U.S. Hegemony in the Middle East

by Tura Campanella Cook

Hegemony can be defined as the domination of one state over another; it can also be defined as the domination of one state over its allies. U.S. hegemony in the Middle East, an example of both definitions, is primarily about oil. Since the end of World War II, U.S. relations with Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states have been based on securing the terms of trade on oil that our government, and American oil companies and banks, desire. Where regimes were friendly to our interests, we propped them up militarily. Where regimes did not want to deal, or did not agree to our terms, and wanted to control their own oil production, set their own prices, and determine for themselves how profits were used, we supported insurrection and in some case, instigated it. The U.S. has a 'special relationship' with Israel, which is not an oil-producing state, but which is seen as a 'friendly' nation, and as a potential staging area for actions against nations in the region deemed not to be so 'friendly'.

Through this kind of domination, we have undermined popular movements and supported repressive regimes, and have involved our military and intelligence agencies in both. Over the years, successive administrations have used various "threats to our security" – communism, the Iranian Revolution, weapons of mass destruction, tyrants, terrorists – as an excellent public relations device to garner popular support for the dirty work of achieving hegemony and assuring access to oil on our terms.

Yet hegemony creates a dangerous situation. It forcibly controls existing unrest and makes the holder of hegemony the target of blame for the oppression that results. Hegemony may be a temporary "win" situation for the U.S., or for certain business interests in the U.S., but it is a "lose" situation for anyone who opposes it, or has another idea, or who happens to live in the countries affected. That is the nature of hegemony. It is domination, not dialogue or compromise or a shared plan of action among partners and allies. In order to dominate the region we have maintained standing armies in the Gulf since the 1980s. Before then we used the surrogate armies of Israel, Saudi Arabia, Iran under Mohammad Reza Shah, Iraq under Saddam Hussein. By 1997 we had 20,000 U.S. troops in the Gulf and the U.S. 5th Fleet was permanently stationed in Bahrain, all of which cost $5 billion annually to support. The Pentagon had been planning for a military presence in the Gulf for the next 20-50 years. This was before the war and occupation of Iraq that began in 2003, during which time the U.S. built fourteen bases in Iraq that it planned to occupy indefinitely.

The irony of imposing U.S. hegemony for the purpose of controlling Middle Eastern oil is that private oil companies and Japan, Russia, China and Europe (with the exception of Great Britain) have been looking elsewhere for oil since the 1990s. While they shared our stake in M.E. oil, they benefited from and supported our control of the region. But all of our troops and money have not made the Gulf a safe or desirable place for business. Greater political stability and competitive prices for non-Gulf sources of oil weaken the tacit international support for U.S. hegemony in the Middle East.

Written in 2004 by Tura Campanella Cook for the M.E. Committee of U.S.
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