The United States uses a variety of tactics to achieve the security and stability it seeks at home and abroad. Sometimes Washington acts as mediator to resolve disputes, such as when Presidents Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton worked to restore peace between Israel and its Arab neighbors. Other times, the United States relies on trade because many policymakers believe that high levels of trade reduce the likelihood of militarized conflict. Finally, the United States has assumed the role of world policeman a number of times, sending troops on humanitarian missions or to punish rogue states that do not adhere to international codes of conduct.
Much of American foreign policy in the last three decades has centered around the Middle East, the swath of territory on the eastern Mediterranean where Europe, Asia, and Africa intersect. The region is also the birthplace of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. What happens in the Middle East is vital to American interests. The Middle East is rich in oil, which drives the American economy; without oil, none of America’s cars, planes, trains, ships, or industrial machinery would work.
Many rulers of oil-rich countries rely on the wealth generated by oil to sustain their undemocratic regimes and conservative theocracies, which, in turn, fuels dissatisfaction among the people. Some people express their frustration through sectarian violence against neighboring peoples of other faiths, and a minority of people even turn to terrorism to express their anger. Some theocratic regimes have supported the people’s use of violence in the name of religious fanaticism. Peace and stability in the Middle East, therefore, would not only reduce violence in the region but would also curb terrorism abroad and stabilize the global economy.
The key to stabilizing the Middle East lies in the resolution of the conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, an ethnic group currently under Israeli rule that seeks to carve out territory to establish its own country. Many neighboring Arab countries have declared their support for the Palestinians, and several have used the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to declare wars and holy wars against Israel. Some presidents, such as Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, have used their influence to help resolve these disputes peacefully. Other presidents’ peace plans have been less successful. Many believe that peace will be harder to achieve in the wake of Israel’s failure to destroy the Islamist group Hamas in 2006.
Iraq has been at the center of American foreign policy since the Gulf War of the early 1990s, when the United States and its Allies liberated the oil-rich nation of Kuwait from its Iraqi occupiers. Rather than oust Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein from power, the United States merely removed Iraqi forces from Kuwait and forced Hussein to end all his nuclear, chemical, and biological weapons programs. In 2003, President George W. Bush believed he had proof that these programs were still operational and therefore ordered the military to invade Iraq, remove Hussein from power, and establish a pro-American democratic government.
Poor management of the war, a shortage of troops, accusations of corruption, human rights violations, rampant sectarian and anti-American violence, and the lack of any weapons of mass destruction have all turned Iraq into a quagmire. Some Americans and foreign policymakers argue that the United States should pull out of Iraq immediately, whereas others say that the United States must remain and stabilize the country in order to keep Iraq from becoming a safe haven for terrorists.