Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Middle East: Some New Realities and Old Problems

Academic journal article International Social Science Review

The Middle East: Some New Realities and Old Problems

Article excerpt


Since the tragedy of September 11, 2001 the United States has launched and prosecuted, on both military and civilian fronts, a war against terror in Afghanistan and in the Middle East. It also has embarked upon an explicit policy of regime change in Arab and Muslim Iraq. Meanwhile, within the larger context of U.S.-Middle East relations, a new endeavor took center stage when Secretary of State Colin Powell presented the U.S.-Middle East Partnership Initiative on December 12, 2002 pledging the United States to act "firmly on the side of change, of reform, and of a modern future for the Middle East." This plan squarely challenged the countries of the Arab and Muslim Middle East, while holding out the promise of financial aid from the U.S., to embrace American-style democracy, peace, and opportunities to engage in the global marketplace. (1) The rattling of sabers, it seems now, is accompanied by the extension of hands filled with dollars in order to propel Middle Eastern states forward into a rosy, modern future.

These essentially contrasting paths to change in specific Muslim and Arab states as well as in the Islamic world in general illustrate the type of historical amnesia, myopic short sightedness, and inability/unwillingness to perceive the root causes of indigenous Arab-Muslim discontent with American decision-making and action in the Middle East. This article examines the complex set of relationships that has emerged between the United States' foreign policy-making toward the Middle East and the study of the region since World War II. It identifies several of the variables that have interacted to produce inconsistency and incoherence in relation to America's declared geo-political, socio-cultural, and economic goals for the Middle East. In so doing, one finds that recent events have created new realities for American involvement in the Muslim Middle East, but old problems remain. These issues and perspectives, which are couched in a new language, continue to exert a pre-dominant influence upon the directions, goals, and actions of U.S. decision-making in the Islamic Middle East.

Establishment of the Fundamentals of American Policy

Following World War II, professional study of the Middle East in the United States grew beyond its traditional academic quarters in archaeology, history, and classical languages and literatures. Global geopolitics inspired the creation of "area studies," interdisciplinary programs of study that concentrated upon specific geographic regions of the world that held significant political and economic importance to America's then new vision of itself as "leader of the free world." World War II had left Great Britain powerless and economically prostrate. Once the power and the power broker in the Middle East, Great Britain ceded her mantle of world leadership to the United States. Britain's ambassador to Washington formally notified the U.S. Department of State on February 21, 1947 that his nation could no longer provide financial aid to the governments of Greece and Turkey, two geographically strategic states who long had depended upon British diplomatic and financial assistance. The projected British transfer of power and responsibility in these critical areas of the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East to the United States provided the immediate context for launching the U.S. onto the stage of world leadership and into the Cold War era policy of the containment of the Soviet Union.

Appearing before a joint session of Congress on March 12, 1947, President Harry S. Truman characterized Britain's pending withdrawal from Greece and Turkey as a "grave situation" affecting American national security that required an immediate response. He then outlined the basic principles around which American foreign policy in the developing areas of the world would revolve until the collapse of the Soviet Union in late 1991. An essential objective of American foreign policy entailed "the creation of conditions in which we and other nations will be able to work out a way of life free from coercion. …

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