Ruling on Behalf of the “National Interest”
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Ruling on Behalf of the “National Interest”

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by, Younus Abdullah Muhammad

by, Younus Abdullah Muhammad

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Ruling on Behalf of the “National Interest” Ruling on Behalf of the “National Interest” Document Transcript

  • Ruling on Behalf of the “National Interest”, Post World War II U.S. Foreign Policy in the Gulf and its Long-term Outcome Lord Palmerston, imperialist Britain’s Prime Minister from 1855-1865, is famously quoted as saying, “nations have no permanent friends or enemies, just permanent interests.” An analysis of U.S. foreign policy with relation to the Gulf region since World War II suggests that this axiom holds true and that the United States, gradually assuming an enhanced role as imperialist power, conducted a consistent policy dedicated to preserve Western access to the region’s rich oil reserves alongside lucrative contracts for Western corporations, prevent the spread of any alternative ideology, and support for regimes that would serve U.S. interests. These objectives have led to serious contradictions in the commonly expressed intention of fostering democratization and led to an increasing American involvement and presence in the region. As a result, today the United States stands on the threshold of having to advance upon a traditional imperialist path, continuing a potentially unsuccessful subversive policy of influencing the region through proxy and aid or as in recent time’s costly, direct intervention, or complete reversal and substantial withdrawal thus letting the region mostly alone to develop autonomously. The potential ramifications of these tracks are severe and suggest that U.S. policy towards the Gulf will play a primary role in shaping the world to come. During World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson enunciated his Fourteen Points policy that called for a greater American influence internationally and at the same time a commitment to self-determination, the right of nations to rule themselves. In the Middle East, peoples affected by an era of colonialism expressed great support for the notion of autonomy. They did not realize that the principles were to apply only to European states as Middle Easterners began what would become long-standing support for United States assistance and forms of intervention1. Domestic politics in America forced a tendency toward non- interventionism however and constrained U.S. ambition. Consequentially, U.S. influence in the Middle East between the two world wars was limited. U.S. “national interests” at this time were predominantly confined to domestic affairs as the pre-World War II circumstance was marked by interests inconsistent with those that would develop later. The U.S. was the world’s leading oil producer. Its corporations had limited opportunity or prospect in the Gulf and public opinion overwhelmingly opposed U.S. power projection and thereby limited U.S. influence internationally. F. Gregory Gause explains that, “Only when the constraints associated with the domestic politics paradigm are neutralized or not present...do bureaucratic and foreign pressures begin to weigh on the decision maker.2” The era between World War I and World War II would witness the progressive alteration of this non- interventionist domestic outlook and eventually the induction of bureaucratic pressures that helped formulate interests that would go on to define policy-making through to the modern day. The increasing role of the United States as imperialist power created an arena for a gradually augmented U.S. presence in the Gulf. America first made major inroads into the Gulf by way of Saudi Arabia in 1933 when Standard Oil Company of California, known as Chevron today, obtained 60-year oil 1 see the history of the King Crane Commission to document desire for U.S. assistance but only in the event Israel was not supported 2 F. Gregory Gauss. “British and American Policies in the Persian Gulf, 1968-1973” Review of International Studies, (1985). p.268 1
