IssuesMotivated for Choosing the StudyWhile Arab countries are going through massivepolitical change, the role of the United States in the Middle East region ischanging. The political ties between the US and the newly emerging democraciesare likely to be weaker than has been the case under dictatorship. At the sametime, tensions between the US and Iran are rising and getting close to aboiling point.
To explorethe potential outcomes of these developments and to come up with possibilitiesfor reducing the tensions in the region more effectively, one needs to examinehow the interests and strategies of the actors involved have shaped theirmulti-lateral interactions. Thus, thequestions are: What are the objectives of the United States in the Middle East?How do those objectives interact with the interestsof different countries in the region; in particular, those of America’s biggestadversary, Iran, and the closest US ally, Israel? What are the options of these stakeholders inavoiding tension and unnecessary conflict? How are therecent political developments in Arab countries influencing these relations andthe possible outcomes?There is a vast literature that examines the abovequestions from various angles across the field of international relations. This project is an attempt to address thesequestions jointly in an interdisciplinary context, taking into account theeconomic as well as political dimensions of the US relationships with MiddleEastern countries in the global context. The project particularly highlightsthe role of Iran, Israel, and the GCC in these relationships.Originand NatureInterestsand Strategies of the Key PlayersUSInterests and Strategies US businessesand consumers have a keen interest in ensuring a reliable and efficient flow ofoil. While they mostly prefer lower oil prices, they understand that little canbe done to control the price when it is market driven. However, they areconcerned about supply disruptions and potential holdups by major producers.
Todeal with this concern, US policymakers find it necessary to maintain militaryand political presence in the Persian Gulf area to ensure that trade routesremain open and the oil-rich countries there have “friendly” governments. Theyare also keen to keep out potential rivals (e.g., Russians, who havehistorically tried to extend their influence in the region). Israel’sInterests and Strategies Turning toIsrael’s objectives and characteristics, there are a number of issues that needto be listed. To begin with, Israel has been important for Jews generallyaround the world as a focal point and symbol of identity. So, they sympathizewith its cause and want to see it survive and prosper.
However, realizing thisgoal has been a challenge. Formation of Israel was associated with a great dealof violence and dispossession of a large part of Palestinian population.Consequently, despite the fact that peoples of different ethnicities andreligions had lived together in that area relatively peacefully for centuries,Arabs came to see Jewish settlers as their enemies.
Iran’sInterests and Strategies Iran’s utmostinterest in its external relations emerges from its need to ensure the securityof its territory and its natural resources (and their marketing options),especially oil, gas, and marine resources. Some of these resources are sharedacross Iran’s borders with its neighbors and have been subject of dispute in thepast. Iran also suffers from a long history of superpower intervention andmanipulation, aimed at gaining leverage over and its policies and resources.
Attimes foreign forces have invaded parts of Iran or have supported external orinternal proxies to destabilize the country.Interestsand Strategies of Other Major Players: The EUThe EU’s interests and strategies in Middle Easternregion are similar to those of the US. However, the EU’s interests are muchmore focused on economic issues, with the non-oil components also havingsomewhat more weight. The EU has a particular interest in helping the MiddleEast develop economically and politically so that the immigration pressure fromthe region would diminish. In terms of strategic difference, the EU countriesfocus more on the North Africa region, while the US is more focused on militarypresence in the Persian Gulf, where it is the dominant foreign power LiteratureReviewSince decades, a few factors have largelycontributed in attracting western countries to the Middle East, they are:1)Affordable and secured energy resources: ( (Alam, 1969-1977): It has beena reason for concern for the western countries to have a flowing supply ofaffordable and secured energy resources from the Middle Eastern countries.
2)Key waterways for trade shouldnot be blocked. The Suez Canal and the Persian Gulf connect the Middle Eastwith Europe and other western countries through water ways.3) Oil Supply: The Middle East isone of the largest exporters of oil in the world.
The oil-rich countries in the Middle East are Iran, Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Qatar, United Arab Emirates (UAE),Oman, and Yemen The United States haslong been involved with the Middle East. The 1991 Gulf War marked the firsttime since 1958 thatthe U.S.
launched a full-scale invasion of the Middle East in order to protectits interests. Up to the day that Iraq invaded Kuwait, Saddam Hussein was underthe impression that his actions would be acceptable to Washington. (Davis, 2008)United States foreign policy in the Middle East has its roots as early as the BarbaryWars in the first years of the U.S.’s existence, but became much more expansiveafter World War II.
American policy during the Cold War tried to prevent Soviet Union influence by supporting anti-communistregimes and backing Israel against Soviet-sponsored Arab countries.(Mearsheimer, 2006)Recent prioritiesof the U.S. government in the Middle East have included resolving the Arab–Israeliconflict and limitingthe spread of weaponsof mass destruction among regional states.The Western countriesapart from their material vested interests in the Middle East, also came out tosupport the Middle East in the Arab Spring.
