The Middle East and the United States: A Historical and Political Reassessment

By David W. Lesch | Go to book overview

17
The United States in
the Persian Gulf:
From Twin Pillars to
Dual Containment

Gary Sick

The United States arrived reluctantly as an active player in the Persian Gulf, but after a quarter-century of resistance, turmoil, and false starts, it emerged as the unquestioned military and political hegemon in the region. In some respects this was merely the story of how the United States slowly reconciled itself to assume the role originated by the British in the nineteenth century. British interests, however, were never identical to U.S. interests, and the underpinnings of U.S. policy by the turn of the century bore little resemblance to the classic British defense of its eastern lines of communication.

The interests of the United States in the Persian Gulf region have been very simple and consistent: first, to ensure access by the industrialized world to the vast oil resources of the region; and second, to prevent any hostile power from acquiring political or military control over those resources. Throughout the cold war, the most immediate threat was the Soviet Union; after the Soviet collapse, Iran and Iraq became the primary targets of U.S. containment efforts.

Other objectives, such as preserving the stability and independence of the Gulf states or containing the threat of Islamic fundamentalism, were derivative concerns and were implicit in the two grand themes of oil and containment. Preoccupation with the security of Israel was a driving factor in U.S. Middle East policy for half a century, and developments in the Arab-Israel arena sporadically influenced U.S. policies in the Persian Gulf (and vice versa). Especially after the end of the cold war, the Israeli factor began to assume much greater importance in the formulation of U.S. policy in the Gulf.

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