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There is a paradox at the heart of America's history of involvement with the Middle East.

At first glance, it seems as if policy has frequently been based on shaky foundations; policy has often seemed to reflect domestic political forces more than calculations of national interest; and at times the execution of policy has seemed clumsy, if not worse. Regimes closely aligned with America, such as that of the shah of Iran, have been swept away by bitterly anti-American forces. American power has often seemed unable to protect American interests, as during the long ordeal when Americans were held hostage in Lebanon and Iran; and secretaries of state have been known to cringe at the thought of devoting more time and energy to the seemingly hopeless task of peacemaking between Israelis and Arabs. And yet American interests, as conventionally defined, have been surprisingly well protected in the Middle East over this period, despite mishaps and frequent blunders. When the Middle East is compared to its experience in Southeast Asia, for example, the United States has managed to avoid costly (to America) military engagements. At century's end, the scorecard does not look so bad. In the immediate post-World War II period, the United States set out to prevent the spread of Soviet influence into the Middle East region, protect access to Middle East oil, and help to create and then nurture a state in Palestine for the Jewish people. Although the Soviet Union competed for influence aggressively in the region, in the end the United States emerged as the stronger power; and Middle East oil, despite disruptions and embargoes, was no more expensive in real terms in 1999 than it had been forty years earlier. Finally, Israel was more secure and economically successful as the new millennium approached than anyone could have imagined when the state was founded in 1948. Although full peace with its Arab neighbors was still elusive, Israel had managed to sign treaties with Egypt and Jordan, and there was some expectation of further agreements with Syria, Lebanon, and perhaps even the

Palestinians. So how can one explain this apparent paradoxclumsy, often flawed policies, yet results that stand up well by comparison with other regions? Part of the answer may be luck, or even more misguided policies by America's globed and regional rivals. And part of the answer may be that American policy never remained wedded to a counterproductive track for very long. What many find frustrating about American policyits shifts and turns reflects a capacity to adapt, a learning process, and self-correcting mechanisms that have helped to adjust policy after various fiascoes. This has not made for elegant policy formulation, nor are ideologues of left or right happy with the zigs and zags. Middle Easterners complain about America's double standards, the naivete and lack of sophistication of American policymaking, the frustration of dealing with new presidents and new secretaries of state at frequent intervals. And yet no other country has gained more influence and succeeded better in protecting its interests in the regioncertainly not the old colonial powers of Britain and France, and not the Soviet Union (and now Russia). Historical Legacy To understand better the evolution of American policy in the region, we need some context and some history. First, the United States did not have a legacy of deep involvement in the Middle East prior to World War II. It had no colonies and it had no regular military presence. Even its commercial and cultural interests were limited, though real. Oil had been discovered by American companies in Saudi Arabia in the 1930s, and soon came to be a major interest, but it was only one of the interests that drew the United States deeply into the region after 1945. More important than oil was the coming of age of America as a global power during World War II and the onset of the Cold War. Had the United States retreated to isolationism as it did after World War I, oil would have remained a commercial

matter rather than a strategic necessity. But the generation of leaders who set America's course after the war were determined not to repeat the errors of the interwar period, and they soon came to see in Stalin's Soviet empire an opponent to be challenged at every turn. The doctrine of containment was devised to address the problem of Soviet power without risking direct military conflict, and still meet challenges in peripheral areas in order to maintain some sort of global balance of power. Thus Americans fought wars in Korea and Vietnam, and a fierce competition was waged between Washington and Moscow in the Middle East, first in Iran and Turkey, and then in the Arab world. Until 1990, this rivalry with the Soviet Union, this global sense of noblesseor at least pouvoiroblige, led the United States to stake out positions on a host of issues in the Middle East, from Israel's right to exist, to the sanctity of borders, to the need for decolonization, to opposition to British-French-Israeli intervention at Suez, to support for Algeria's independence, to protection of the oil of the Persian Gulf, to confessional balances within Lebanon, and dozens of others issues as well. It was inconceivable during this period that the United States would refrain from taking a stand on any significant Middle East issue. For if Washington said nothing, then Moscow mightand that could result in a setback in the propaganda campaign that swept across the region for some forty years. And with words often came commitments, sometimes in the form of economic aid and sometimes in the form of arms. After all, words alone would count for little; credibility was on the line. So involvement flowed from the global rivalry, each side wary of being outmaneuvered. The Special Relationship with Israel In the center of this complex mix of issues and interests was Israel. Throughout its existence as a state, Israel has been able to count on support from the United States. Indeed, no country provided Israel with as much aideconomic and militaryduring

its first fifty-plus years of independence. And no country received as much aid from America on a per capita basis as did Israel. By the 1980s it often seemed as if the United States and Israel were formal allies, although no written alliance existed. But Washington did not always appear to be on such close terms with the Jewish state. At the outset of the Gold War, American officials were often eager to keep their distance from Israel, and there was even serious dissent when President Harry S. Truman rushed to recognize Israel in 1948. Secretary of State George Marshall, among others, thought it was a great blunder to become identified with a state that was so widely disliked by its neighbors. Some thought that American support for Israel would inevitably drive the Arabs into the arms of Moscow. To a large extent, American support for Israel was rooted in domestic politics. The American Jewish community was relatively small, but it was well organized and focussed in its support for Israel. Many non-Jews also saw Israel as a progressive democracy surrounded by reactionary Arab monarchies. Sentiment, values, politics, and guilt all propelled Americans to help the new Jewish state. At the same time, a hard-headed calculus of interest placed limits on that support. Up until the mid-1960s, almost no American military aid went to Israel, and even economic aid was modest. In addition, Israel was not immune from criticism in official Washington. The Suez crisis in 1956 was just one of the moments when the two countries did not see eye to eye. It was not until after the 1967 war that Israel was generally seen in a positive light in official Washington, and even then American administrations were always concerned with maintaining contacts with some Arab countries. The net effect on American policy of the special relationship with Israel was to lead successive American presidents to try to find some way to broker an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict. For as long as the conflict endured, there would be tension between the American interests in nurturing Israel and in protecting its oil and other

security concerns in surrounding Arab countries. And the existence of the conflict might provide openings for the Soviet Union to advance its influence by selling arms and by providing diplomatic support for the Arabs. With varying degrees of imagination and commitment, each American administration tried to find a solution to the Arab-Israeli conflict. The special considerations that made the Arab-Israeli arena so compelling and complex for Americans to deal with were largely absent in the so-called northern tier area of Turkey and Iran. There the United States perceived a direct Soviet challenge almost immediately after the end of World War II. Soviet troops refused to leave Iran on schedule in 1946, and the U.S.S.R. made threats against the Turkish government, raising alarms in Washington. The response from the Truman administration was immediate. It opposed Soviet expansion in both Iran and Turkey, and promised to send aid and arms to bolster the threatened regimesthe Truman Doctrine. In 1952, Turkey was invited to join NATO as a full member, and from that time onward the United States treated Turkey as a fully-fledged ally. Only occasionally did Turkey play much of a role in the rest of the Middle East, but when it did it was usually on the same side as the United States. Iran did not become a NATO member, but its ties to Washington were in many ways as deep. Iran, of course, had oil, and was the dominant regional, power in the oil-rich Gulf region. Initially, American companies were not involved in the exploitation and marketing of Iran's oil, but that changed after the 1953 coup to oust the nationalist leader Muhammad Musaddiq and to secure the shah on his throne. For the next twenty-five years, the United States was deeply involved in all aspects of Iranian development. Iran was considered a major asset in the Cold War, and significant American intelligence facilities were located on its territory.