  • expropriation rights in exchange for 35,000 British pounds. This marked the initiation of major American influence in the region as Aramco, the Arabian-American Oil Company, was formed and led to lucrative contracts for many Western firms developing the Saudi state, thus creating the “special relationship” that carries through today. By the end of World War II, with Europe essentially destroyed by the Nazis and thereby a weakening of the traditional imperialist powers, the United States found itself with a firm and intact domestic society and as the most powerful economic force in the world. Along with this newfound position, American foreign policy doctrine essentially did away in practice with much of what was expressed in the Atlantic Charter, the policy document signed by Woodrow Wilson and FDR at the conclusion of World War II that pronounced an intention for decolonialization and the “right to self determination 3.” U.S. foreign policy was instead based on a primary realism that emphasized the protection of “national interests,” and marked the unfolding of what has become a normal perspective today. In 1944 Franklin Roosevelt announced that, “the defense of Saudi Arabia is vital to the defense of the United States.4” By 1948 George Keenan, regarded as one of America's greatest foreign affairs specialists summed up a position representative of what would become the general U.S. stance. He claimed, We have about 50% of the world's wealth but only 6.3% of its population. This disparity is particularly great as between ourselves and the peoples of Asia. In this situation, we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security. To do so, we will have to dispense with all sentimentality and day-dreaming; and our attention will have to be concentrated everywhere on our immediate national objectives. We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world- benefaction.5 From that time on, American foreign policy tended less towards the idealism expressed previously and closer to that driven by concern for self-interest. A three-ship Middle East Force was set up in 1949 as the first American naval presence in the region docked in Bahrain but the role of the U.S. was limited and basically subordinate to a continued British domination that had been present in the Gulf for 150 years. If there was a period where U.S. foreign policy was improvisational, it was the era from the end of World War II until the withdrawal of British military presence in 1971. It could be argued that during this era, U.S. policy-making was reactive and that the era was marked by policy shifts and influenced by variables outside the realm of simple realism. While it is true that some alterations and discontinuity occurred over the period and that, at its onset, U.S. interests were somewhat indefinite; the reality is that the same objectives defined as the national interest today overwhelmingly influenced policy then as well. As the “mantle of leadership” gradually passed from Britain to the U.S. over time, the U.S. adopted a position that resembled very much a 3 see the third of eight principles outlined in the Atlantic Charter available at http://avalon.law.yale.edu/wwii/at10.asp#b2 4 Douglas Little. American Orientalism: The United States and the Middle East since 1945. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002. 5 see United States Department of State Policy Planning Study No. 23, 1948. Available at http://www.j-bradford- delong.net/movable_type/archives/000567.html 2
  • continuity of the imperialist attitude expressed by Lord Palmerston some 100 years earlier as perception of just what U.S. national interests were drew directly from Britain’s experience.6 In 1951 President Truman dispatched a committee to explore the prospect of economic control over the Middle East region. However, the financier that he sent to assess the situation quickly identified heavy risks involved and attributed them to a rising sentiment of Arab nationalism.7 By 1952 National Security Council Archives relate that securing the allegiance of Arab countries to the West was essential and especially because they control a large portion of the world’s oil reserves essential in times of “war and peace.” The report concludes that, “In the past the U.K. has played the major role in the maintenance and defense of Western interests in the area...” but there is a need for, “a review and restatement of U.S. policy toward the area,” as the U.S. “has major military and economic interests, as in the case of Saudi Arabia, U.S. influence has largely replaced the U.K..8” While Britain was present, the stability of western interests was preserved and so the balance of power created by the presence of the British Empire was sufficient to attain U.S. interests. Still, at that time the objective of preventing any ideological opposition to the free flow of oil and the continuation of business opportunity remained the primary concern of U.S. policymakers. In 1953 Dwight Eisenhower ordered the covert operation AJAX that removed Prime Minister Mohammed Mossadeqq from power in Iran and installed Reza Shah. The covert operation marked an increasing role for the U.S. and highlights the consideration of oil interests with relation to policy formulation. Prior to the coup, the Anglo-Persian oil company was maintained and controlled solely by the British. Operation AJAX established a 40% share for the Anglo-Persian company, which changed its name to BP, a 14% share to Royal Dutch Shell, and a newly established 40% share to a group of American firms for their support of the covert operation. In 1958, in