Doctoring the Middle East

As the Obama administration introduces its new foreign policy doctrine this week, it's worth reminding ourselves that t

    As the Obama administration introduces its new foreign policy doctrine this week, it's worth reminding ourselves that the greater Middle East region is central to US strategy today just as it has been over the last half a century.

    After a decade of US blunders in Iraq and Afghanistan under the guise of the "global war on terror", President Obama's overall commitment to "engagement" with other world emerging powers like China and India, and support for multilateralism contrasts sharply with his predecessor's desire to "go it alone" when possible, along with others only if necessary.

    Over the last year, the Obama administration has changed the bombastic language of the Bush administration. For example, it has distanced itself from all generalization about the 'global war on terror' and Muslim world and instead concentrated its war against al-Qaeda.

    But whether in reality the Obama administration has made a serious shift in the greater region remains to be seen.

    More of the same..?

    All in all, over the sixty years, Washington, guided by special national security doctrines, has grown into the most important Middle East power.

    The US has been changing regimes, making key alliances, sponsoring diplomatic processes, intervening in internal state affairs, invading countries and deploying hundreds of thousands of soldiers in the name of US national security.

    And despite all his rhetoric to the contrary, President Obama has so far been as implicated in the region has his predecessors. In fact, even more so in certain areas as Afghanistan/Pakistan.

    Some even go as far as describing Obama's presidency as Bush II!

    Regional commentators and analysts see Obama's policies starting by his escalation of the war in Afghanistan, issuing ultimatums to Iran, expanding US covert operations in the Middle East - as revealed in the New York Times last week - through his new rapprochement with the unrepentant Netanyahu government, as signs of more of the same aggressive (read interventionist) US strategy in the region.

    The following quick summary of how 60 years of US national security doctrines influenced the Middle East region, might be useful background when reading the future US national security doctrine.

    Truman focusing on the Middle East

    American strategic interest in the Middle East after the Second World War was initially based on two pillars, containing Soviet expansion and securing cheap oil flow.

    In his May 24 1951 address to congress, then-US President Harry Truman recognized the importance of Middle East oil, which made "half of the oil reserves of the world" and he warned against Soviet pressure in this volatile region.

    In the 1950s, America's bet was on so called 'moderate' Arab states.

    Truman recommended two levels of regional military alliances, the British inspired Middle East Command, and the Middle East Defense Organization - otherwise referred to as the Baghdad pact, which included Turkey, and royalist Iraq, which broke from the Arab rank. Pakistan and Iran joined in 1955.

    Egypt rejected the pact, and Israeli raids on Egypt further exacerbated the situation during the 1955 attack on Gaza, under Egyptian control.

    All of which deepened the "radical vs moderate" US approach to the region.

    Eisenhower, more of the same

    The Eisenhower doctrine, which demanded special powers to confront Soviet expansion in the region, became law in March 1957.

    President Eisenhower followed in the footsteps of Truman and further cemented American's relations with the Arab world, with less dependence on Britain, but with the same hostility toward Egypt and an expanded role for the American military to interfere in the region to confront hostile threats from the outside.

    The Eisenhower, like the Truman, doctrine envisioned a major role for Arab countries in protecting American interests in the region and against the Soviet Union, and little or no role of significance for Israel. Meanwhile, the "Jewish state" remained dependent on European economic aid and trade and French arms through the mid 1960s.

    After Israel, France and Britain carried a trilateral attack on Egypt in 1956 without prior notice to the United States. General Eisenhower - joined by the Soviet Union - insisted that all occupied territories be returned to Egypt.

    US alliances in the context of the Cold War led to changes and instability in the countries involved, especially Iran in 1953, Lebanon in 1958, and the Syrian-Egyptian alliance. It also led to changes in seeking Soviet arms and the military coup in Iraq, which lead to the first US military intervention in the region.

    Washington also supported Jordan's King Hussein when he disrupted the democratic process by cancelling the election results of 1957.

    On the overall, the interests of oil companies and the concerns of US state department "Arabists" rendered close relationships with Israel awkward during the 1950s.

    From 1967 onward

    The United States came to the conclusion under presidents Johnson and Nixon that it could no longer respond to every incident around the world and that it must rely on local powers.

    Following the 1967 war, the special relationship between the US and Israel took off under president Johnson, who admired Israel's success in defeating two "Soviet clients" - Syria and Egypt - in only six days using Western armaments.

    The closing of the Suez Canal, which forced Soviet supplies to North Vietnam to take the long route around Africa, was another geopolitical bonus in Johnson's eyes.

    After the war, Washington granted Israel unprecedented political, economic, and military support. This was consistent with America's geo-strategic thinking and Johnson's promise to Israel's foreign minister Abba Eban to supply Israel with the most up-to-date fighter planes, air-to-air missiles, and tanks, all of them otherwise available only to NATO members.

    The Nixon Doctrine

    The Nixon-Kissinger Doctrine was announced in major speeches in Guam 3 November 1969 and in the 1970 State of the Union speech.

    While pertaining mainly to Vietnam, the idea of "vietnamization" or getting regional surrogates to fight your battles for you applied to the Middle East.

    The Nixon doctrine paved the way for appointing regional cops to guard its interests, which became US strategy.

    In a 27 January 1969 address Nixon said the Middle East is a "powder keg, very explosive" because the "next explosion in the Mideast, I believe, could involve a confrontation between the nuclear powers".

    Paradoxically, Nixon saw the 1967 war as a gain for the Soviets because they became the Arabs' friend and the US their enemy.

