US & Middle East Relations

 

The majority of issues that are dominating international politics and international relations relate to the US and the Middle East, therefore it is essential to examine the issues that have influenced the fragile relationship between the world’s super power, the United States and the ever so important Middle East.  This article aims not to give any solutions to the problems that face the world, but rather looks at the reasons for the underlying animosity felt between these parts of the world.

US Foreign Policy and the Middle East

So what is it that has shaped the current relationship between the US and the Middle East? What are the foreign policies the US have developed for their dealings with the Middle East? and interestingly who has influenced these policies, that has lead us to be in the situation we are in today?

There is little debate around the question of what the US foreign policies are towards the Middle East as well as the rest of the world, and therefore this question will be tackled first. Chomsky points out that the current Bush planners, although at the extreme end of the traditional US policy spectrum, do share their programs and doctrines with previous US governments as well as earlier aspirants for global power. However, unlike previously “the stakes are much higher today. The choice between hegemony and survival has rarely, if ever, been so starkly posed”[1].

It may be worth mentioning two of the main defense strategy objectives from the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance for the fiscal years of 1994 – 1999. Although this was prior to the Bush Jr. Administration, it is unlikely that they have become any less relevant today; quite possibly they have become even more relevant. “Our first objective is to prevent the re-emergence of a new rival, that poses a threat on the order of that posed formerly by the Soviet Union. This is a dominant consideration underlying the new regional defense strategy and requires that we endeavor to prevent any hostile power from dominating a region whose resources would, under consolidated control, be sufficient to generate global power… The second objective is to address sources of regional conflict and instability in such a way as to promote increasing respect for international law, limit international violence, and encourage the spread of democratic forms of government and open economic systems… we will retain the pre-eminent responsibility for addressing selectively those wrongs which threaten not only our interests, but those of our allies or friends, or which could seriously unsettle international relations. Various types of U.S. interests may be involved in such instances: access to vital raw materials, primarily Persian Gulf oil; proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missiles and threats to U.S. citizens from terrorism”[2].

Presently with George W. Bush’s second Administration in action, despite the major cabinet reshuffle, the general orientation of the administration’s foreign policy will remain basically unchanged. Firstly, their global strategy for maintaining hegemony and their constant aim to establish a US dominated new international order will not change. Secondly, their continued ‘anti-terrorist’ strategic focus will not change, they are still as focused on trying to encourage other countries to actively participate in the ‘war against terror’. Thirdly, the attention put on and their control over the development of Weapons of Mass destruction will continue to be as strong as ever. Finally, and most evident from the situation in Iraq, they will still strongly promote their ‘democracy’ and ‘freedom’ worldwide.

In the reconstruction of Iraq, their primary concern and target is to get the general elections to run smoothly, and as scheduled. The US government regards the general elections as symbolising the realisation of ‘Democracy’ in Iraq. It is likely that they assume if they get Iraq to be run by Iraqis’ then the pressure will be taken off them, and they will no longer be see as ‘invaders’. With regards to their leading role in promoting the Middle East peace process, little will change, their primary concern is Israel, and as in Bush’s first term, progress will continue to be slow and insignificant. It appears that the only reason the US saw the election of Abbas as leader of Palestine as something positive and as a chance for communication is because of their close relations.

The prevention of nuclear proliferation and bio-chemical weapon attacks is a matter of paramount importance in their anti-terror efforts, and Iran is regarded as one of the countries that pose the biggest threats and therefore in order to prevent them from developing nuclear weapons, they will not be afraid to adopt the ‘toughest measures’. Syria is another country that the US seems to be keeping an eye on; they are accusing it of many of the same offences that were leveled against the Saddam Hussein regime, which include, developing biological and chemical weapons of mass destruction, condemning the US occupation of Iraq, supporting international terrorism and succoring anti-US and anti-Israeli guerilla forces.  Prior to the invasion of Iraq, Undersecretary of State for Arms Control and International Security traveled to Israel and promised Prime Minister Ariel Sharon that “it will be necessary to deal with threats from Syria, Iran, and North Korea afterwards.” In April 2003 Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz warned – “There’s got to be a change in Syria”[3].

