Submitted by: Amanda Jarrett
The purpose of this literature review is to assist as a stepping stone of my understanding of the current condition of the Middle East. The goal of the sources I have found is to provide me with a comprehensive understanding of when the United States first became involved in the Middle East, why the United States has been continuously involved within the region, and why the relationship between certain states within the region and the United States are the way that they are. The sources that I have found mainly focus on the political and economic aspects of the United States Foreign Policy towards the Middle East. As my research progresses and I begin to narrow down on my honors thesis question pertaining to Orientalism, I will begin collecting and reflecting on sources that discuss the United States influence on the Middle East in an ideological and social way. Such sources will include Orientalism by Edward Said and American Orientalism by Douglas Little. Stated below there will be a discussion of a select few sources and the themes that have been observed in them.
On a topic as complicated as the US involvement in the Middle East, the sources that can be found range dramatically in what they specifically talk about. There were a few different sources that nicely painted the history of the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Beaver provided a brief summary of the significance the Middle East has on civilization, calling it the “Cradle of Civilization.” He also described the political shift within the region beginning with the end of World War I and the fall of the Ottoman Empire, describing the involvements of the French and British governments and their attempts to colonize the region. The article was outlined in a way that provided a comprehensive review of each countries’ interaction with the US, such as: Egypt, Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, and the Palestinians. Then the author broke down the rest of the article into segments of US policy towards the region by describing policy during and after the Cold War Era and the US’s intentions for the region. In addition to this discussion, the author provided an analysis of US involvement in some of the regional wars such as the Persian Gulf and showcasing the benefits of the war.
As for Yaqub, his whole piece was a review of Douglas Little’s American Orientalism. His piece helped digest a fairly complicated issue: the cultural and psychological underpinnings of the United States involvement in the region. He discusses the US’s attempt to “modernize and westernize Middle Eastern societies” (619). He also discussed the history of US involvement within the region but mainly focusing on the Truman and Eisenhower Doctrines as well as US involvement in the region’s oil production. He also elaborated on the US involvement with Iraq’s government in the 1950s and the US support for the Shah of Iran in the 1970s.
Monshipouri was the only source to describe why monarchies in the Middle East prevail, which is due to the failure to produce plausible alternatives in any Islamic political movements. This author also described the double standard of US positioning within the region and about the rights of certain refugees and arms arsenals. The US supports the right for former Soviet Jews to return, but does not reserve the right for Palestinian refugees to return as well. The article is structured by listing various paradoxes that the US provides with their involvement in the region. There are seven paradox themes that the author mentions: power and interdependence, defining enemy and ally, militarization and stability, supporting reformist and nonaccountable regimes, maintaining sanctions and the status quo, cheap oil and energy security, and truce brokering and partisan diplomacy. As for Chomsky’s piece, it mainly discussed the individual actors within the Middle East that cause issue for the US, such as Egypt’s president Gamal Abdel Nasser. This author also discussed the reality of Palestinian’s economic standing within the region.
Tristam provided a great outline of the goals and the actions of each administration in the Middle East including those of the Truman, Eisenhower, Kennedy, Johnson, Nixon-Ford, Carter, Reagan, George H.W. Bush, Clinton, and the George W. Bush administration. He mentioned the extent to which the US was involved in some Middle Eastern events and the administration’s position on it. For example, this author talked about how the US brought Turkey into NATO, the CIA coup in Iran, the Arab Oil Embargo of 1973, the successes and failures of Camp David, the Iranian hostage crisis, the Invasion of Kuwait, and the US war in Afghanistan. Most of these events were not mentioned in other sources because they mainly portrayed the US’s involvement through a more historic view rather than a political lens. In addition to this article, Pollack’s piece debates the difference in approaches of the two most recent US administrations: Bush and Obama. He stated that Bush pushed for unilateralism towards the militarization of the Middle East in order to combat terrorism more effectively. The Obama administration has taken a more hands off approach. This back and forth between policy strategy between administrations has caused more harm than good in terms of stabilization within the region.
Sarhan was the only source that expanded and described the type of involvement the US had in the Middle East before World War II. The author discussed how the beginnings of trade in the region began in 1831 when the first American Ottoman Treaty was signed. This piece also discussed the influence of American educational institutions and how the American University of Beirut (AUB) became regionally respected and influential. This source expanded on the effect of the Ottoman Empire falling on the international relations of the region. This was when the British and the French stepped in and began getting involved in the politics of the region. This source also helped describe some specific concepts that are pro-Western that the Middle East found appealing. Lastly, having read this article along with all the others, it became evident how impactful the Six Day War was. Thus, to gain a deeper understanding of that situation, the State Department summary helped tremendously.
