Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

To Play the Hegemon: Fifty Years of US Policy toward the Middle East

Academic journal article The Middle East Journal

To Play the Hegemon: Fifty Years of US Policy toward the Middle East

Article excerpt

Today the United States stands as the dominant power over the Middle East. This paper first reviews how Washington successfully pursued its three main objectivesIsrael, oil and anti-communism-in the post-World War II period. It then analyzes the present US Middle East policy-making process, and suggests that it needs to be broadened to include alternative perspectives on major regional issues. The last part looks forward at "The New Middle East" envisioned by the Clinton administration, and warns that hegemony, if pursued arrogantly, can endanger basic US national interests.

Even critics, such as the author, of US Middle East policy must agree that the United States today stands astride this unhappy region like a colossus. A half-century of regional involvement in every conceivable way-through diplomacy, aid, culture, education, espionage, subversion, and (not least) the projection of military power-has secured the `holy trinity' of American interests: Israel, oil, and anti-communism. Those who said it could not be done underestimated the US ability to achieve contradictory goals. Today the American president can summon the leaders of most Middle Eastern governments to endorse his regional (and domestic) political agenda. American financial officials can write the domestic economic policy for most governments in the region. The US military enjoys unprecedented access and acceptance from North Africa to the Gulf. New information technologies expose Middle Eastern cultures and societies to Americandominated global values, fashions, and definitions of political 'realities.' In this essay, my first task is to describe the triumph of American policy over the past fifty years. Secondly, I will discuss the policy-making process. Finally, I will look at the present and future situation, and make some suggestions for improving US Middle East policy.

US POLICY SINCE WORLD WAR II

World War II marked what the late ambassador to Cairo, Raymond Hare, called `the great divide' in US relations with the Middle East: "between our traditional national position of rejecting political responsibility in the Middle East, and our postwar acceptance of responsibility on a global or great power basis. . . "1 Hardened as we now are to American realpolitik, we imagine the earlier period as an age of innocence, characterized by a virtuous avoidance of political entanglement in local quarrels and European rivalries in the region. We enjoy reading James Field's amiable account of American missionary activities.2 We are proud of the American University of Beirut and other educational enterprises which won lasting respect from Middle Easterners. We are flattered to learn from Harry Howard's study of the King-Crane Commission that the United States was better liked than the European countries.3 Even the periodic malicious depictions of "State Department Arabists" cannot hide the contributions to smoother US-Middle East relations made by US diplomats in the past.4 The far side of Hare's "great divide" was marked by classical American idealism. The near side is more complex: idealism is still there, though selectively invoked and ideologized. Increasingly, however, America presents an imperious image.

Containing Soviet Communism

In October 1947, as Hare tells it, American and British officials met at the Pentagon to sketch out a geopolitical blueprint for the Middle East in light of the new threats of Soviet expansionism and communist ideology. Gone was the "reverse Monroe doctrine" of the interwar period.5 Already President Harry Truman had extended aid to Greece and Turkey to help those governments stave off communist or Soviet challenges. While still conceding Britain `primary responsibility' for the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Secretary of State George C. Marshall already was contemplating an eventual leadership role for the United States in the region. Stalin's projection of Soviet power into eastern and central Europe was being echoed in Greece, Turkey, and Iran. …

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