The New US Middle East Policy and Energy Security Challenges

By Noël, Pierre | International Journal, Winter 2006 | Go to article overview

The New US Middle East Policy and Energy Security Challenges


Noël, Pierre, International Journal


The direct link between the United States' energy security policy and its military policy in the Persian Gulf can be traced back to the formulation of the Carter doctrine in the late 19705 and the subsequent creation of the rapid deployment force (RDF)-ancestor to the US central command (CENTCOM)-in the early igSos.' The threat has evolved with the strategic context-from a Soviet incursion into the Gulf after the invasion of Afghanistan, to an Iranian attack against the Gulf monarchies after 1979, to the regional security implications of the Iraq-1 ran war, to the threat posed by Saddam Hussein after the end of the war with Iran-but the objective has remained the same: to "sanctuarize" the petro-monarchies of the Gulf, and especially Saudi Arabia, against any external threat; in other words, to prevent the heart of the world oil system from being caught up into the regional political instability.

FROM POLICEMAN TO POLITICAL ENGINEER

To use a term from political philosophy, US involvement in the Persian Gulf under the Carter doctrine amounted to applying a "negative power": it was meant to prevent people from doing certain things more than it aimed at shaping the region. The US has made it impossible for Iran and Iraq, successively, to threaten the security of the production and export facilities of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, and the United Arab Emirates, as well as the sea-lanes of the Gulf and the Strait of Hormuz. But from the late 1970s until 11 September 2001, the US had never seriously tried to change the regimes of Iran, Iraq, or Syria, to prevent Iraq and Iran from fighting, or to push for political reforms in the monarchies of the Gulf. The type of power that the United States has applied in the Middle East under the Carter doctrine is that of a policeman, not that of a planner.

After the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001, the Bush administration undertook a complete reorientation of US policy in the Middle East. At the core of the new approach is the idea that to win the "war on terrorism" the United States must take advantage of its unprecedented power to "advance freedom"-promote democracy and market economy-throughout the world, and especially across the Arab-Muslim world. The second aspect of the Bush doctrine-as the new policy has come to be called-is the concept of "preemptive war," which actually means preventive war: the nature of the threat confronting the United States-a combination of transnational terrorist networks, "evil regimes," failed states, and the proliferation of unconventional weapons-requires that the US be ready to act preventively. This second pillar of the Bush doctrine contributes to its "revolutionary" character but is of less importance for the purpose of this article than the policy of democracy promotion in the Middle East.

The first comprehensive policy document presenting the Bush doctrine was the national security strategy of the United States of America (NSS) released by the White House in September 2002. It was also conveyed to the American people and to the world in a series of speeches by President Bush in 2002 and 2003.2 The latest NSS document, published in March 2006, tones down the doctrine of "preemption"-though it formally maintains it-but strongly reaffirms the strategic commitment to the "advancement of liberty." In his introductory letter, Bush reaffirms that "fighting and winning the war on terror and promoting freedom as the alternative to tyranny and despair" are the two "inseparable priorities" of US foreign policy, and that "the advance of liberty will make America more secure." The first sentence of the NSS itself states: "It is the policy of the United States to seek and support democratic movements and institutions in every nation and culture, with the ultimate goal of ending tyranny in our world."1 The Bush doctrine has evoked an intense debate among foreign policy experts but, more than three years after the launch of the war in Iraq, the promotion of political freedom is still the guiding principle of the Bush administration's Middle East policy. …

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