    But if it that had to happen, America needed to prepare to confront whatever strategic challenge that could emerge from the region.

    US strategy came first, diplomacy later. In a memo to Kissinger in spring 1970 Nixon outlined his beliefs in Israel: "Israel is for us the only state in the Mideast which is pro-freedom and an effective opponent to Soviet expansion" - a major change shift away from the Arab allies.

    During the October 1973 war, the American government took the necessary measures to be on a nuclear alert to support their client. America supplied Israel with great amounts of new armaments through an urgently set up air bridge connecting America with Israel.

    The Ford doctrine continued in the footsteps of the Nixon administration bridged by Henry Kissinger.

    As Ford put it later in his memoirs, "For the past 25 years, the philosophical underpinning of US policy toward Israel had been our conviction ... that if we gave Israel an ample supply of economic aid and weapons, she would feel strong and confident, more flexible and more willing to discuss a lasting peace.

    "The Israelis were stronger than all their Arab neighbours combined yet peace was no closer than it had ever been. So I began to question the rationale for our policy. I wanted the Israelis to recognize that there had to be some quid pro quo."

    Carter Doctrine

    President Carter's advent after Nixon was all too similar to that of President Obama after Bush.

    Jimmy Carter, the southern governor, the Washington outsider who came to take over Washington and clean it from the likes of Nixon, took power infused with a new "moral" view of US relations with the world.

    The US public was shocked and disillusioned after the defeat in Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, and so Carter felt it necessary to give at least rhetorical importance to questions of human rights, dealing fairly with other nations and avoiding foreign military engagements.

    In terms of US relations with the Middle East, Carter stressed more than any previous president, Palestinian rights and some form of autonomy for the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza.

    Strategically Carter's Camp David process paved the way for an Egyptian-Israeli peace deal, the most important strategic gain for the US in a decade.

    After the signing of the peace treaty and following the 1978 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the 1979 Islamic revolution in Iran, the Gulf region and the outer Middle East took a more urgent priority in the Carter administration.

    His doctrine wasn't clear until the end of his tenure.

    The proclamation of the "Carter Doctrine" on 23 January 1980, warned, "Let our position be absolutely clear: Any attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of American, and such an assault will be repelled by any means, including military force."

    After the Islamic Iranian revolution and the upset to the traditional order in the Middle East, the US was looking toward more direct involvement in suppressing future outbreaks of revolution.

    The formation of the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) demanded a series of bases across the Middle East to be used in the event of an emergency.

    The Reagan Doctrine

    As President Reagan proclaimed the Soviet Union the 'Evil Empire', the Cold War entered dangerous crossroads in the 1980s with escalation in the Middle East.

    Already during his candidacy for the presidency, California governor Ronald Reagan was taking the ideological macro-strategic route towards stressing the role he would award Israel as a strategic asset: "Only by full appreciation of the critical role the State of Israel plays in our strategic calculus can we build the foundations for thwarting Moscow's designs on territories and resources vital to our security and our national well-being."

    The Reagan administration worked closely with Saudi Arabia (Afghanistan) and Israel (Lebanon) as the two most dependable allies against the Soviet Union and its interests in the greater Middle East region.

    Though the United States would still not offer Israel any kind of full treaty, Reagan's administration continued to strengthen memoranda like the ones signed in 1975 and 1979.

    The memorandum of understanding (MOU) signed in 1981 by the Reagan administration was a "compromise between an enthusiastic Israel and a circumspect administration and represented another compromise between Haig's favorable view and the reticence of Weinberger".

    Israel's role expanded beyond the Middle East into Africa and Latin America and especially in the conflict areas where the Regan administration could get easy Congressional budgets to exercise its Cold War policies.

    The Bush Era

    The same policies continued in the Bush senior's administration, but Israel's role in US eyes once again went through a metamorphosis.

    There were several extremely Zionist members of this administration, including Paul Wolfowitz as under secretary of defense, and Dick Cheney as defense secretary.

    Wolfowitz, one of the intellectuals of the neoconservative politicians, tried to minimize the rapidly

    plummeting strategic value of Israel to the US after the collapse of the Soviet Union, and in the face of the Gulf crisis, saying: "I've heard a lot of nonsense over the last few months about how this crisis demonstrates that with the end of the Cold War, with the Soviet Union gone as a significant threat, that we no longer need strategic cooperation with Israel. There have been regional crises in the past in which the Soviet Union had no role to play where Israel played a crucial role in preserving stability there may be some in the future."

    While sharing the "basic outlook", Bush's administration also included pragmatic oil-company types like James Baker III.

    Consequently he occasionally expressed displeasure with Israel, like in this bit about settlements: "My position is that the foreign policy of the United States says we do not believe there should be new settlements in the West Bank or in East Jerusalem. This is the position of the United States and I'm not going to change that position."

    Change it or not, it suddenly became irrelevant because more pressing issues for the United States emerged in the Gulf region.

    Iraq's invasion of Kuwait marked a watershed in the US-Israeli strategic relationship. US direct intervention in the situation had implications for Israel's place in American strategy. At the most elementary and obvious level, it was a spectacular negation of the idea, long held by some in the United States, that Israel was a strategic asset for the United States in the Gulf region: Tel Aviv was in no position to either prevent the invasion or to punish its perpetrators.

    However, the American strategic vision in the post-Cold War and post-Gulf War period went on to include American-Israeli military cooperation in the direction pursued in the 1980s (prepositioning, joint manoeuvres, cooperation in R


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