Influencing Powers

So who is it that influences these foreign policies? And why do they seem to have so much control over the decisions made in the US government? Yet most importantly, why is the Middle East at the centre of most of America’s concerns?

There is an overwhelming sense that American foreign policy is being lead down a radical path by a small band of ideologues who have virtually hijacked the policy making process. They are known as the neoconservatives, and despite the fact that they now have virtually total control of US foreign policy for the next four years with the re-election of President George W Bush, a common understanding of the term remains unclear.

The first neoconservatives were originally a small group of mainly Jewish liberal intellectuals, who in the 1960’s and 70’s began to oppose the American left wing’s increasing interest in social excesses as well as their lack of commitment to spend adequately on defense for their country. The philosophical underpinnings of the neoconservatives are the writing of Machiavelli, Hobbes and Edmund Burke and they believe that the right political idea entails a fusion of morality and force. Although there are now an increasing number of prominent Christians that are neoconservatives, the movement remains predominantly Jewish and the monthly journal that really defined neo-conservatism over the past 35 years, Commentary, is published by the American Jewish Committee.[4]

This may to some extent explain the unwavering support for Israel that most neoconservatives share. However, this is not the only reason that support for Israel is a vital constituent of the neoconservative party. Israel is seen as a crucial democratic ally in the Middle East, a region thought to be ruled by ‘tyrants’ who, due to their religious fundamentalism and dictatorships, have created the rise of anti-Americanism throughout the Middle East.

The neoconservatives’ embrace of Israel has attempted to create a world view that Islamic fundamentalism and Terrorism are the ‘real’ enemy, which has now enabled them to redeclare a ‘War on Terrorism’, for as Chomsky (2004) points out, the first ‘War on Terrorism’ was declared by Ronald Reagan in 1985, with a striking number of the same people holding leading positions in the American Government. Donald Rumsfeld is now running the military component of the second phase on the war on terrorism, whereas in the first phase he was Reagan’s special envoy to the Middle East.

Neoconservatives want to spread their values around the world, and they believe that using their unrivaled power to do so would be one of the most effective ways and should not be something of which to be ashamed. One of their main concerns within the American government as well as for the welfare of the world, is that not enough money or time is being spent on trying to contain and confront the modern threats facing both the US and the ‘Free World’, the ‘Civilised World’. Therefore the only solution they see as suitable, due to the degree of threats they are faced with, is through preemptive military action. 

US foreign policy has been thought to have been influenced by the neoconservatives to differing degrees over the last few decades. In the 1980’s with Reagan (1981-1989) as President, they had a strong influence. The collapse of the Soviet Union required the American Government to find a new rival for global hegemony; a new threat, and the apparent convergence of the American and Israeli interests now enabled Islamic fundamentalism and militant Islam to become the new Soviet Union; the new target.

Although most believe that the neoconservatives have had constant influence over the American government, there are a few who argue that during the presidency of Bill Clinton who wanted a little more restraint and humility in the dealings of foreign affairs, the neoconservatives used the time to perfect their message and plan for American Power.  ‘Outside of Reaganite think tanks and Israel’s right-wing Likud Party, their calls for regime change in Iraq were deemed provocative and extremist by the political mainstream’[5]. However due to the close relationships they kept with Republican circles they were able to win many of the key posts in both the Bush Sr. and Bush Jr. administration.

The major increase in influence of the neoconservatives on US foreign policy came just after September 11, 2001. “Since 11 September support among Americans for Israel has grown massively as many now see the Middle East conflict as the frontline in the US ‘War on Terror'”[6]. The American Enterprise Institute (AEI), which are in fact the headquarters for the neoconservative party, had been calling for the democratization of the Middle East for over a decade. Just days after September 11, 2001, one of the main neoconservative thinkers in Washington, wrote an open letter to President Bush calling for regime change in Iraq. President Bush, after campaigning in 2000 against nation building and excessive military intervention overseas, began his mission of regime change in Iraq. He then, in February 2003 gave a speech in the AEI, where he declared that a US victory in Iraq could begin a new stage for Middle Eastern Peace.

