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Why Did the U.S. Involve Itself with the Middle East in the Early to Mid 1990 s?
When the United States of America was founded in 1776 it seemed to our forefathers there was little if any need for a real foreign policy. The general belief was that the United States was small and, to say the least, on shaky ground. So when the drafters of the constitution put their plan of government into writing little, if any, reference to the role of the United States in world politics, much less in the politics of a region so different and unknown as the Middle East. Such thoughts are a far cry from what we know today as the role of the U.S. in world politics and Middle Eastern politics.
The United States ranks fourth among the world s countries in area and third in population. It has the world s most productive economy and is the world s largest producer of food. It is a military superpower. Indeed, there is little that happens in the United States that does not affect other parts of the world (The Politics Of American Government). With this in mind one might think the United States could exist independent of any other country in the world, but the facts remain that even though the U.S. is the world s most productive economy it is also the country with the largest budget at $1.519 trillion dollars in 1995, the country is the greatest donor of foreign aid with $4.57 billion in 1994 to Israel alone, and also the country with the with the greatest foreign debt and the greatest national debt totaling in at $5.153 trillion dollars as of March 31, 1996, (The Guinness Book of Records).
Knowing these things it is easy to see that the U.S. is far from self-reliant. How did a nation that is considered by many to be the greatest nation in the world come to such a point of economic hardship? A large part of this is due to the fact the U.S. is heavily involved in commerce with Middle Eastern countries, primarily for oil. In fact the U.S. is the world s largest oil consumer taking in 26 percent of world s oil production in 1994. And who is the world s largest oil producer? You guessed it, the Middle Eastern country of Saudia Arabia (The Guinness Book Of Records). So when the question is asked as to what the U.S. role of peace in the Middle East is, the initial answers seems to easy, simple economics. However, it is not that clear cut and dry. As mentioned above, the US donated over four billion dollars to Israel in 1994. If simple economics is the answer, than this donation makes no economic sense.
The United States of America has always been a proponent of communism and supporter of democracy. After World War II, the US government basically made a commitment to Israel. Hitler s slaughter of the Jewish people and the economic turmoil that Israel was in, it was evident they would need foreign support/aid. The aid had to come from abroad because all of Israel s neighboring countries are less than friendly with them. The US has tried to stick to their commitment and support Israel and their democracy even though it could probably greater benefit economically by not supporting them.
The United States needs the oil of the Middle East and will go to great lengths to protect their supplier of black gold. Does the U.S. have to continue in this role of world policeman? And what are the alternatives to warring with every Middle Eastern nation that threatens to monopolize the oil industry? These are the questions I hope to answer.
Peace, n. In international affairs, a period of cheating between two periods of fighting (The Devil s Dictionary). Though Ambrose Bierce is simply poking fun at the idea of sustained peace with this definition it seems to contain a lot of truth within it when talking about the Middle East. It is arguably the most war stricken region on the planet. Why is it so war stricken? Because of the multi-trillion dollar business of oil. But does the U.S. have any right to protect a business that is not their own and wage war in a land not it s own either, all for the sake of money?
No, it does not, not for the sole sake of money. The protection and the war is not solely for money, it is for two reasons. The first reason is the issue of oil. America is a country that is based of oil. Some people need it to heat their homes, but most importantly we need it to get around. We have based our civilization in cities, countrysides, and suburbs. We live in the suburbs and drive to the cities to work. Other countries have planned their cities to contain businesses and residents; therefore people are able to traverse the shorter distance from home to work on a bike or on foot. Without oil to fuel our cars our way of life would completely change. The second reason is that of our commitment to Israel. Being the most powerful democratic nation in the world that promotes the spread of democracy means we are responsible to other weaker nations in their endeavor to maintain that form of government.
Despite the fact that the U.S. is now heavily involved in foreign affairs it has not always been so. Before World War II the history of American foreign policy almost continual isolationism–disengagement from the affairs of foreign countries except when they intersected directly with United States interests (The Politics of American Government). World War II had changed the face of the globe and two superpowers arose from the ashes to lay claim as the as the world s dominant nation and this began the struggle of foreign policy. Prior to World War II the U.S. was, for the most part, an independent nation. The national debt was low, totaling in at only $43 billion dollars in the fiscal year 1940 (The World Almanac 1994). But in fiscal 1945, near the end of World War II, that debt had increased six times over to the monster sum of $258.7 billion dollars and to the beginning of what is today the greatest national debt in the world. This was also the beginning of the cold war. The race was on to see who could control the world economy. Part of that control came in the Middle East where nearly all of the world s known oil supply could be found. At this point the U.S. took it upon itself to end its isolationistic foreign policy. The ultimate objective of American foreign and defense policy was the containment of the influence of the Soviet Union (The Politics of American Government).
