Courtesy Reuters

Reconsiderations: Arabs, Israelis-and Americans

Looking back over the course of U.S. involvement in the Middle East since World War II, and of my own personal involvement for much of that period, I am struck by the unanimity and consistency in America's perception of both its national interests, and its policy objectives, in the Middle East.

Specific national interests, largely unchallenged across the political spectrum, can be summarized as: unimpeded use of the area's sea and air routes, essential to fulfill our strategic responsibilities as a global power; access to the area's vast oil supplies for ourselves and our allies; and the security and survival of the State of Israel, a long-standing commitment based on historical, moral and political considerations.

Policy objectives to protect these interests have been consistently defined as essentially three-fold: the existence of stable governments on friendly terms with the United States; peaceful resolution of regional conflicts, above all, that between Arabs and Israelis; and the prevention of a dominant Soviet influence in the area which would undermine American interests.

This much said, I have found neither unanimity nor consistency in the policies adopted and the measures taken to protect these interests and pursue these objectives.

Debate and differences of opinion about U.S. Middle East policy have been an almost continuous feature of the American political scene for over three decades, as Americans in and out of government faced a constantly changing, and at times bewildering, Middle East. This policy debate has, over the years, revealed the lack of national consensus about our priorities when the pursuit of one set of interests and objectives suggests policies which make the pursuit of others more difficult.1 As a corollary, it seems to me we have often been ambivalent about what political costs we are prepared to assume, internationally and domestically, to pursue a given policy course in the Middle East. Our actions have often reflected that ambivalence.

This leads me to another general observation about our perennial national debate over American Middle East

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