A Decade of Change
On September 11, 2001 terrorists angry
about the U.S. military’s presence in SaudiArabia and the U.S. role in the Middle East attacked the World Trade Center in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington D.C. The terrorists were followers of Osama bin Laden, the leader of the al Qaeda terrorist group.
For ten years, the events of that day framed U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East. Before September 11, 2001, the United States had cut its defense budget. Some U.S. troops had been withdrawn from overseas bases. Foreign aid spending on most parts of the world had been slashed. After September 11, the United States went to war in Afghanistan and began to reconsider its policies in the Middle East as well as its role in the world.
In early 2002, President George W. Bush
(2001-2009) identified the Middle Eastern country of Iraq as a threat to the security of the United States and the world. In the spring of 2003, U.S.-led military forces invaded Iraq and occupied the country for eight years. The U.S. involvement in Iraq had significant repercussions for U.S. relations with countries across the region and the world.
Today, new developments are reshaping the U.S. role in the Middle East. In what has become known as the Arab Spring, popular protests have challenged governments across
overthrown by mass demonstrations. Within a matter of months, protests have spread to nearly a dozen countries. Protesters are demanding democratic change and an end to the repressive policies of their governments. The long-term effects of these protests and the changes in government remain to be seen, as does the U.S. relationship to evolving Middle East politics.
Why does the United States maintain
an active role in the Middle East?
The United States maintains an active role in the Middle East for three main reasons. First, the United States wants to ensure the steady flow of oil, the fuel which currently drives most of the world’s economies. Second, the United States is concerned about long-term stability, and about retaining power and influence in this important area of the world. The U.S. involvement in Iraq and its concerns about Iran, which the U.S. government be-lieves is trying to develop nuclear weapons, fall under this category. Finally, the United States has long been enmeshed in efforts to settle the conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Each of these reasons overlaps with the others, making the U.S. role in the Middle East very complex.
In the following pages, you will read about the debate regarding U.S. policy in the Middle East. You will confront the same questions facing U.S. policy makers: Which interests and values should provide the basis for U.S. policy in the region? How should the Middle East’s enormous oil reserves and the United States’ close relationship with Israel figure into policy calculations? How do recent changes from the Arab Spring affect U.S. relationships with countries in the region?
The reading will prepare you to wrestle with these questions. In Part I, you will explore the history of U.S. involvement in the Middle East since World War I. In Part II, you will examine the critical issues facing the United States in the Middle East today. Finally, you will have the opportunity to consider four options for the future of the U.S. role in the Middle East.