The Middle East Crises

Courtesy Reuters

No area of the world had a greater impact on American politics, national security, and economic well-being than did the Middle East in 1979. With the fall of the Pahlavi regime in Iran early in the year, a profound change in the regional balance of power took place. In November, when the deposed Shah was admitted to the United States for medical treatment, militants seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and at the end of the year were still holding about 50 Americans hostage-with the support of Ayatollah Khomeini, the head of the new Iranian Islamic Republic. And in late December the Soviet Union used its own forces to replace one communist leader in Afghanistan with another more to its liking and subsequently sent over 50,000 troops to secure the new regime and to put down insurgents in the countryside.

In the face of these developments, U.S. officials turned their attention to issues of military power, bases and arms transfers to help stabilize the volatile region surrounding the Persian Gulf. The keystones of the Carter Administration's early foreign policy-human rights, arms control, non-proliferation-receded in importance, and power politics once again seemed on the ascendant in Washington. Public and congressional sentiment against the Soviet Union led to the shelving (at least for the present) of the painstakingly negotiated Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and with it much of what remained of the prospects for détente with the Soviet Union. President Carter's handling of the crises over the hostages in Iran and the Soviet troops in Afghanistan initially won wide support and appeared to have dramatically improved his chances of reelection.

Pakistan and Iran loom as the most likely early tests of the President's policies. In any event, it now seems clear that in the 1980s it will be the oil-rich Persian Gulf and the surrounding area-Iran, Iraq and Saudi Arabia, as well as Afghanistan and Pakistan-where superpower rivalries will be most acute, where the economic interests of the industrialized world will be

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