The Role of Religion

Following Huntington’s concept of ‘the clash of civilisations’, religion does appear to be playing a primary role in current international affairs. It may be even more relevant as the main players in international politics are religious fundamentalists, regardless of which religion they are associated. President Bush Jr. an Evangelical Christian, thought by many fundamentalists to be God’s appointed leader constantly refers to the fight between ‘Good’ and ‘Evil’ and declared ‘Operation Infinite Justice’ as the ‘Crusade against Terrorism’. These images fail to remove the notion of apocalyptic calls for world cleansing, ever so present under the presidency of Ronald Reagan, where he urged for “a cosmic struggle between right and wrong and good and evil, in which the nation is enjoined by Scripture and the Lord Jesus to oppose it [the Soviet Union] with all our might”[7].

In the last two or three decades, the conservative Evangelical movement has been the fastest growing sector within the American Christian churches, with approximately 50 million members[8]. It has been estimated that nearly one third of Evangelicals could be classified as ‘fundamentalists’, who are predisposed to support the Christian Zionist movement, who see the modern state of Israel as the fulfillment of Biblical prophecy and thus deserving of political, financial and religious support.

Christian Zionism is a growing political and religious movement which thrives during periods of political and economic unrest, characterized by international terrorism, global recession and fear of wars in the Middle East, which can be seen in the present moment. In the US today, it is the Christian Zionists that form the largest base of support for pro-Israeli interests, and have brought significant political and economic pressures on the Bush Administration. Gary Bauer, a former US Presidential candidate, presently the co-founder of Stand for Israel, encouraged the attendees at a Stand for Israel convention to oppose the Palestinian-Israeli ‘road map’ and stated “Whoever sits in the confines of Washington, and suggests to the people of Israel that they have to give up more land in exchange for peace, that’s an obscenity”[9].  

The first proposals put forward to the United States for the creation of an Israeli state in Palestine was not instigated by the Jews, but by the Christian fundamentalist W. E.  Blackstone in 1891, known for his bestseller ‘Jesus is Coming’. His efforts were inspired by the conservative Christian prophecies of the Battle of Armageddon, and in order to help the prophecy along, Israel needed a state, as it was understood by most of these thinkers to be the centre of these Biblical events and one of the major signs leading to the final battle and the return of Jesus.

When the state of Israel was created in 1948, the conservative Christians felt that the land was finally in the hands of its rightful owners, the Jews. This gave the students of the Bible a renewed faith in the accuracy and validity of the Bible as leading Christian Zionists interpret the Bible literally and tend to look at political events in relation to the prophetic schedule of events mentioned in the Bible, and it is from this that they have been able to move the focus onto the Middle East.

“I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you”[10]. A literal interpretation of this by the Christian Zionists would be a likely explanation of the political, economic, moral and spiritual support that the US has for the state of Israel and the animosity felt towards the Arabs and Muslims.

As mentioned previously, with the fall of the Soviet Union the US government needed a new enemy, as for the Christian Zionists, a new ‘Anti-Christ’ needed to be created. As without the ‘evil empire’ it “meant prophetic disconfirmation on a huge scale. The mainstays of post-World War II prophecy teaching were suddenly gone. It was as though someone had removed key pieces of the prophetic jigsaw puzzle”[11]. In the meantime then, they needed to change the subject, until they found a new target; so they turned their attention to the creation of the New World Order. An idea of a one-world government, which fit relatively well, since it was an idea common in the prophetic circles of the Christian Zionists.  “We will have a world government whether you like it or not. The only question is whether that government will be achieved by conquest or consent[12].

Islam’s growing role in world affairs, with their influence in the oil industry, caught the attention of many leading Christian Zionists, and they were soon able to link Islam to Biblical prophecies. The Iranian Revolution was seen as a Muslim declaration of war against the West and therefore all Christians, the creation of  a perfect new enemy. The arrival of the first Gulf War, came at just the right time and the country involved fit perfectly, Iraq was the Book of Revelation’s Babylon. Saddam Hussein’s attack was interpreted by the Christian Zionists as an attempt to destroy the creation of the New World Order and was viewed by the US government as an attempt to threaten their global hegemony. All parties were now on their way to establishing a new, ever so important enemy.

