Before going deep to study the US interest in the Middle East you must understand the US foreign policy in the Middle East.
The US Foreign Policy in the Middle East
The growing obsession for minerals and natural resources, the US foreign policy interests in the Middle East again took a significant drift from an absolute detachment from politics, military alliances, and wars to direct and indirect intrusion.
Meddling in the political affairs of many countries in the region, and installing and assisting radicalization and sectarianism just for its own geostrategic and economic interests, became the new framework of the US foreign policy in the Middle East.
So far, the US presence in the region has been largely for the purpose of the exploitation of the mineral resources, particularly oil, and destabilization of the region to get a reason to intervene in the region.
So far, history has proven that the US foreign policy in the Middle East has been highly controversial with business mercantilist interests prevailing over the popular wishes of that region.
In the past few decades, the Middle East has witnessed a rise in violent political, sectarian, social, and cultural conflicts and unrests, along with the addition of severe humanitarian crises.
A New Manifest Destiny
Under its manifest destiny, the US did not limit itself to spreading its sphere of influence to North America. With time, it transformed into a much broader shape, which occurred primarily in the shape of expansion, and pre-emptive and deliberate policy of imperialism to the other regions of the Pacific and Asia.
The US fought wars with Mexico in 1846-48 for acquiring lands having geographical importance and took perpetrated the Spanish-American war in 1898 for silver and gold deposits.
As with the start of the contemporary period, the Middle East once again became a region of great importance for the United States of America, which has always been keen to take the control of this region.
Keeping in view the geographical importance of the region, along with its huge reserves of natural and mineral resources, the Middle East has remained a vital region of national interest for both the US and Russia.
Both the powers resorted to different strategies—lobbying, pressure groups, local armed militias, proxies, fundamentalism, radicalization, and other unconventional ways—in the pursuit of controlling the region, just to signify that the region is in their sphere of influence.
The US did not go for a direct or conventional way of declaring an all-out war for attaining control of the region. Rather, the policymakers preferred sketching unconventional ways of indirect involvement.
For the dominance and control of the region, Iran—backed by Russia—and Saudi Arabia—funded and militarized by the US—locked horns, which has led the two states to wage propaganda warfare and proxies-based strategies against each other.
The US Unholy Alliance with Israel
The US provided the movement assistance in terms of helping the Jews in their influx from Europe and parts of Africa to Palestine, and in taking over of the region.
The US was also one of the first countries to recognize the state of Israel, just after its independence in May 1948.
The historical account of the Arab and the western powers’ hostilities has resulted in a great account of mistrust and animosity. Primarily, this was one of the objectives that led the US, Britain, and France to put their weight and support in the creation of Israel in 1948. The second objective was the protection of the western and US interests in the Middle East which could have proven instrumental geo-strategically and in ensuring its grip on the region’s resources.
The presence and geostrategic position of Israel in the region was a significant advantage to the policymakers of the US to attain and preserve its business interests in Middle East.
Thus, the decisive victory of Israel over the Arab countries of Egypt, Syria, Jordan, Iraq, and Lebanon in the six-day war of 1967, could not have been possible without the unofficial backing and help of the US.
Israel receives approximately ten percent of America’s foreign aid budget every year which is more than the amount received by any other state in the region.
In recent years, the United States unmatched support to Israel, by allowing her to conduct and continue its unaccounted brutalities and suppression of the Palestinians, and by letting it establish illegal settlements in the region, is also an evident episode of this long going, slightly expensive, alliance.
A nuclear-weapons-free zone in the Middle East would also require inspection and monitoring of Israel’s widespread nuclear programs; however, the US does not want this.
The unholy alliance with Israel is not entirely restricted to economic interests, rather it is multidimensional and goes beyond religious, cultural, and geostrategic interest. Hence, it is a rare alliance to be found in the modern era.
The Problem with the US Existence in the Region
The search for oil and the thirst for domination of the Middle East has led the US to get involved in a highly unwelcoming and hostile Arab region.
Strategies ranged from funding and supporting the autocratic regimes installed in different countries, locally administered militias to wage their war against the Soviet Union, to incorporating the seeds of fundamentalism and Wahhabism and defaming Islam in the midst of the Cold War.
The obsession with oil and the expansionist ambitions led the US to be trapped in the region for decades, without any significant gains in return.
