On the History of U.S. Policy in the Middle East

May 5, 2011

Below we provide some background on U.S. policy in the Middle East which first appeared in a previous issue of The Worker.

At the end of the second World War, U.S. imperialism replaced the British as the dominant colonial power in the Middle East.

In 1947, the official "United States Petroleum Policy" put forward by a special Interdepartmental Committee of the federal government, declared that the U.S. goals in the Middle East were to "seek the removal or modification of existing barriers (legal, contractual or otherwise) to the expansion of American foreign oil operations and facilitate the entry or re-entry of private foreign capital into countries where the absence of such capital inhibits oil development..."

The report specifically mapped out the government's task as "promote(ing) the entry of additional American firms into all phases of foreign oil operations." As Truman's Assistant Secretary of State of Near Eastern, South Asian and African Affairs, George McGhee, pointed out, the big "threat" to the penetration of U.S. firms "lay in the possibility of a handful of nationalist leaders moving to upset regimes which were relatively inept and corrupt. . . . The Committee agreed that although a country has a sovereign right to nationalize its industries, it does not follow that a country should exercise this right and was of the opinion that all feasible methods of persuasion should be used to induce a country considering nationalization of its petroleum industry to refrain from such a corporate nationalization."

By 1956, the U.S. oil companies had gained control over 60% of the Arabian oil. Today, despite the wave of oil nationalizations which deprived foreign companies of direct ownership of the oil resources of various Arab countries, the giant U.S. monopolies, through "buy back" agreements, operating and licensing arrangements and a near monopoly on the refining, transport and marketing of oil, continue to play a dominant role in the control of Middle Eastern and world oil.

The U.S. government, in order to fulfill its stated mission "promoting the entry of additional American firms" into the Middle East and "removing all barriers" to the U.S. domination of Middle Eastern oil, has 1) repeatedly projected its military power directly into the region, carried out aggression against the Arab peoples and sought to establish and fortify its permanent military presence and 2) built up alliances and client regimes among the reactionary Arab ruling classes as well as with the expansionist state of Israel.

The first large scale U.S. intervention in the post war Middle East was in Iran in 1946. In Azerbaijan, northern Iran, the masses rose up against the Shah, a former collaborator with Hitler, and a loyal watchdog of British and American oil interests in the Middle East. Robert Grow, major general in the U.S. army, directed the Shah's suppression of the Azerbaijan uprising. In October 1946, the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, declaring their intention to go to war, if necessary, to thwart the Iranian people's revolutionary movement, plainly stated the U.S. objectives: "the Joint Chiefs of Staff consider that as a source of oil Iran is an area of major strategic interest to the U.S." In an early version of the "domino theory," the Joint Chiefs also warned that the "loss" of Iran would threaten Aramco's vast oil holdings in Saudi Arabia, "a stupendous source of strategic power, and one of the greatest material prizes in world history."

The U.S. policy of intervention in the Middle East was codified in the Truman Doctrine, which declared imperialism's intention to "protect" by any and every means including military, the Middle East's "great natural resources" and the pro-imperialist governments "who are resisting attempted subjugation by armed minorities or outside pressure." Truman, after reading the early drafts of his Doctrine submitted by his advisors, commented that they "made the whole thing sound like an investment prospectus."
During the administrations of Truman and Eisenhower, the U.S. repeatedly resorted to direct intervention to "protect" its oil empire.

In 1953 the CIA organized a coup d'etat in Iran to overthrow the Mossadegh government, which had nationalized British and American oil interests. The CIA murdered and arrested thousands of Iranians and installed a monarchy headed by the son of the former Shah. The new monarch rewarded the American oil consortium of Standard Oil, Texaco, Gulf and Socony Mobil with 40% ownership of Iranian oil. Gulf Oil, for it part, rewarded Kermit Roosevelt, the CIA man in charge of the coup, with a corporate vice presidency. John Foster Dulles, Secretary of State at the time of the coup, and his brother Allen Dulles, head of the CIA, continued to reap their rewards as the law firm representing the Standard Oil interests.

In 1956, the U.S. put its troops on full scale nuclear alert to assist Israel in its seizure of Egypt's Suez Canal, and in 1958, Eisenhower dispatched 14,000 U.S. marines to Lebanon to suppress the national revolutionary movement there and to restore to power the pro-imperialist Phalange based government.

U.S. imperialism also worked to build up various reactionary regimes in the region, in order to use them against the revolutionary liberation movements of the Arab masses. As early as 1947, the U.S. signed the Tripartite Agreement, under which it began supplying arms to Israel under the Mutual Security Program Act of 1951, $3 billion in military aid was supplied to Greece, Turkey, Iran, Lebanon, Syria, Saudi Arabia and Israel in order to "facilitate collective security and to help maintain internal stability." In addition, the U.S. provided technical aid and advisors to these regimes.

In 1954, the U.S. initiated the Baghdad Pact as a military alliance including Turkey, Pakistan, Iraq and Britain. The key committee of the Baghdad Pact was a special military section devoted to counter insurgency. During the 1960's, Israel and Iran became the main pillars of U.S. imperialism in the region. Both were armed to the teeth by the U.S and repeatedly used to attack the national liberation movements of the Arab peoples.

The overthrow of the Shah of Iran in 1978 destabilized U.S. imperialism's network of alliances in the region. Since 1978, the U.S. has frantically sought to project its own military force into the Gulf and to strengthen its military alliances with other reactionary Arab regimes. Immediately after the Iranian revolution, Jimmy Carter re-enunciated the determination of U.S imperialism to use its own military force in the Persian Gulf to "protect vital U.S. interests," i.e., to maintain control of the immense oil wealth. To insure imperialism's ability to intervene, Carter established the Rapid Deployment Force, a special detachment of the U.S. military trained as a mobile, quick-strike counter insurgency force. During the Reagan administration, the Rapid Deployment Force was upgraded to command status, renamed the Central Command Force and its troop strength increased by 50% to over 300,000.

Also during the 1980's, the U.S. set up air and naval bases in Bahrain, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, the Sudan and the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean. On the initiative of the U.S., Saudi Arabia organized the Gulf Cooperation Council in 1981 and the Joint Military Command of the GCC in 1982, to integrate the armies of the smaller Gulf states with the Saudi armed forces.

During the 1980's, U.S. imperialism repeatedly carried out military interventions and strikes against the peoples of the Middle East. In 1980, Carter launched the aborted invasion of Iran, linking a "hostage rescue mission" with plans for a military coup to replace the Khomeini government. In 1982-83, Reagan dispatched tens of thousands of U.S. marines to Lebanon and ordered U.S. warships to bomb the Lebanese people. Reagan also carried out the terrorist night time bombardments of Libya and dispatched a huge war flotilla to the Gulf in 1987, to assist Iraq in its war against Iran. During this period, the U.S. also stepped up its collaboration with Israeli zionism, financing and instigating its aggression against Lebanon, as well as its genocidal war to crush the Palestinian liberation struggle in the West Bank and Gaza.
(to be continued)