Although the Middle East, or more likely the Islamic world, has long been viewed as the ‘Christian’ West’s polar opposite; “lacking those very qualities which made the West great”[13], it was the events of September 11th that specifically brought the Islamic World into the limelight. This is surprising since militant Islam was seen as a threat to the US and Israel from the early 1990’s, yet little was ever done about it.

Who are the ‘Terrorists’? and Why?

The shift from Soviet-sponsored ‘International Terrorism’ , to ‘Islamic Terrorism’ is ironic, as the majority of the new and more radical groups were formed by the people/fighters/volunteers that helped the US with the defeat of the Soviet Union – who were viewed by these Arab Islamists as ‘godless communists’. Once the godless communists withdrew from Afghanistan, the American trained Arab Islamist volunteers assumed that the US would assist them in toppling their own authoritarian and corrupt regimes; however this came to no prevail. Instead, after analysing the situation more carefully, they were able to conclude that it was in fact the US’s political, military and financial support that made the regimes they hated so fiercely, that much more powerful. 

The hate and anger was further fueled by the first Gulf War (1991), while these Islamists were by no means supporters of Saddam Hussein’s secular regime or of the invasion of Kuwait, the war was seen as an interference of America in the Muslim world. The fact that US military bases were formed in many Muslim countries, specifically the holy land of Saudi Arabia for over a decade after the end of the war was simply an issue that could not be accepted or tolerated. The amount of suffering and death occurring in Iraq on a largely Muslim population due to American sanctions is another issue that has enhanced the resentment. In October 2001 a report by the United Nations Secretary General, revealed that the “obstruction of $4 billion of humanitarian supplies… is by far the main cause of the extreme suffering and deaths in Iraq” and that “every month up to 6,000 children die mostly as a result of the blockade”[14]. Pilger stresses this is twice the number of people killed in the Twin Towers which so eloquently shows the different value of different people’s lives.

The ongoing issue of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict is likely to be the issue that has fostered the most resentment, among Islamic militant groups as well as the Muslim population as a whole towards the West. The constant support the US has given to Israel and the lack of respect for the lives and rights of the Palestinians has made it easy for America to become the prime enemy of Islam and the Arabs. Contrary to one of the fundamental objectives of the Pentagon’s Defense Planning Guidance, “no fuss is ever made about the Middle East’s only genuine nuclear-armed power… whose terrorism, known as ‘self defense’, is underwritten by the United States”[15]. The constant referral of the Palestinians as ‘terrorists’ in the US and British media has no doubt increased the animosity between the East and the West and the lack of development in the ‘peace process’ is constantly giving the Islamic groups all the more reason to attack their enemy as no solution is seen as likely in the near future.

The result of this frustration was a series of attacks on US embassies and military bases in Africa and the Middle East; little attention was paid to these events, regardless of the constant warning of larger and more fatal attacks. However, with the attacks on America on September 11th, they could no longer sit back and do nothing, it was their own people dying at the hands of extremists, that were attacking the ‘free world’ and they needed to be destroyed.

A Few Consequences of 9/11

The authorisation given to President Bush by Congress on 19th September 2001 to use all necessary and appropriate force against those who planned, organised, committed or aided terrorist groups was then supported by Resolution 1373, issued on September 28th 2001. The Resolution encouraged UN member states to deny safe haven to countries that finance, support or plan terrorist attacks and to also “take action against perpetrators of such acts”[16].

America now would be justified in making Afghanistan their target, as it was the Taliban regime that had allowed Al Qa’ida to operate in their country combined with the fact that they were refusing to hand over those responsible for the organisation of the September 11th attacks. The minor issue of how the Taliban were able to gain power however was not mentioned. After the US left Afghanistan following the withdrawal of the Soviet Union, the country was left populated by a significant number of trained angry frustrated militants; it is hardly surprising then that a radical Islamic regime like the Taliban were able to gain control of the country. Therefore the people of Afghanistan were having to deal with the consequences of America’s own actions, not just once with the rule of the Taliban, but now with America’s attack on their towns and cities.

