United States' task of setting policy with other countries is not always a difficult task. We have enjoyed productive and positive relations with Canada for nearly all of our country's history. While we started out our relationship with Mexico on hostile terms, both countries have worked hard to establish a positive relationship based on mutual interests and concerns. It isn't always as easy to identify the important issues when countries are farther away and when they are located in areas with long histories of turbulence and conflicting needs. Such is the situation we face with the Middle East, an area made up of several different countries, some of whom often war among themselves and where shifting allegiances have historically taken place. The Middle East has a particularly troubled past, and it is not possible for any one country to set policies that will be warmly accepted by all the Middle Eastern countries. Simply stated, when it comes to foreign policy, we cannot please all of the people in those countries all of the time. We cannot even please all the politicians, citizens and special interests in this country. Establishing foreign policy for the Middle East is a difficult task, with multiple influences on it.
Foreign policy for the United States is set by the President and his Cabinet, in consultation with political leaders, typically those from the President's political party. The Secretary of States heads the branch of government that communicates our foreign policy to other governments, typically through the use of embassies located in other countries and in the United Nations. Foreign policy is not a matter of laws passed by Congress, but is fluid and changed according to current needs. Thus, after the attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, many policies regarding other countries changed.
One of the most important influences involves the history of the region. Because of the Holocaust during World War II, many Jews fled Europe either before or after the war. Many went to the new nation of Israel, and many came to the United States. In fact, there are more Jews living in the United States than anywhere else in the world, including Israel. The United States has a long history of an official policy of tolerance to other religions, and in addition the majority of Americans are Christians, who embrace the Old Testament history of the Jews as part of their holy scripture. Ties to Judaism are strong. Many American Jews have relatives in Israel, and many Americans, both Jewish and non-Jewish, saw the formation of Israel as absolutely necessary.
After two thousand years of persecution, with the German holocaust being only the worst and most recent, many felt that the Jewish people of the world had to have a country where they knew they would be safe from persecution. For these reasons, the United States if firmly behind Israel's right to exist. But history plays many roles in the fine art that is foreign policy. The entire history of the region into which the Jews migrated and formed their new country must be considered.
Current history of the Middle East could arguably be said to start in the mid-thirties, when Jewish refugees from Poland and Germany began moving there. They moved to the land that had been theirs 2500 years ago, present-day Palestine. Palestine had long been populated by Arab Palestinians, who were campaigning to form their own independent state on the same land (Legail & LeGail, 2000). The stage was set for conflict.
By 1936 active conflict had erupted between Palestinians and Jews. The Palestinians called a general strike and unsuccessfully vowed not to end it until the British stopped further Jewish immigration. They continued to resist British control of the area (Legail & LeGail, 2000). In 1947 the United Nations divided the area into two states, one for Arab, and one for Jewish. Many Palestinians were displaced from the land they had been living on and were against this plan, and the population of what was supposed to be the country of Palestine rejected the plan. The very next day, five Arab nations, including Egypt, Jordan, Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria, attacked the new country of Israel.
Israel was victorious in 1949, but ever since the original U.N. decision, some Arabs and Arab states have taken the stand that Israel has no right to exist. The end of the war resulted in further fracturing of the area. Egypt occupied the Gaza strip, Jordan occupied the West Bank (and later claimed it), and Jerusalem was divided much the way Berlin had been, between Israel and Jordan. 700,000 Palestinians, driven off what was now Israel, became refugees (Legail & LeGail, 2000). Most of these Palestinians maintain their claim to Israel to this day.
These events plus the many significant events that followed, makes foreign policy for the United difficult to balance. We need good relations with Egypt. They buy many of our goods, and control the Suez Canal, vital to commerce. Having good relations with all of the countries in the region makes it easier to negotiate when difficulties arise. However, until recently, some countries, such as Syria, were adamant that Israel should not exist, and our steadfast support of Israel made relations with Syria difficult.
Most Arab countries are emerging nations, and they have experienced dramatic changes during the last fifty years, including revolutions and breaks from complicated ties with other countries. The breakup of the U.S.S.R. affected some Middle Eastern countries significantly as they had received military aid from the U.S.S.R., aid that allowed them to behave more aggressively with other countries than they could have otherwise (Legail & LeGail, 2000).
One significant develop in that period of time was the founding of the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964. The PLO wants to see an Arab state founded for Palestine. That, along with several other wars with Israel, has caused views among Arab governments and individuals to harden into an anti-Israeli stance (Legail & LeGail, 2000).Some Middle-Eastern countries have experienced internal conflict as well. Lebanon had a bloody civil war between Christians and Muslims, and different sects of Islam sometimes struggle for power.
Multiple attempts have been made to negotiate a peace that will acknowledge the rights of all countries to exist, including Israel. Some Arab countries have been motivated by the financial drain of maintaining a strong military and waging war multiple times over the decades. In 1978, Egypt's President Sadat met with Menachem Begin, Prime Minister of Israel, and President Jimmy Carter of the United States. Israel agreed to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula, which it had occupied in the last war and to negotiate with Jordan and Palestinians about self-rule. The "Camp David Peace Accord" was signed in 1979 (Legail & LeGail, 2000), but it left some important issues unresolved, such as final rule of the Gaza strip and the West Bank, and these continuing problems affect foreign relations even in times of relative peace.
Other major conflicts in the area have had significant impacts on our foreign policy. Until 1979, we enjoyed friendly relations with Iran and its ruler, the Shah, in spite of some very distasteful policies of his. When the Ayatollah Khomeini took power, Iran held people in our embassy hostage for over 400 days. And Iran and Iraq fought over disputed land (Legail & LeGail, 2000). We then became more friendly with Iraq, even providing some military aid.
That alliance did not last long. In 1990, Iraq invaded Kuwait. Led by the United States, a group of countries forced Iraq out of that country (Legail & LeGail, 2000). While Iraq's actions were obviously unacceptable, and while Kuwait was glad for the help, Kuwait is a country opposed to many of the United States' policies and goals, so foreign relations with this country continue to be difficult.
The one thing that bothers Middle-Eastern countries more than anything else is our strong policy of support for Israel. This policy has made our foreign policy markedly more difficult. However, since the Holocaust, few leaders in the United States have been willing to suggest that we not support Israel. This has been difficult, as some of Israel's responses to terrorist acts seem extreme.
The United States has done more than simply take a posture of support for Israel. Currently we give Israel about $3 billion every year in economic and military support (Mark, 2002). All this financial and political support sometimes complicates other foreign policies we have in the area, such as playing the role of peace-maker and sponsoring negotiations between countries in conflict (Zunes, 2000a).
Another important factor to take into consideration when planning foreign policy is the various treaties the United States has entered into. The North American Treaty Organization, or NATO, is an important piece of the foreign policy puzzle. We have had a long-term military relationship with Turkey that has allowed us to maintain military bases there (Barry & Honey, 1999). This was strategically important before the…