The USA and the Middle East experience a relationship today that bears the stamp of a millennium and more of crucial decisions on both sides.
From nearly the first years of contact between people of European descent and the peoples of the Middle East, these decisions have reflected more misunderstanding and self-interest than statesmanship or vision. There are several moments over this span of time that stand out as opportunities: periods in history when relations could have been turned towards tolerance and even cooperation, but were not.
Three examples of these are: the medieval push to take control of religiously important sites in what is today Israel, the betrayal of the region at the end of World War I, and more recently, the failure of Arab governments to adopt the best practices of modern governance. While these are by no means exhaustive, they are exemplary.
In the 11th century, the hardline, and an altered attitude of the Seljukian Turks towards Christian pilgrims prompted outrage and ill-organized crusades. However, a glance at a map of the area suggests the great potential advantage to the nations north of the Mediterranean of control over the sea lanes in the Mediterranean and eastward.
Trade, at the least, would be easier if European powers controlled this region. This may have been the reason for the increasing emphasis on naval campaigns in the later Crusades (Bridges 10). In this instance, a more tolerant attitude by the Seljukian Muslims towards Christian pilgrims who had moved with relative freedom through the region for a long time would have made a great difference.
After all, the Muslim faith had already successfully, albeit violently, taken over as much as two thirds of the European continent (Madden, Hillenbrand and Ryan). However, the behavior of the Europeans was regarded as boorish and ignorant by the Saracens, so there was probably fault on both sides (Madden, Hillenbrand and Ryan). This was a chance for mutual understanding that was thrown away.
At the end of World War, after taking advantage of the Arab revolt to topple the Ottoman Empire, the Allies secretly agreed to partition the area. The Balfour agreement, also secret, promised the Jewish people a homeland in Palestine. These baldly self-interested betrayals and subterfuges were the reasons that prompted T.E. Lawrence to work for three years to make the Arab revolt as effective as possible (Lawrence).
This double-dealing gave the Middle Eastern countries a very good reason to resent the Allies (Lawrence). It also injected a massive and persistent disruptor into the area in the form of the Zionist homeland (Zakaria, Why do They Hate Us?) . This dishonesty was probably not necessary and fairer dealings could have laid the groundwork for greater cooperation.
Over the decades since then, the sponsorship by the USA of Israel has colored all US-Middle Eastern relations. More recently, the increasing interests of the European countries and the United States in regional oil have distorted matters further (Djerejian) (Atiemo).
The Middle Eastern countries have not achieved the development of modern governments and what the West regards as desirable liberties and markets. To some degree, this retarding of governmental evolution was enhanced by the use of several countries as proxies for the former USSR (Djerejian) (Ahmadov).
Many of the countries of the Middle East have, additionally, cut themselves off from many of the advantages of the Western world, often, according because of a distaste for the values associated with them (Ozdemir) (Christie, Zwarun and Clark) (Woods). It is possible that if the West had not been more honest and less self-interested, these nations might have turned towards Europe rather than to the USSR or to fundamentalism.
Thus, the West and the Middle East may have had chances for rapprochement, which have been discarded. As far back as the Middle Ages, and in both the Twentieth and Twenty-first centuries, approaches have been taken that plunged increasing wedges of distrust and distaste between the two. These turning points should be our guide to avoiding such bad choices in the future.
Ahmadov, Ramin. “The U.S. Policy toward Middle East in the Post-Cold War Era.” Alternatives: The Turkish Journal of International Relations Spring/Summer 2005. Web. 2012.
Atiemo, Nancy. “What is the relationship between the United States’ energy policy and its foreign policy in the Middle EastT?” n.d. Dundee University. Web. 2012.
Bridges, Cyprian. Sea Powerand Other Studies. Echo Library, 2006 . Web. 2012.
Christie, Thomas B., Lara Zwarun and Andrew M. Clark. “Finding a Credible Message to Win Hearts and Minds of the Muslim World: Article 2.” Global Media Journal Volume 5.Issue 8 (2006). Web. 2012.
Djerejian, Edward P. “The US and the Middle East in a Changing World, The.” Department of State Dispatch 444 (1992). Washington: HeinOnline, 2 June 1992. Web. 2012.
Lawrence, Thomas Edward. “Introductory Chapter.” Seven Pillars of Wisdom. 2012. Web. 2012.
Madden, Thomas, Carole Hillenbrand and Antonia Ryan. “The Crusades: Why the Crusades Stil Matter: An Interview with Carole Hildebrand and Thomas Madden.” 24 February 2006. National Catholic Reporter. Web. 2012.
Ozdemir, Erhan. “Globalization and Its Impact on the Middle East.” 2008. US Navy Post-Graduate School. Web. 2012.
Woods, Joshua. “The Common Enemy Rationale: An Attempt to Apply Concepts of Cognitive Consistency to the Portrayals of the United States in the Foreign Press.” Fall 2005. Purdue.edu. Web. 2012.
Zakaria, Fareed. “Why do They Hate Us?” n.d.