The first step the U.S. took in the movement away from isolationism was the Marshall Plan. The Marshall Plan outlined and gave specific roles for the U.S. in the post-war rebuilding of Europe. The U.S. had an active role in the Plan, they were to lend the money and later make the profits. They (the Truman administration) extended to a commitment to rebuild the economics of Europe through the Marshall Plan and to encourage international financial stability and an open trading system, not just for the fun of it but because these things were in America s interests (Newsweek 9/20/93). The greater question remains. Did the public agree with the idea of moving into the world stage of politics or did the American people wish to remain isolationalists? Overwhelmingly the public agreed that the U.S. should take an active role in world affairs.
Question: Do you think it would be best for the future of this country if we take an active part in world affairs, or if we stay out of world affairs? (Answers reported as a percentage of respondents.) (The Politics of American Government)
DATE ACTIVE PART STAY OUT NO OPINION
March 1991 73 24 2
March 1994 65 32 4
This study was taken from the textbook The Politics Of American Government and it clearly shows that not only did the public believe the United States should have a role in world affairs in the 1940 s but the same belief is held today. The United States of America can and should step into international affairs, even those not affecting its economics. The principal reason for the freedom that public opinion affords foreign and defense policy makers is that most of the time most Americans do not feel directly affected by, and are therefore not well informed about, international issues. They are usually willing to leave decisions on such matters to the president and other political leaders and to support them when they appear to be acting in the national interest (The Politics of American Government).
The previous statement is exactly the reason why the United States people have agreed to enter the world political stage and that includes the role of peacekeeper. Between the years of 1789 and 1944 the United States had entered into 837 treaties and 1,438 executive agreements, which are basically the same as treaties but do not have to be approved by the senate, for a total of 2,275 agreements in 155 years. However, since 1945 the United States has entered into over 14,000 different treaties and agreements in a matter of only 52 years! But can any of us as Americans even recall more than five of these treaties? I seriously doubt that we could. So was all this really necessary for the United States to become a world power? The answer a clear and resounding NO . What the U.S. should do and what the public should do is educate themselves in the affairs of foreign countries, especially Middle Eastern countries where the culture is so different from our own. But the facts remain that we as a country are in too deep for that now and though such a policy of education to cut down bureaucracy may help future generations it will not get us out of the economic pickle with the oil, and warfare that inevitably comes with it, in the Middle East.
For example, during the time of the Shah of Iran, the US was selling him massive amounts of military equipment. In return, he was selling us massive amounts of oil. The government would like us to believe that we did not arm our enemy, but the fact is; we did. It is not easy for our government to admit that it made a mistake, but it is run by people and we do make mistakes. It is also interesting to note and this is a hypothetical. Iran would probably cease to have a conflict with the US if we would cease in our support to Israel. However, we will not stop supporting a country that is democratic.
With all the warfare coming from the Middle Eastern region one might think that there is no hope for peace. How does one country contain a region so far away from tearing itself apart? To tell the truth it doesn t. One of America s great resources in international relations is its wealth and industrial capacity (The Politics of American Government). And who can argue with that logic? We are in fact the most powerful nation in the world; with more capital, more arms, and more military installations throughout the world than any other nation. That is one of the ways the United States keeps the peace; the one with the biggest guns keeps the peace. Yet with all this firepower and might the United States has been unable to keep the peace. So why do we as a nation keep trying maintain order in a land that is so unruly? Once again it comes down to the object which makes the world go round; money.
So if the United States can write thousands of treaties, employ hundreds of thousands of troops, and defeat the tyrants of the Arabic world then why can t we simply maintain peace in the Middle East? Don t forget that the Middle East sits at the center of three continents and three civilizations. Almost any event anywhere affects the peace process (Newsweek 9/20/93). This is why there is little hope for a lasting peace in the Middle East. There is such a diverse and changing gamut of cultures it is impossible to please them all for any extended period of time. Though these efforts the U.S. has received profound thanks and appreciation for their untiring efforts in furthering the cause of peace, justice and prosperity for all the peoples of the region, that is essentially all the United States has received. This makes it quite clear that the United States has little to no role in the peace process in the Middle Eastern countries, not out of lack of interest or morality but simply due to the fact that there can be no outside force to which the peace may come. Change towards a peaceful society, like all true change, must come from within.