reaction to Iraqi revolution and efforts to nationalize their oil the U.S. chairman of the Joint Chief of Staff stated, “be prepared to employ, subject to the President’s approval, whatever means might become necessary to prevent any unfriendly forces from moving into Kuwait.9” Obviously oil and protecting its flows in directions consistent with U.S. interests played a major role in these decisions. The U.S. may have had little desire to take over for Britain in the region but by the time Britain announced its intention to draw down its presence, the United States had developed crucially important relations with Iran and Saudi Arabia. These countries represented major inflows for U.S. industry as the majority of development conducted by Reza Shah, the dictator the U.S. helped impose with the removal of Mossadeq, and the House of Saud, the feudal monarchy the U.S. supported, not only gave contracts to U.S. firms but also invested a large portion of oil revenue in the United States through public and private investment. The region also produced one-third of the “free world’s oil requirements” and policy planners recognized that the Arab-Israeli issue may give rise to “radical elements,” “fewer major contracts,” and a reduced “U.S. influence on host governments.” The risk of radicalism posed a great threat to U.S. oil 6 Gary Sick. “An American Perspective.” in Great Power Interests in the Persian Gulf, New York: Council of Foreign Relations, 1989. p17-18. 7 Paul Krugman. “The Ambassador of the Arabs: The Locke Mission and the Unmaking of U.S. Development Diplomacy in the Near East, 1952-53.” In David Lesch (ed.). The Middle East and the Unmaking of Development Diplomacy. 8 see NSC Document 129, United States Objectives and Policies with respect to the Arab States and Israel, April 7, 1952. 9 William Quandt, “Lebanon 1958, Jordan 1970.” In Force without War (1979). 3
  • companies, already threatened by rising public sentiment for oil nationalization. Based on this threat, the U.S. decided to support “conservative” rather than radical regimes10. U.S. propaganda efforts were having a minimal effect11 and so U.S. planners adopted the notion that U.S. influence would have to increase after British withdrawal in order to protect “national interests” from indigenous threats to them. A National Security Council memo from Dick Kennedy to Henry Kissinger outlined three options for a response to British withdrawal: 1) promote self- sustaining regionalism, a “low Western profile” or U.S. support that would create a balance of power by propping up chosen regimes, 2) encourage a continued strong U.K. role, deemed unlikely, or 3) a “high U.S. profile,” a decision based on a desire for “maximum freedom of action in dealing with the region and protecting our interests” as “it may be the only way, in the long run, to avoid exclusion from the area.12” The chosen means adopted, influenced largely by domestic opposition to U.S. militarism amidst the Vietnam War, was a careful policy of propping up friendly regimes through arms sales and strategic economic penetration as the U.S. officially took over from the U.K as hegemonic power. The Nixon administration adopted a Twin Pillars policy that would support the Shah’s Iran as regional power and also enhance support for Saudi Arabia and other Arab sheikhdoms, a position that essentially set off a regional arms race thus creating lucrative contracts for western defense companies and that guaranteed the free flow of oil to the “industrialized world13” while minimizing the U.S. military presence. At the same time, it can be argued, that while the Twin Pillars policy was unfolding, it would have been impossible for the U.S. to move the world toward the post-Breton Woods economic system without the allegiance of OPEC and its primary producer, Saudi Arabia. The House of Saud made a choice in 1972 to sell all OPEC oil on the international exchange in dollar denominated amounts, thus preventing a flight from the dollar that was unfolding as a result of the Nixon administration’s choice to take the dollar off convertibility to gold amongst foreign nations. This consequence of U.S. policy allowed an essentially bankrupt America to de-peg its currency and run enormous current account deficits that continue to grow to this day, as oil importing countries all over the world must hold dollars to get oil. Thus preserving this scheme became in the “interest” of American policy-makers. The United States established its first major military presence in the Gulf with the placement of nuclear armed bombers at Dhahran Airbase in Saudi Arabia from 1952-63. While King Faisal ordered the removal of American presence there in 1963 for use on a case-by-case basis, the new base, renamed King Abdul Aziz Air Base, continued to house planes purchased from the U.S. and so resembled no real Saudi takeover. The American military also enhanced its presence in 1965 when Diego Garcia, a British colony, was established as a U.S. military base on lease from the U.K. The base was built after the entire indigenous population was forced off the island through violent sanctions and attacks. A recent court case filed in the U.K. has awarded damages to the ex-inhabitants, but the base still serves as a protectorate of “U.S. interests,” primarily due to the hidden nature of its location; it is located well over 1,000 miles away from the Gulf. In August of 1971, with Bahrain obtaining official independence from Britain and the other island 10 see National Security Council Review Group. “Future U.S. Policy in the Persian Gulf.” July, 1970. Document # 00509. 