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American Policies in Relation to the Middle East

Essay by   •  March 11, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  1,996 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,750 Views

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To an extent, it can be argued that the USA's policies and relations in the Middle East since the Second World War have been influenced by a desire to control oil sources. However, the USA's changing relations with both Israel and Iraq are also significant factors that affected US policies in the Middle East, namely involvement in Iraq since the 1980s and the declared support of Israel and Zionist goals. Also the battle against communism and the polices and relations surrounding this matter have greatly affected and shaped the USA's relations in the Middle East.

The desire to control oil sources has had a constant and key influence in US policies in the Middle East. This can be seen in their involvement with and policies towards countries such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq. The strategic importance of oil resources in the Middle East was first realized by the Allied states after the First World War. At this point, Britain had begun using diesel-powered ships and therefore required a steady oil supply. This lead to the establishment of the Persian Oil Company and gaining of rights to drill, transport, refine and sell oil from modern-day Iran. Oil was also becoming increasingly important as a result of the rapid worldwide development of the motor industry. The US became involved in Middle East oil soon after by means of the Red Line Agreement of 1928, which made the US, Britain and France oil producers, and more significantly, the creation of SOCAL (Standard Oil of California). SOCAL received an oil concession from Saudi Arabia in 1933 .

As a result of the new oil concession, ARAMCO (Arab-American Company) was formed by the union of SOCAL with other oil companies in 1938. Prior to this, SOCAL had received a full 60-year concession to Saudi oil. At the time, Ibn Saud had not yet realized the significance of oil in the context of worldwide industrialization, and therefore did not consider bargaining with the US for higher portions of royalties and profits from the sale of Saudi oil. When the Saudis did become aware of oil's importance in the 1950s, they started to demand a larger piece of oil profits. It was also at this time that European powers were starting to weaken as colonists, as their colonies began to demand independence and the right to self-determination. This self-assertion was witnessed in terms of international oil with the formation of OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) in 1960 by Venezuela and Saudi Arabia, who were later joined by Iran and Iraq. By the early 1970s, the oil companies had been successfully convinced by OPEC to negotiate oil prices, royalties and profit division with them as opposed to negotiating with the individual countries .

The unity of oil-producing countries made them realize that they could exercise power over international policies with what has been termed 'the oil weapon'. This 'weapon' was wielded in the form of the Arab OPEC members nationalizing production, imposing price increases and reducing oil production. The most significant use of this power was in 1973 when an embargo was placed on sales of oil to the US. This was done as a protest to American support of Israel in the Yom Kippur War against Syria and Egypt. To represent the oil consumer states, the IEA (International Energy Agency) was formed, which was intended to respond to the collective action taken by the formation of OPEC .

Though it has been shown that the US's policies towards the Middle East have been oil-related to an extent, there are other significant influences on American policy and relations in the Middle East. Iraq has featured in Middle East policies since the first Gulf War; however, the reasons for US involvement in Iraq have changed several times since then. In contrast, US policies towards Israel have been mostly of support. This support seems to have intensified to the point of being a key military alliance between the two states, which could be the result of historically based sympathy for Jewish people, the influence of the American Jewish lobby and the want to provide Jews with a homeland and therefore security, outside the US.

US involvement in Iraq has at times over the years appeared to be somewhat contradictory, constantly changing with different American priorities. During the first Gulf War between Iran and Iraq which lasted from 1980-1988, Iraq under the presidency of Saddam Hussein was supplied with conventional as well as biological and chemical weapons. This resulted in horrific cases of human rights abuses for which this regime was to become known for. The US further supported Iraq against Iran, who the US had depended on as an ally in the Middle East. American support for Iraq however, was seen to come to an end with the Iraqi invasion and occupation of Kuwait, which the US and United Nations opposed as an infringement of Kuwait's right to sovereignty . However, the most important event that could be considered to shape US policy towards Iraq is the attacks of 11 September on the US, responsibility for which was claimed by the militant Islamic group al-Queda. These attacks, together with the notion that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction and the belief that the US had to intervene in the brutal regime of Hussein, gave the US sufficient self justification to send troops to invade and occupy Iraq. However, it was quickly concluded by the people of the Middle East that the US could not bring democracy to Iraq . However, not long after their invasion of Iraq, the people of the Middle East concluded that America could not bring Democracy to the country. This was in great part due to their high unpopularity in the region.

Since the end of the Second World War, the US's relationship with Israel has developed from distant and within United Nations policies to a seemingly formal alliance. From Israel's declaration of independence until the Six Day War of 1967, the relationship with Israel was described as 'friendly but wary' . American policy-makers were at a stage, divided on the issue of the support of Zionism and a Jewish state. Pro-Zionists were opposed by the State, Defense and intelligence

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