There are other reasons for the continual U.S. involvement in the Middle East. For instance: the Constitution states that the president is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces. Presidents have successfully argued that this position gives them broad authority to move American troops around the globe whenever they think American lives are endangered or American security is jeopardized. Thomas Jefferson sent the Navy to protect American shipping from the Barbary pirates of North Africa, and Ronald Reagan sent the Marines to help keep peace in Lebanon. Both men acted under the implied power of the Commander-in-chief clause (The Politics of American Government).
Therefore it seems that the Constitution gives the implication that the United States President has the right to send American lives abroad in the sake of American interests. But if this is so then what are the checks and balances of this system? Isn t that what happened in the Vietnam Conflict? The United States, in order to prevent the spread of communism to Vietnam, sent troops to Vietnam to influence them towards a more democratic form of government. And of course we all know what happened, the United States suffered over 30,000 casualties and became a place of extreme civil disorder due to the protest of the conflict. All of this, and war was never even declared.
Can we be total isolationists again? I should think that would be quite impossible considering the substantial amounts of capital that we have invested. The idea of pure isolationism is to many not only absurd but even unattainable. This is an agreeable stand considering that even if a nation were able to be totally self-sufficient and avoided all contact with other nations eventually another nation would take it upon themselves to attack that nation for one reason or another. In an essay printed in Time magazine (Time 11/8/93) Henry Grunwald says the following:
Come on, you say, that the U.S. cannot fight totalitarianism all
over the map. Of course not. But there are certain situations, in
addition to attacks on American territory or lives, in which the U.S.
must act. Here are some: 1) if the world faces a nuclear threat, for
example from North Korea; 2) if a vital U.S. ally is attacked; 3) if a
crucial area like the Middle East is once again subjected to the Iraqi-
style aggression; 4) if we are confronted with a major terrorist offensive.
He concludes with the following statement:
The overriding U.S. national interest is an open world in which
America can thrive. (That is why protectionism and the anti-NAFTA
campaign, merely other forms of isolationism, are so dangerous) But
such a world will not even be approached without American ideas,
initiatives and sustained, sophisticated presidential leadership. Power
takes many forms and it seems that Clinton does not yet fully understand
the uses of power. The opposite of isolationism is not necessarily
intervention but constant, consistent engagement in the world. That is
what you should ask of Bill Clinton: the foreign equivalent of his
domestic campaign. If he can achieve that, there is no reason for you to
be an isolationist; but if he fails, America will be isolated.
Within this article alone it is demonstrated that there is little reason or want for the isolationistic idealism. As a general statement it must be said that in order for any of those idea to become a reality we must be willing to compromise. It is naive to think that the United States can bail an entire region out of war and at the same time not put itself in a precarious situation. We must find that balance. Be prepared to walk away if there is no deal to be done. Negotiations are about points of leverage–and one thing an American negotiator can do is walk away. I ve always said that America can t want peace more than the parties themselves (Newsweek 9/20/93). Never could a statement ring more true than that. Now if only the United States Government could see things as clearly then there might be a true place for progress in the Middle East. Is there any way that we as individuals can change the fact that we are not the most prolific nation when it comes to foreign affairs? Yes, and that is what makes our country so great and powerful. We have the ability to change. As a people we need to educate and be educated on the present situation in the Middle East, then we can let our representatives know that we are happy or unhappy with the present Middle Eastern situation. And finally should no change come about within our own system then we should find a representative who will do the job to our liking and elect that person. It is the only way that change will come about. It will be from within us.
There can be no conclusion to this idea for it simply goes on and on with time. But above all we must remember that there are places right now where people are dying and children are starving. We must remember that there are places on this earth where peace is not an everyday factor of life that is taken for granted. We are not alone and we cannot pretend that we are. We must forget the balance of trade and find the balance of justice and peace. For if do not stand up for the way in which we live as a nation we will cease to be a nation at all, but rather a distant and ignorant culture with no true allies, not even within itself.
1. Baker, James A. Special Report Newsweek 9/20/93, Vol. 122, Issue 12
2. Bierce, Ambrose The Devil s Dictionary. New York: Dover Publications,
3. Elliot, Henry How would Harry handle this? Newsweek 9/20/93 Vol 122, Issue 12
4. Grunwald, Henry Letter to an Isolationist Time 11/8/93 Vol.142 Issue 19
5. Wayne, MacKenzie, O Brien, and Cole The Politics of American Government. 2nd Edition, New York: St. Martin s Press, 1997
6. The Guiness Book of Records. New York: Bantam Books, 1997
7. The Washington Declaration Israel Foreign Ministry-Jeruslem, July 25th, 1994
8. The World Almanac and Book of Facts. New Jersey: Funk and Wagnalls,1994
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