11 See for example “U.S. Propaganda in the Middle East: The Early Cold War Version” National Security Archive Electronic Briefing Book No. 78. Joyce Battler (Ed.) December 13, 2002 12 See National Security Archive. “Long Term U.S. Strategy Options in the Persian Gulf” Dec. 30, 1970. p.17. 13 Michael A. Palmer, Guardians of the Gulf: The Growth of American Involvement in the Persian Gulf, 1833-1991, The Free Press, 1992. 4
  • monarchies setting up the United Arab Emirates, the U.S. signed an agreement to maintain its naval presence in the country for a payment of $4 million a year. These advancements were justified by the increase in Soviet activity in the Indian Ocean. Still, there was a general disinterest in expanding this presence and stability was preserved, in the short term, by means of the Nixon Doctrine rather than direct intervention. The 1973 oil embargo by Saudi Arabia against the U.S. due to American support for Israel had already led U.S. government planners like Henry Kissinger and Arthur Schlesinger to identify the oil of the Gulf as an official “national interest” and plans were already in order for the U.S. to take over the oil fields of Saudi Arabia in the event of an emergency as the concretization of U.S. interests were formulated by what was perceived to be the first indigenous threat by an ally against U.S. influence. By the late 1970’s, with America increasingly relying on oil imports yet still with lucrative contracts for American companies making up the difference in balance of trade, the Carter Administration proclaimed the Carter Doctrine of Middle East Policy in response to the Iranian Revolution saying, “Any attempts by any outside force to gain control of the Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” The unexpected Iranian Revolution sent the primary pillar of U.S. policy apart from U.S. control as the U.S. by necessity grew closer to Arab Gulf states. However, U.S. policy intention was hardly altered; while the responses with regard to policy formulation during the period of shifting ideological control from Nixon and Ford to Carter seem to suggest that transitions in policy were dictated by unanticipated developments, their ultimate intention and objective remained the same. President Carter organized the Rapid Deployment Force which would provide immediate air attacks in the event a situation arose contrary to U.S. interests. In 1978 the Joint Chiefs of Staff stated that American interests in the Middle East were, “to assure continuous access to petroleum reserves, prevent inimical power or combination of powers from establishing hegemony, and to assure the survival of Israel as an independent state.14” The Joint Chiefs also recommended expanding basing facilities throughout the Persian Gulf. The direct American military presence in the Gulf remained miniscule however. The next significant local event, the Iran-Iraq War, also represents an example of U.S. policy making based on the consistent interests of protecting oil flows and preventing the development of an inimical power. While the United Nations called all member states to refrain from the provision of arms to either country, the U.S., deciding that an Iranian victory would alter a balance of power, provided military aid and intelligence to Iraq despite the fact that U.S. policymakers knew Sadaam Hussein was using chemical weapons. A National Security Directive from November 26, 1983 expresses clearly that national interests trumped notions of morality and international law. It reads, “President Ronald Reagan directs that consultations begin with regional states willing to cooperate with the U.S. on measures to protect Persian Gulf oil production and its transshipment infrastructure. The U.S. will give the highest priority to the establishment of military facilities allowing for the positioning of rapid deployment forces in the region to guard oil facilities.15” During the Iran-Iraq War, only seven smaller Navy ships based in Bahrain were able to patrol the waters. However President Ronald Reagan ordered in 1983 that preserving the oil interest 14 see Review of US Strategy Related to the Middle East and the Persian Gulf. (1978) 15 see National Security Directive #114 from Ronald Reagan. “U.S. Policy towards the Iran-Iraq War.” November 26, 1983. 5