The Arab Spring was a series ofprotests fought by people in many Middle Eastern and North African (Islamiccountries). People from all over the world came out to support these peoplethrough social media and governments of other countries also supported thepeople and helped in ending the riots.Another majorconcern for western countries is safeguarding themselves and their people fromthe nuclear technology and nuclear weapons owned by the Middle East.
For thisreason, the United States stepped into the Israeli conflict and the Syrianconflict and have signed an agreement of non violence in the United Nations. (Terhalle, 2011)The sweeping political change in parts of the MiddleEast the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that mayhelp move the equilibrium in less destructive directions. As early as 1912, theIndian philosopher Abul Kalam Azad (1888) wrote: “Islam regards every formof government which is non-constitutional and non-parliamentary as the greatesthuman sin.” Turkey’s Mustafa Fazil Pasha (1829) held that Islam determinedone’s destiny in afterlife but it “does not limit the rights of thepeople”. Abdullah Abdurrahman of South Africa (b1870) observed that,without full equality, “there is no such thing as a democraticinstitution”. Contrary to Muslims’ self-perception, the debate on Islam’salleged incompatibility with democracy continued in the post-war.
(Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States, 2007)Iran might leave the Nuclear Non-ProliferationTreaty (NPT). This brings with it fear of nuclear war and also economic tensionin Iran and the world. This will result in internal war and will add to thecosts of oil exports.So, the westerncountries will continue to be highly interested and engaged with the MiddleEast countries.
CurrentSituationThe current interactions among the strategies of theplayers in the Middle East have produced a fragile equilibrium that does notseem to be sustainable. Iran facesserious internal and external constraints in reaching accommodation with theUnited States. To fend off pressures and threats from the West, especially fromthe US, the Islamic Republic has been building its military deterrentcapabilities. It has alsobeen developing its nuclear technology, which can give it industrial as well aspotential military advantages. In addition, Iran has tried to find alliesaround the world as well as the region’s population. The former part of itsstrategy has brought it to rely on China and Russia, while the latter part hasled it to be vocal against the US and Israel. The leaders of the Islamic Republic do not see muchchance of accommodation with the United States under the current circumstancesbecause they perceive the US as intent to influence Iran’s internal politicsand undermine it as an independent power.
The basis for this perception isIran’s own experience under the Shah as well as the situation they observe inmost Arab countries aligned with the US. The situation might change if the US comes to acceptIran as an independent power, as it did in the case of China in the 1970s. But,Iran and the US have not reached such a stage yet. To deal with Iran’sstrategy, the United States has been using its levers around the world toincrease economic and political pressures on Iran. The pressure on Iran has so far remained focused onincreasingly tougher economic and diplomatic sanctions. Given the internalcoordination difficulties and the prospects of being undermined if it gives into the Western pressure, the Islamic Republic has not been in a position to bargainwith the US. Inevitably, it has focused on expanding its military strength andregional influence to deter a military attach. The US,Israel, the EU, and the GCC, on the other hand, have grown increasingly wary ofIran’s path.
Most other Arab countries, which are aligned with the US have kepttheir distance from Iran, but are not active followers of the US strategy. Mostother countries that are not under direct US influence seem to see Iran not somuch as a threat that they see it as a challenge or even an opportunity. As a result,getting them to participate in pressuring Iran further has been difficult forthe US and its allies. Syria and, to some extent, Lebanon have tried to benefitfrom their connections with Iran. This has spanned the US negotiations with the EU,China, Russia, India, and many other countries. But, these efforts have hadlimited success due to the benefits that most of those countries get frommaintaining relations with Iran and because of their interest in keeping Iran asa bargaining chip in their dealings with the United States.
LessonsLearnedA possible scenario is that under pressure, Iranmight leave the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), and reinforce thesuspicion that it is developing or has access to nuclear weapons. This mightdrive the US or its allies to rash action, including a pre-emptive militarystrike on Iran, with disastrous consequences. But, it may alternatively create an arms race andmilitarized standoff around the Persian Gulf. This would make oil trade costly and imposesignificant economic costs on many people, especially Iran’s population.
So, thereare hardly any possible ways that would allow the tensions to diminish and helpestablish a more stable and productive equilibriumRecommendationsfor the FutureThe sweeping political change in parts of the MiddleEast the Arab Awakening, should change some of the equations in ways that mayhelp move the equilibrium in less destructive directions. As a result of the uprisings, new Islamist-orientedgovernments should emerge in important parts of the Arab world, especially inEgypt, Libya, Tunisia, and Yemen. These regimes are likely to be less friendlytowards the United States and Israel than their undemocratic predecessors. The new governments should be be more sympathetictowards Iran, but most probably not in any position to form any alliance theIslamic Republic. The GCC countries need to adjust their positions closer tothose of the new regimes in the region and, as a result, reduce their cleavageswith Iran. This will reduce the United States’ ability to maneuver against Iranin the Middle East region. At the sametime, the US and Israel should be more accommodating towards the Arab publicopinion and show more compromise in their dealings with the Palestinians. Thiswould take the wind out of Iran’s sales when it comes to the support for thePalestinian cause and opposition to Israel and the US.