Must America Be in the Middle East?
In sum, all that seems left of the last 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy in the Middle East are three remnant interests that prompt us to paraphrase Trotsky — we may not be interested in the Middle East, but it is interested in us.
In sum, all that seems left of the last 70 years of bipartisan foreign policy in the Middle East are three remnant interests that prompt us to paraphrase Trotsky — we may not be interested in the Middle East, but it is interested in us.

Since World War II, the United States has identified a number of national interests in the Greater Middle East, a region often defined quite loosely as the Arab nations (including those of North Africa), Israel, and sometimes Turkey, as well as Iran, the Horn of Africa countries, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.

During the Cold War period, from 1946 to the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the subsequent collapse of the Soviet Union, American bipartisan foreign policy identified a strategic need for the region’s petroleum. Gulf oil was seen as critical in augmenting America’s own seemingly finite supply or ensuring the free world’s access to it. Thus was born the post-war U.S. realist interest in the Middle East — a region that after the 15th-century discovery of the New World lost the strategic global position it had held since classical antiquity.

The United States backed most prominently the House of Saud and neighboring Persian Gulf monarchies and dictatorships on the rationale that they would endlessly pump oil and sell it to the West at a fair price. British Petroleum enjoyed a more or less controlling oil interest in Iran, and U.S. oil companies had a free hand in Saudi Arabia; both nations maneuvered with other regimes to develop oil-exporting industries. The ensuing conspiracy theories, coups, and succession scraps of Arab and Persian strongmen fueled a half century of “Great Satan” chanting and the burning of American flags on the Middle East street.

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