  • was the primary concern once Iran and Iraq started to attack ships sailing through the Gulf. He claimed, “It is present United States policy to undertake whatever measures may be necessary to keep the Strait of Hormuz open to international shipping.16” The 1987 Iraqi attack on the USS Stark generated policies that would begin the initiation of an unprecedented American military build-up from that point forward,17 and despite the Cold War ending, President Reagan sent naval protection for Kuwaiti tankers under the pretext that it would prevent Soviet expansion. The first Gulf War of 1991 was a response directly affiliated with U.S. interests. Sadaam Hussein’s takeover of Kuwait represented a serious threat, namely that a force antagonist to the U.S.’s Israeli ally would resurface that would be able to control a large portion of the world’s oil reserves and thereby exert great influence on Arab oil-producing nations and perhaps even expand its domination by invading Saudi Arabia. Sadaam had long expressed his discontent with other OPEC nations overproduction and would have with near certainty decreased the free flow of oil and perhaps even reconfigured much of what the petrodollar scheme, the notion that because most oil is sold in dollar denominated terms and because most countries rely on oil imports, they are forced to maintain large stockpiles of dollars in order to continue imports thus causing demand for dollars to remain high regardless of economic conditions in the United States.18 Indeed National Security Advisor, Brent Scowcroft claimed the invasion was motivated by, “key interests in the Gulf which required that under no circumstances could Sadaam get control of oil, and on top of that the horror of what Sadaam was doing in Kuwait.19” The horrors Sadaam Hussein committed against his own population were not nearly as important; the Bush Administration continued aid to Saddam right up until Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. For many, the Gulf War represented something of an enigma or aberration of U.S. policy as the claim is made that the U.S. was acting more with regard to “collective security” rather than its own interests20. However, the intervention was less about notions of principle based on ideology and international law and more so in line with a continuum of general U.S. interest. The potential ramifications led the U.S to advance its military presence in the region as thousands of U.S. troops were housed in Saudi Arabia to fight the war. The troops would remain on Saudi soil until 2003 when combat troops were forced to evacuate in the face of the violent reactions by Saudi citizens, thus revealing the potential instability arising from an enhanced U.S. military presence. From 1996 to 2002, construction at Prince Sultan Airbase was continuous and barracks were constructed that resembled permanent housing units. In 2001, the Saudi regime permitted use of the base in coordinating air operations against targets in Afghanistan. The U.S. also built Udeid Air Base in Qatar as an alternative in the face of potential Saudi evacuation and there was a proliferation of bases built in Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, Oman, the U.A.E., Turkey, Egypt and other places as threats to U.S. interests continued to draw the U.S. closer to the region. 16 see National Security Decision Directive 114, “U.S. Policy toward the Iran-Iraq War.” The White House. November 26, 1983. 17 Harold Lee Wise. “Inside the Danger Zone: The U.S. Military in the Persian Gulf, 1987-1988.” Naval Institute Press, 2007. 18 Clark, William. Petrodollar Warfare: Oil. Iraq and the Future of the American Dollar.” New Society Publishers, 2005. 19 Brent Scowcroft Frontline interview, January 9, 1996. Quoted in Steven A. Yetiv’s “The Absence of a Grand Strategy: The United States in the Gulf1972-2005.” John Hopkins Press: 2008. 20 Steven A. Yetiv “The Absence of a Grand Strategy: The United States in the Gulf1972-2005.” John Hopkins Press: 2008. 6
  • The Clinton era was marked by a dual containment policy that strongly supported the continuation of the sanctions on Iraq and persuaded similar sanctions on Iran that sought to isolate both states from a global community now dominated by the U.S. as the lone superpower, something which Martin Indyk explained made the U.S. “uniquely capable of influencing the course of events.” The policy was openly expressed as “a democracy-oriented foreign policy” but also one devised to “protect American interests in the Middle East and to counter the threats to those interests from radical regimes.”21 Little emphasis was placed on democratizing the feudalist Arab sheikhdoms however and ultimately sanctions imposed to contain Sadaam led to 500,000 Iraqi child deaths. When Secretary