Courtesy Reuters

The Middle East: The Burdens of Empire

Throughout 1978 the Middle East was at or near the top of the Carter Administration's foreign policy agenda. For the first time in 30 years an Arab-Israeli peace settlement - at least a partial one - was a practical possibility once President Sadat's visit to Jerusalem in November 1977 had opened the door. As the year began, it was clear that the parties would need mediation and help to reach the promised land of peace and that the United States, the old friend of Israel and new friend of Egypt, was admirably placed to escort them there. The Soviet Union, on bad terms with both Israel and Egypt, was out of the picture. The signs for productive American diplomacy were favorable.

Not all American interests in the Middle East were wrapped up in the Arab-Israeli question, although Washington tended to give that impression by the time and effort devoted to it. Stability in the Persian Gulf region and access to its oil were of the highest importance from the standpoint of the global balance with the Soviet Union and from that of the economic well-being of the West. Iran and Saudi Arabia had long been regarded by the United States as the keys to protection of those interests. The Shah of Iran and the Saudi royal family had been cooperating with Washington for more than a quarter of a century. These traditional friendly relations, by 1978, were flourishing in the heady atmosphere of expanding trade, grandiose development programs dependent on American technology and management, and large sales of American arms. Soviet influence, except in Iraq, was scarcely to be seen in the Gulf. Here, too, the signs were favorable. Washington was moving confidently forward with its established policies.

For five years the United States had been living off the fruits of the October 1973 War. It may seem strange, but that moment of crisis for the United States, which revealed U.S. vulnerability to the new economic power of OPEC, also left it in a stronger

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