As with Afghanistan the US’s next target was also partly of their own making, due to their firm support of Saddam Hussein’s war against Iran in the 1980’s. Following September the 11th , many speeches given by President Bush indirectly referred to Saddam Hussein as being linked to Al Qa’ida, which in hand managed to influence 45% of Americans to believe that Saddam Hussein was ‘personally involved’ in Sept. 11[17]. However, in the case of Iraq they had no credible evidence to make the accusations that they were involved in any way with Al Qa’ida and the September 11th attacks. Therefore they required a new focus and since they could not wage a war in the name of eliminating an ‘evil dictator’, due to the fact that people had known about his regime’s atrocities for a long time and nothing had been done about it thus far. The only other reason could be the threat of Weapons of Mass Destruction that Saddam Hussein may provide the terrorists with, which would wreak havoc on the United States, their close ally Israel and the rest of the ‘civilised’ world.

Yet now, nearly two years after the fall of Saddam Hussein and his regime, no weapons have been found and the world is in an even more unstable position than it was prior to the war. So what was it that pushed America and its allies (namely Britain) to invade Iraq with no evidence of any threat it held against anyone except its own people? Which to mention again, had been happening for over a decade. This therefore brings us back to the issue of who it is that influences the US foreign policies; the neoconservatives and inevitably the Christian Zionists – of which President Bush is a member and therefore openly embraced much of their agenda. It may also be important to add that it is difficult to ignore the fact that the new enemies of the US have excessive amounts of one of the most essential raw material and energy source. Although there have been new discoveries of oil reserves in Central Asia, the Middle East still has two thirds of the world’s oil reserves, which is also the cheapest to pump and produce. It is a common assumption that many of the actions taken by the US towards the Middle East has been carried out to secure and ensure the cheap and ample flow of ‘black gold’.

Conclusion: Islamic Democracy?

It is evident that there is a significant overlap between religion and politics in the world, regardless of the fact that a conscious effort has been made in many if not all Western countries to secularise, to separate church and the state. It has however proven not be as straight forward as initially anticipated. True democracy is intended to give every person “the right to life and to a decent life”[18] where they have a say in the running of the country they live in. However Chomsky (2004) highlights the fact that the American government is in the hands of “the good, though but a few”[19] rather than the people themselves, which would therefore make America a ‘polyarchy’ rather than a democracy. It is here, with the control of an elite few, that the overlap is allowed to occur and the influence of religious ideologies penetrates the governmental policies.

Taking this into consideration it seems hypocritical to disregard the possible development of Islamic democracies in the Middle East. There has been much debate around the issue of the possibility of Islamic democracy and although the thinkers disagree on a number of issues they do agree that democracy is far more than just elections, but also “free speech, free association, freedom of conscience, and equality across race, religion, and gender”[20]. This does coincide well with Islam as there are numerous references in the Qur’anic verses and Hadiths regarding liberty and equality.

The reason democracy is viewed so negatively in the Middle East are simply associations, negative associations with the corruptness and perfidiousness of the American government. Islamic identity has always been closely linked to Muslim politics, however it has not always been associated with the strict enforcement of the Shari’a laws or hostile relations with the rest of the non-Muslim world. Currently, anywhere Islamic democrats have been allowed to run for office, have been rather successful, for example in Turkey, Morocco and Pakistan and hopefully in Iraq. As pointed out by Khaled Abou El Fadl (2004)[21] if democracy is to become a systematic normative goal of a large number of Muslims in Muslim countries, then it will have to be anchored in both Islam and modernity, for it is not modernisation that the Middle East is against, but rather ‘Westernisation’.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Abou El Fadl, K. (2004) Islam and the Challenge of Democracy. Princeton University Press, USA

Chomsky, N. (2004). Hegemony or Survival? America’s Quest for Global Dominance.  Penguin Books, USA.