of State Madeline Albright was asked whether the deaths due to sanctions were worth the policy she replied, “I think this is a very hard choice, but the price is worth it,22” thus confirming the realist perception amongst policymakers. Anthony Lake, then Assistant to the President on National Security Affairs, wrote in Foreign Affairs in 1994 that the policy of dual containment was only made possible by the fact that “there is no longer a need to depend on either Iraq or Iran to maintain a favorable balance and protect U.S. friends and interests in the Gulf,23” thus documenting that dual containment was intended to further realize U.S. national interests and not a shift in policy. Lake included Israeli, Egyptian, and Arab feudal monarchies in his “family of nations now committed to the pursuit of democratic institutions” despite the overwhelming documentation of their own anti-democratic structures. The justification for these Clinton-era sanctions was partly chemical weapons usage. President Clinton stated about Sadaam that, “He has used them, not once, but repeatedly. Unleashing chemical weapons against Iranian troops during a decade-long war, not only against soldiers, but against civilians24” The second Bush administration would also go on to justify the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003 partially due to the fact that Sadaam Hussein was a brutal dictator who had used chemical weapons. Neither administration mentioned that the U.S. had supported Sadaam while knowing he was using chemical weapons, thus further documenting that preventing the growth of powers opposed to U.S. interests and preserving the free flow of oil were the key factors of policy formation. The invasion of Iraq in 2003 marked the initiation of an enhanced military presence that continues to this day. The proclamation that the Middle East would be democratized was utilized to justify what appears to be a mere continuation of long-standing U.S. policy derived from principle national interests. While the Bush doctrine suggests a radical alteration of U.S. policy and while neoconservative ideologues that largely influenced the attack on Iraq represent a particularly bold stream of thought, policymakers and politicians from across the political spectrum saw the war as necessary and especially due to the threat to U.S. interests. The fact that U.S troops secured Iraqi oil fields on the first day of the occupation shows that protecting the Mid-East oil supply was one of the invasion’s chief objectives. Today, the Obama administration is preparing to remove 100,000 troops from Iraq, yet 50,000 residual troops will remain behind on six enormous military bases built around the world’s biggest foreign embassy located in the heart of Baghdad. The Obama administration has maintained a policy of supporting regimes friendly to U.S. interests as contracts to American arms, manufacturing and energy firms 21 Martin Indyk. “The Clinton Administration’s Approach to the Middle East.” The Washington Institute for Near East Policy. 1993. Available at www.washingtoninstitute.org/C07&CID=61. 22 Madeline Albright interviewed by Leslie Stahl. American Broadcasting Company. “60 Minutes.” May 12, 1996. 23 Anthony Lake. “Confronting Backlash States.” Foreign Affairs. New York: Mar/Apr 1994. Vol.73, Is. 2; p.45-56 24 Bill Clinton – Remarks at the White House. December 16, 2008. 7
  • continue, large investments in the American economy comes from the region, and the free flow of oil remains a primary concern. There is little mention of how to reconcile the stated policy of democratization and human rights to the intimate relations the U.S. has with the Gulf’s authoritarian regimes and it appears that the these national interests will continue to propel U.S. policy on a continuum towards increased engagement. The objectives of U.S. policy have largely succeeded in protecting U.S. interests however. The U.S. helped prevent the spread of Communism and Arab nationalism, and except for the 1973 oil embargo avoided any serious threat to the free flow of oil, but this has not come without a price. The U.S. has a much more visible military presence in the region today and quite naturally as a consequence of the very real atrocities it has committed in the name of its foreign policy doctrine. In fact, maintaining foreign policy based on national interests that are not congruent to the indigenous interests of the people as a whole necessitates increased perpetual involvement. The threat of communism and nationalism may have diminished but militant Islam is on the rise and spreading rapidly despite extreme military intervention in the region. From the U.S.’s first interaction with Islamic extremism during the Hostage Crisis of 1980 through the attacks of 9-11 and to today, a rising anti-Americanism has accompanied the increasing U.S. role. Foreign military bases, support for