All Writings
January 30, 2000

America’s Deepening Involvement In The Middle East

President Clinton's push for a comprehensive peace between Israel and the Palestinians and the Syrians, respectively, is bound to deepen American involvement in the Middle East to an extent we have not experienced before. There are those in Congress and many ordinary citizens who ask why America should become the cash machine to finance the peace, and why we should risk the lives of our soldiers, a risk which new commitments in the region will inevitably require.

The answers to these questions lie in two sets of facts: a) America's enormous strategic interest in the region which dates back to the mid-nineteen hundreds, and b) the rise of the United States to prominence as the world's only superpower along with the responsibilities that this status imposes and the implications of our actions or inaction on world affairs.

Simply put, first, not since the Roman Empire has a single country been able to wield such global power. No country or combination of countries match America's economic, military, technological and soft power. Hence, this nation's capacity for good or evil is a unique historical phenomenon. Having emerged the ultimate victor from the ashes of World War II, the United States could have crowned itself ruler of the world, either subjecting other nations to its imperialist designs or adopting a strategy of inclusion, linking its own well- being to that of other nations. We have chosen the latter path, convinced that our freedom and human rights cannot be secure unless freedom and the human rights are spread everywhere. We understand that our prosperity depends on global prosperity, just as our national security is connected to international security. It is this view of ourselves and the world that provides both the foundation for American "hegemony" and the framework for projecting our power. Through its translation into policy, this conviction sets us apart from past empires, such as the Roman, Ottoman, British, German, and the Soviet, and may also shield us from meeting their fates.

Our position often compels us to involve ourselves in troubled areas around the world — because if we do not, no one else will. But if our predominant position is a major factor, other important realities also enter into the equation.

Second, no other foreign country is as deeply entrenched in Middle Eastern affairs or has greater national interests there than the United States. Turkey is a key ally of the United States because of its position as a frontline member of NATO. With the United Kingdom, the United States is the main enforcer of the no-flight-zone in northern and southern Iraq, keeping Saddam Hussein's forces at bay and preventing him from threatening the Kurds and the Shiat Muslims. To influence Tehran's conduct, we have imposed economic sanctions while trying to isolate Iran politically. And we have remained an indispensable partner in the Israeli-Syrian and the Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations. In addition, our security and mutual national interests (oil) with the rest of the Gulf states, especially Saudi Arabia, and our ties with to other nations in the Middle East, particularly Israel and Jordan, have made it unthinkable for us to retrench or disengage. Unlike other countries, we have extensive national and strategic interests around the globe that drive our policies. But emerging as the sole superpower, we have inherited a far greater global responsibility than before. We must, therefore, balance our unilateral strategic interests with our global responsibilities.

Third, in our role as the sole superpower, we also assume certain moral responsibilities involving the well-being of other nations. To live up to these responsibilities, we must act with moral authority. Such authority, however, is not bestowed but earned. We can earn it only if we act consistently in accordance with established moral standards. We have often been criticized for not applying the same morality to equally compelling situations. We can explain, for example, why we went to Bosnia, Kosovo, or why we chased Saddam Hussien out of Kuwait. But how do we rationalize why we did nothing to stop the genocide in Rwanda or the senseless civil war in the Sudan? That said, we need not apologize when, at times, our national interests are inescapably intertwined with our moral commitment to friends and allies and as in Kuwait.

Fourth, we have the responsibility of safeguarding the security of our allies and friends in the Middle East. Our interests in the region and our efforts to contain the Soviet Union from the early fifties to the beginning of the nineties led us to develop close friendships and alliances with most nations in the region. Consequently, we took upon ourselves the task of protecting our friends and allies from external threats. We have, therefore, invested heavily our time, energy, and resources to promote peace and political stability throughout the region, with an emphasis on resolving the Arab-Israeli conflict. This long- and short-term protection of our allies requires us to strengthen all elements that contribute to regional stability. And a comprehensive Arab-Israeli peace provides the cornerstone to that stability.

At this juncture of our history and involvement in the Middle East, we have no alternative but to make an even greater investment to attain peace, stability and prosperity. We must do so not only because it is in our national best interest, but because we have chosen to lead, and thereby, have assumed a new moral responsibility to protect the interests of our friends and allies in the region.