The first theme that will be discussed will be on the initial involvements of the United States in the Middle Eastern region. Only one of the sources that I found discusses the United States involvement in the region prior to World War II. Sarhan stated that the beginnings of United States political involvement began with the American Ottoman Treaty that was signed in 1831 due to the increase of trade between Turkey and the US. Before World War I, the US’s role in the Middle East was strictly through commercial relations, missionaries, and educational activities. Tristam stated that those commercial interests came from oil production, which initially began in 1914. Sarhan laid out a few key factors that lead to the US’s initial increase of engagement within the region. Firstly, after the fall of the Ottoman Empire, the region fell under heavy British and French influence. Secondly, US foreign policy was mainly isolationist until the bombing of Pearl Harbor which led them to become increasingly involved on the global scale.
There was an agreeance between multiple sources that said the American involvement in the Middle East continuously progressed due to the ideological war with the Soviet Union. However, Sarhan was the only source that described the initial feelings of the Middle East towards the US. In the beginning, the Middle East found Wilson’s concept of self-determination largely appealing due to the desire to gain independence from their colonizers. Unfortunately, this positive opinion of the US did not last, especially after the independence of Israel in 1948. After World War II, Britain admitted that they no longer could financially support the region and began withdrawing its interests and troops (Yaqub).
The changing conditions within the Middle East in terms of foreign involvement led to the second theme that was observed through the sources that were collected: the significance of the doctrines from each US administration. Three doctrines were described in multiple sources: the Truman, the Eisenhower, and the Nixon. The Truman was introduced in 1947, showcasing that the US would take over for the British in their financial commitment to Turkey and Greece. Along with this commitment, the doctrine created a basis for containing soviet influence (Beaver). The Eisenhower Doctrine was implemented in 1957 in response to the Suez War of 1956, the Soviet infiltration of the Arab states, and as a way to counter Nasser’s broad pan-Arabism (Sarhan). The last significant doctrine mentioned was Nixon’s which was implemented in 1969. The doctrine was another push for peace within the region as well as a call for opposition against Soviet influence, leading to the US support of the Shah of Iran through military aid in the 1970s (Yaqub).
The third theme comes from the US’s positioning in the Arab-Israeli conflicts. In terms of modern history, the conflicts within the region between Israel and the Arab states stem from Israel’s independence back in 1948. The Balfour Declaration allowed for Jews to stake claims in the land of Palestine. Within minutes of Israel’s formation, the United States recognized them as a legitimate state (Sarhan). In turn, this amplified tensions between the Palestinians and Israel. The Palestine Liberation Operation (PLO) orchestrated terrorist attacks within Israel in the 1960s which led to a brief war with Jordan, causing the PLO to flee to Lebanon. With the PLO’s placement within Lebanon, Israel went to war with them (Beaver). The United States were the ones to tell Israel to call for a ceasefire. The United States also sent their first deployment to the region during the conflict in order to protect the Christian regime (Tristam). In addition to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians and the current Palestinian Question, Israel has entered into multiple wars with its neighboring Arab States.
A common trend between every source is the mentioning of the Six Day War. This war happened in the year of 1967 where Israel struck against Egypt in response to them closing the Straits of Tiran (State Department). At this point in time, Syria and Egypt had become one state called the United Arab Republic (UAR), thus causing Syria to be drawn into the war as well as Jordan (Beaver). The conflict resulted in Israel gaining control of the Sinai peninsula, Golan Heights, the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and East Jerusalem (State Department). Israel threatened to take more land and in doing so caused the Soviets to threaten an attack in retaliation. In an attempt to de-escalate the situation, Johnson put its Navy on alert and compelled Israel to agree to a ceasefire (Tristam). There has been constant tension between Israel and Egypt. The United States has continuously decided to support Israel, though in the Six Day War it was not ideal. The goal was to cause a stalemate between the two nations in order to achieve temporary peace and to contain Soviet influence since Egypt was getting military backing from the Soviets (Beaver). Though there were previous conflicts such as the Arab-Israeli War of 1948, the Six Day War seemed to be a turning point in both the Arab-Israeli relationship and United States involvement within the Middle East. The US has a heavy hand in Arab-Israeli peacekeeping as well as in their inability to resolve the conflict (Chomsky). After the Six Day War, Syria cut all ties with the US and did not resume relations until after the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
In the 1950s, the United States’ relationship with Syria turned for the worse. They denied pro-Western thought and turned towards the Soviet side of the Cold War, furthering their alliance through denouncing the Eisenhower Doctrine. In 1956, Israel, Britain, and France attacked Egypt for nationalizing the Suez Canal. Eisenhower stepped in by not only voicing his opposition to the conflict but also ending the war (Beaver).