authoritarian regimes, the War in Iraq and continued sanctions alongside unconditional support for Israel have propelled an Islamic fundamentalism that may be coalescing and effecting more popular populist movements to take directions that may prove completely anti-American in years to come if they assume political control. Where there was once an appreciation for U.S. non-interventionism and declared respect for self- determination, there is now complete regional distrust and in man y circles absolute animosity. Thus the long-term consequences of policy-making based on self-interest rear their ultimate long-term outcome. With American power waning, unsustainable debt arising, and military entanglement witnessing the costly intervention in Iraq and Afghanistan, a vacuum of power is beginning to rear its head and make way for radical political consequence in the coming era. Today, the U.S. faces the choice of maintaining a continued military presence in the region, gradual withdrawal while using diplomacy, continued support for loyal regimes, and other tools to continue to pursue U.S. interests, or completely evacuating and returning to a non- interventionist position, thus retreating from hegemonic status and giving up on imperialist ambitions. The decision will be based largely on the interpretation of America’s role in the world and the axiomatic underpinnings of policy intention. It seems unlikely that the domestic citizenry will oppose the U.S. presence in the Gulf at this time or in the foreseeable future. Two-thirds of the world’s proven oil reserves lie in the Gulf region. As the region plays an increasing role of extreme strategic import, the implications of U.S. foreign policy will have a great effect on the make-up of the future geopolitical reality. The contradiction in the U.S.’s expressed intent of promoting democracy is evident and is a direct result of realist policy-making based on national, self seeking interests much as George Keenan described, “We need not deceive ourselves that we can afford today the luxury of altruism and world-benefaction.” It is worth noting that the world generally rallied around the idealism espoused in Woodrow Wilson’s 14 points, the Atlantic Charter, and other documents like them. In retrospect, it is possible to make the argument that grounding foreign policy in principles that preceded the national interest may have generated similar or improved results and actually led to democratizing the region and created a stable and sustainable Near East reality. Certainly there is the likelihood that implementing policy derived from these ideals would create less animosity and perhaps a more 8
  • sustainable long-term state of affairs. The United States realized long ago that foreign support for dictatorial regimes and control over oil income created “increasing hatred” and that “economic and political stability in the area is dependent upon realistic policies with respect to oil. 25” So too contemporary policies with respect to the regimes the U.S. supports, the economic control they exhibit, and the military presence they have now expanded must be realistic. Deriving foreign policy from the national interests of the United States and with less regard to proclaimed democratic principles may create unrealistic and unsustainable policy that in the long run may ultimately unhinge the intended objectives. With the Iranian nuclear issue increasingly coming to the forefront of discussion and the U.S. still embroiled in the wars of Afghanistan and Iraq, along with the expanding fronts of the War on Terror in Somalia and Yemen and long overdue regime change on the horizon in states like Libya and Egypt, it is evident that very real circumstances are present for igniting the whole region into another World War. Gulf policy will necessarily have grave implications on the future stability of the Middle East as a whole. The historical record documents that U.S. policy-making was based on a continuum of “national interest” and may have achieved the underlying objectives in the short term but that it also led to harmful consequences for indigenous citizenry, policies that ran counter to the expressed intention of promoting democracy and democratic institutions, and that created a widespread anti-Americanism most evident in the attacks of 9-11 but not limited specifically to them. The general stability and domination of the United States over the region has persisted, despite many disturbances, over the last forty years. This is quite perplexing. The consequences of future instability are no less than a complete reworking of the balance of power in the world. If the United States continues to make policy based solely on national interests, it may help to initiate the spark that leads to the ultimate exposure of the enormous potential volatility of the Gulf. Generalization with regard to revolution was completely