The US involvement also gave the already existing terrorist networks a lasting hype, premium, and cause to cash the already existing rhetoric of foreign intrusion in their land, to recruit more youth, and to justify the need for waging jihad against the foreign intruders.
For the most part, Obama’s handling of issues in the Muslim world, including the uprisings in the Middle East, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran, and Afghanistan, have been met with disapproval. In general, the attitude towards the US and the Obama administration was more positive in Israel than in the other Middle Eastern state.
Peace through Policy Reforms
US has been trying to achieve its interests in the Middle East, the US is now seeking an easy escape from the region’s politics—after waging series of unpreceded blunders—that would not be easy to get, as the region is entrapped in instability.
The US administration do not take sides in the conflicts in the region but rather play a mediatory role to resolve these conflicts by remaining a neutral player. The US policymakers need to acknowledge the importance of liberty and to allow the people of the Middle East to choose their own culture.
The policymakers of the US need to understand that any constructive role from the US will ultimately help itself, interims of its global image, and the current expenditure on keeping military in the Middle East.
Policymakers need to make policies that can end the conflicts in the Middle East, namely the conflicts between Israel and Palestine, the Houthis and the Yemeni government, and the Assad regime and the rebels in Syria.
Dismantling the Sectarian Card
Some of the key states in the region, including Saudi Arabia, Iran, Kuwait, Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen, are apparently in a sectarian (Sunni-Shia) tussle.
Saudi Arabia and Iran are the major sectarian rivals involved in proxy wars in Yemen, Iraq, Syria, and other Arab countries.
The US enjoys good relations with Saudi Arabia that trace back to the Cold War era. In the 1980s, at the request of its American counterparts, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) enabled “Wahhabism” within the region.
In retaliation, Iran has, for years, opted for the tactic of supporting and providing arms and assistance to the Shia-led organization, Hezbollah, to counter Israeli interests in Lebanon and Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Yemen.
Introducing policies for economic integration among the regional warring states and the relevant actors of the region is instrumental for bringing back peace in the region.
The continuing and relentless aftershocks of the US occupation of Iraq, the seemingly unending Syrian civil war, and the Iranian nuclear deal have far more to do with the current spike in sectarianism than some unending heart of religious difference.
The US needs to avert its previous stand on supporting few countries in particular, like Israel and KSA, since up to this day it has only flared up more mess and conflicts.
The US, as a major power, should prioritize the stability of the region and in that regard, improve relations with Iran.
Creation of Nuclear-Free Zone
Iran, in pursuit of its nuclear program, is already in the process of uranium enrichment Despite facing huge global pressure and heavy sanctions from the US, it has caught an unexpected pace which has led to the buildup of nuclear insecurity for Saudi Arabia and Israel. The two latter states are figuring out ways to balance this nuclear divide with their ideological rival.
The US needs to treat Iran and Saudi Arabia equally. In the wake of the world facing nuclear threats. the creation of a nuclear-free zone is imminent and it could be the safest solution to this decades-old conflict and bloodshed.
All the multilateral organizations, such as the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), play their role in materializing the idea of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East.
Several countries in the region have already signed the 1995 Nuclear Test Ban Treaty (NTBT). Even though a test ban would not satisfy the states like Egypt and Iran, which are determined to reverse the nuclear programs of Israel, but it would enhance political relations and build confidence.
The growing hostility among the regional powers is leading towards an arms race, particularly in a nuclear arms race. The US, therefore, should collaborate with these international organizations to frame practical solutions to all of the issues that are creating chaos, disunity, and restlessness in the Middle East.
The existing US foreign policy in the Middle East has been ineffective in bringing peace to the region because the current foreign policy priorities of the US are not aimed at establishing peace. The rivalry between Israel and Iran still prevails with higher intensity in the present time.
Moreover, this acrimony has been the dominant factor behind the race for the nuclear race in the region. Therefore, in the long easing of the relations between Israel and its neighboring countries, especially Iran, the eradication of religious/ethnic and sectarian-based mistrust between Saudi Arabia and Iran is inevitable.
The possible implementation of a nuclear-free zone policy and dismantling sectarianism could bring some progress to the peace process. However, for the attainment of sustainable peace in the region, a responsible role from the US is inevitable.