The first initial involvement that the United States had with Iran began in the early 1950s and thus leading to its state of upheaval. In 1953, under the Eisenhower administration, the CIA succeeded in a coup which disposed of Mohammed Mossadegh. This act terminated any of the United States’ good reputation among Iranians and the US claims of protecting democracy (Tristam). Iran became a core state in the fight to stop Soviet influence within the region, mainly due to its geographical location. They ended their allegiance to the US in 1979, the year of the revolution and establishing a republic. When Iran got a new leader in 1990, there was an attempt to rebuild their relations with the US. As a result, the US decided to cut all trade and investment with Iran due to nuclear proliferation and terrorist acts (Beaver). The US’s attempt to spread democracy throughout the region has largely been affected by the Arab-Israeli conflicts and anger from Arab states towards the US.
The last theme comes from the reiteration of US interests in the region. There are three main reasons why the US’s primary attention is still in the Middle East: security, oil, and the Palestinian Question. In the security aspect, the goal was to build an arsenal for the pro-Western regimes as a way to protect and secure democracy in the region. This creates a double standard of US involvement within the region because the US is against countries such as Iran and Iraq to build an arsenal while at the same time denouncing any aims at Israel for theirs (Monshipouri). The US wanted to keep the status quo of the region and combat communism. As for the aspect of oil, during World War II, America became convinced that Middle Eastern oil would be the key to their security. In the early 1970s, the Arab states became more assertive in protecting their supply of oil which led to a shortage of supply causing American companies to loss their control over the supply and its pricing of the foreign oil (Yaqub). There is a security aspect to controlling oil production in the Middle East. First, the US dominated oil production in Latin America and in the Western Hemisphere, and they also wanted to control production in the Middle East so that they could dominate the global production of oil (Chomsky). The first time the US got involved in the region for its oil was back in 1914 through American oil companies. Then, in 1938, there was the establishment of the ARAMCO company in Saudi Arabia as an Arabian-American oil company which paved the way for other American companies to deal in Middle Eastern oil (Tristam). The interest in Middle Eastern oil mainly stemmed from its economic profit and strategic policy (Sarhan). Lastly, the US involvement in the Middle East is complicated by their support for Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The ability to interpret these different sources has allowed for me to lay out a roadmap to the complicated history of the United States’ involvement in the Middle East. Sources such as Sarhan, Yaqub, Beaver, and the State Department summary showcased the historical aspects of US involvement. Other sources like Tristam, Monshipouri and Chomsky engage with their material in a way that shows the US’s policy and decision making process. Lastly, Pollack took a deeper look into how the two most recently completed administrations differentiated their strategic policy towards the Middle East and how that affects its current condition. All of these sources have provided me with the analytical and historical knowledge of the political and economic situation of the Middle East. Moving forward, I am excited to take the next step into expanding my knowledge by learning more about the cultural consequences of US involvement in the region.
Al Sarhan, A. S. (2017). United States Foreign Policy and the Middle East. Open Journal of Political Science, 7, 454-472. https://doi.org/10.4236/ojps.2017.74036 (Sarhan)
Bobby Beaver, et al. “The Middle East: United States Policy and Relations in the Latter Half of the 20th Century.” EDGE, Stanford. (Beaver)
Chomsky, Noam. “After the Cold War: U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East.” Cultural Critique, vol. 19, 1991, pp. 14–31., doi:https://www.jstor.org/stable/1354305? origin=JSTOR-pdf&seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents. (Chomsky)
Monshipouri, Mahmood. “The Paradoxes of U.S. Policy in the Middle East.” Middle East Policy Council, 2002, www.mepc.org/journal/paradoxes-us-policy-middle-east. (Monshipouri)
Pollack, Kenneth, et al. “U.S. Foreign Policy and the Future of the Middle East.” Middle East Policy Council, vol. 11, no. 3, doi:https://www.mepc.org/us-foreign-policy -and-future-middle-east. (Pollack)
“The Six-Day War: U.S. State Department Summary of the War.” Jewish Virtual Library, American-Israeli Cooperative Enterprise, www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/u-s-state -department-summary-of-the-six-day-war. (State Department)
Tristam, Pierre. “U.S. Policy in the Middle East: 1945 to 2008.” Thoughtco., Dotdash, 14 Aug. 2018, www.thoughtco.com/us-and-middle-east-since-1945-2353681. (Tristam)
Yaqub, Salim. “U.S Foreign Policy in the Middle East.” Reviews in American History, vol. 31,no. 4, 2003, pp. 619–625. JSTOR, JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/30031381. (Yaqub)