altered by the unfolding of events in Iran in 1978, and increased opposition to U.S. national interests and rising resistance to American involvement suggests that long term consequences could be severe in the event an action or reaction sparks off region wide conflict or a new revolutionary wave. Few saw the revolution in Iran coming in 1978 and minor events can have huge ramifications; for example the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria sparked World War I, a war the majority of world powers eventually entered into and that took the lives of 70 million people. The U.S. should reconsider its approach to the Gulf and pursue national interests derived from principles that remain consistent with democratic ideals and that ultimately dictate U.S. actions in the international arena. Otherwise the post World War II history of U.S. policy in the Gulf could ultimately resemble the story of the British Empire; self-seeking nations tend to overstretch themselves, destroy their currency, and retreat into a lesser role internationally. Starting by discontinuing aid to the dictatorial regime of Egypt and also waving the billions in military assistance given to Israel each year should be followed up in the Gulf by the discontinuance of support for the corrupt and authoritarian House of Saud and negotiations and open dialogue with Iran. These changes represent only the beginning of what would most definitely lead to consequences America may have an issue dealing with. Firstly, an increasing role for Islam would certainly be witnessed in the region and Palestinian rights of self- determination may be realized. Secondarily, a rebirth of autonomy in the Middle East may lead to a multi-polar world order. Other consequences would be realized as well, all of which would 25 see Conference of Middle East Chiefs of Mission. “Agreed Conclusions and Recommendations.” Istanbul: February 14-21, 1951. p.28. 9
  • not necessarily hinder America realizing its “national interests.” Ultimately, there is no doubt that the likelihood of terrorism would diminish, and there is even the possibility of potential peace. If U.S. foreign policy continues to try to subdue antagonist sentiment in the Gulf and Middle East generally with force and coercion, there is little likelihood that it will continue as a global power for long. Inevitably, an alteration of the state of affairs of the region will occur, something along the lines of the Iranian Revolution, and with so much broiled antagonism at the contradiction of U.S. foreign policy practice, there may be a complete shut out of U.S. interests in the region at large. If the U.S. changes course now, it can avoid complete catastrophe. If it continues in the direction of the past 60 years, then any alteration may complete shatter America’s position in the world. The only option will prove to be increasing military and economic involvement as a sustainable policy becomes untenable. Many may downplay the importance of U.S. relations in the region; hindsight may prove that underestimating the potential spark was catastrophic. However, discussing alterations in policy today is the last thing anyone wants to discuss. The prices of oil have gone back down, Iraq has a regime dedicated to the preservation of dollar dominance, Iran is apparently isolated and going to be subject to heinous sanctions that will cripple its regime, many claim that global economic prosperity is returning and that the terrorists are weakening. This view neglects to realize the underlying volatility and the role of U.S. foreign policy in creating the conditions that could ignite the entire Middle East. The inability to proactively discuss the future of these relations will only prove to cause damage no longer in the long-term but now in the coming months and years. Because there is no sustainability to policy that seeks to subjugate the indigenous interests of others, it is only a matter of time before more drastic measures have to be incurred in order to preserve this domination. There are many in the United States that are capable of initiating such preemptive dialogue. It is best that they get started. Like friends and allies, interests are also never permanent and the scope of interest today should be to shift the perception of America in the Muslim world generally and to do so genuinely. Otherwise, the fabric of international order may splinter and the world coming out as a consequence may prove incredibly harmful to the interests of citizens across the world at large. On the other hand, alterations that allow for more freedom and autonomy may initiate a renaissance of sorts and an end to the hypocrisy of stated policy based in democratization with direct contradictions in the actual record. Needless to say, it is time for the U.S. to alter its foreign policy practice especially with regard to the Persian Gulf, or it may prove too late. 10