Chomsky, N. (2003). Understanding Power. Vintage, UK & USA.

Holy Bible

Jewett, R. & Lawrence, J. S. (2003). Captain America and the Crusade against Evil. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., UK.  

Lockman, Z. (2004). Contending Visions of the Middle East. Cambridge University Press, UK.

Pilger, J. (1998). Hidden Agendas. Vintage, UK.

Pilger, J. (2003). The New Rulers of the World. Verso, UK & USA.

Weber, T.P. (2004). On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals became Israel’s Best Friend. Baker Academic Publishing Group, USA.


[1] Chomsky, N. (2004). Hegemony or Survival? America’s Quest for Global Dominance.Penguin Books, USA. pg. 4. [2] Excerpts from Pentagon’s Plan: ‘Prevent the Re-Emergence of a New Rival’. The New York Times. March 8th 1992. Accessed on 23rd January 2005,  http://www.princeton.edu/~ppn/docfiles/pentagon_1992.html

[3] Barry, T. On the Road to Damascus? Neo-Cons Target Syria. Global Policy Forum. 8th March 2004. Accessed on 10th  January, 2004, http://www.globalpolicy.org/empire/intervention/2004/0308damascus.htm

[4] Neocon 101. Christian Science Monitor 2005. Accessed on 11th December 2004, http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/neocon/neocon101.html

[5] Neocon 101. Christian Science Monitor 2005. Accessed on 11th December 2004, http://www.csmonitor.com/specials/neocon/neocon101.html

[6] Analysis: America’s New Christian Zionists. BBC News. 7th May 2002. Accessed on 11th December 2004, http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/world/middle_east/1969542.stm

[7] Jewett, R. & Lawrence, J. S. (2003). Captain America and the Crusade against Evil. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., UK. pg. 4. 

[8] Weber, T.P. (2004). On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals became Israel’s Best Friend. Baker Academic Publishing Group, USA.

[9] Wagner, D. (2003). A Heavenly Match: Bush and the Christian Zionists. Information Clearing House. Accessed on 10th February 2005, http://66.102.9.104/search?q=cache:GBAQQipfs7AJ:www.informationclearinghouse.info/article4960

[10] Holy Bible, Genesis 12:3

[11] Weber, T.P. (2004). On the Road to Armageddon: How Evangelicals became Israel’s Best Friend. Baker Academic Publishing Group, USA. pg. 204.

[12] Paul Warburg,  February 17, 1950, as he testified before the US Senate. Accessed on 10th February 2005, http://www.threeworldwars.com/new-world-order.htm

[13] Lockman, Z. (2004). Contending Visions of the Middle East. Cambridge University Press, UK. pg. 62.

[14] Pilger, J. (2003). The New Rulers of the World. Verso, UK & USA. pg. 9.

[15] Pilger, J. (1998). Hidden Agendas. Vintage, UK. pg. 37.

[16] O. Keohane, R. (2001). The United Nations: An Essential Instrument Against Terror. Accessed on 10th February 2005, http://www.duke.edu/web/forums/keohane.html

[17] Feldman, L. The Impact of Bush linking 9/11 and Iraq, 14th March 2003. Iraq in Transition. Accessed on 10th February 2005, http://www.csmonitor.com/2003/0314/p02s01-woiq.html

[18] Pilger, J. (1998). Hidden Agendas. Vintage, UK. pg. 67.

[19] Chomsky, N. (2004). Hegemony or Survival? America’s Quest for Global Dominance.

Penguin Books, USA. pg. 5. 

[20] Feldman, N. (2004) The Best Hope. in Abou El Fadl, K. (2004) Islam and the Challenge of Democracy. Princeton University Press, USA. pg. 60.

[21] Abou El Fadl, K. (2004) Islam and the Challenge of Democracy. Princeton University Press, USA. pg. 128.


2 Responses to “US & Middle East Relations”

  1. Hi, for all time i used to check website posts here early in the dawn,
    because i love to find out more and more.

  2. Awesome article!

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