United States Foreign Policy: U.S. National Interest to Pull Back from the Arabian Gulf

United States Foreign Policy: U.S. National Interest to Pull Back from the Arabian Gulf


Constant political uprisings, unrests and terrorism in the Arab world especially the Middle East and North Africa has significantly influenced the United States foreign policy over the years when it comes trade and investment; supply of energy; security and terrorism (Faux, 2015). Since the 20th century, U.S presence has been felt in several countries in the Arab world which has elicited U.S involvement either through diplomatic intervention or full-blown war. These interventions are driven by the United States’ strategic interests in the region. One of these key interests is U.S economic interest in securing access to oil from the Arabian Gulf (McGurk, 2013).

While the U.S foreign policy in the Arabian Gulf is generally perceived as necessary and beneficial for both national and international interests, there has been continued debate whether the U.S should consider continuing or terminating its participation in the Arabian Gulf affairs. There are varied views and opinions from both critics and proponents on whether it is in the national interest of the USA to pull back from the Arabian Gulf. The proponent views suggest that the U.S has become too fixated in the affairs of these Arab countries and that the U.S has no valid reasons for involvement (Weber, 2013). On the other hand, there are contrasting views supporting U.S involvement in the Arabian Gulf. This article highlights the policy implications of U.S ongoing activities in the Arabian Gulf, analyzing the benefits and dilemmas that are likely to be faced outlining credible reasons for justifying U.S involvement in these countries. The main purpose of this article is to frame the impetus that if the U.S pulling back from the Arab Gulf puts a risk on its foreign policy objectives and may lead to dire consequences. I do not agree that pulling back from the Arab Gulf will improve national interests in the US and that as much as there are contradictory views on the matter, many views are of the opinion that pulling back can have adverse consequences.

International relations and U.S foreign policy

The revolution of information technology systems has significantly changed how people communicate and has dramatically effected globalization in all aspects such that there is integration of different countries traversing borders (Slaughter, 2011. Increased internationalization has prompted the need for fostering international relations through implementation of foreign policies that encourage collective global prominence while taking care of individual national interests (Arieff at al., 2012).. By definition, foreign policy includes external relations that countries take part in to promote international relations. However, the scope of what constitutes international relations is broad and diverse and therefore it can be difficult to specifically define what foreign policy entails because it is difficult to monopolize specific external relations as falling under foreign policy. For a long time, definitions of international political relations are what constituted foreign policy. Over the years, implementation of foreign policies in different countries have been revolutionized to include several aspects of international relations and interest such as, economic-trade, migration, security reasons, among others (McGurk, 2013).

The United States foreign policy consists of conceptions and strategies derived from the Cold War experience where implemented policies are aimed at mitigating threats by participating in global matters through actions that most importantly uphold the success of national interests. Implementation of foreign policy in the U.S is not a static process and often requires discourse since policies vary depending on the severity of a situation and region (Sokolsky, 2003). For many years, the U.S has been pursuing a comprehensive and assertive strategy to mold itself as a global leader. This strategy is key to the U.S foreign policy and explains U.S intervention in the Arabian Gulf to facilitate access to energy resources, that is, the excess oil from the Arab Gulf.

The United States Interests and Objectives in the Arab Gulf

It is inevitable that the Gulf area presents significant conceptual challenges to the U.S regarding issues such as political turmoil and instability, security reasons and decision to deploy its military forces to the Arabian Gulf. Despite all this, the U.S continues to maintain its presence in the Middle East because pulling back strategy will have dire consequences on U.S policy interests. In order to understand the reasons why the U.S continues to get involved in the Arab Gulf, it is important to understand the U.S interests and foreign policy objectives with these Arab countries (Slaughter, 2011).

Reasons for staying in Arab Gulf

There are several reasons that justify U.S involvement in the Gulf region because of the destabilizing consequences that may arise as a result of pulling back from the region. These consequences will affect the U.S, the region and the wider global community.

  1. Preserving the flow of energy resources for global economic stability

One of the key reasons that justifies U.S involvement in the Arab Gulf is to facilitate preservation of flow of energy resources from the robust reserves in the Arab Gulf to drive economies at stable prices. A large share of U.S crude oil supply comes from the Arab Gulf sparking debates that the reason for U.S concerns for security in the Gulf are motivated by its agenda to obtain energy resources (Sokolsky, 2003). It is often argued that U.S interests for security are driven by selfish interests to achieve dominance over the oil supply in the Gulf reserves by gaining first access compared to other global nations. This has made the Arab Gulf countries wary and skeptical of U.S intentions because the U.S often seems to have more leverage in the negotiation agreements with these countries. This majorly because the major oil trading investors from the U.S. have consistently pursued their interests in the U.S for many years.

However, it is important to note that energy supply disruptions and price instabilities have the effect of affecting the entire global community (Elzeini, 2015). In many countries, oil is the main resource powering several day-to-day activities, and even with nuanced oil alternatives, oil is still important as a resource. As that, within the global community no one is insulated from the effects of energy disruptions and high oil prices from the Arab Gulf should the U.S withdraw security and involvement in the Arab Gulf. Also, it is important to know that oil market prices are determined by demand and supply and American oil investors pay the exact market prices as any other country irrespective of where the oil is produced.

One of the ways in which the U.S is trying to facilitate production of oil resources is through promoting unity in Iraq. It has been projected that Iraq ranks as the fifth-largest oil reserve and second largest oil producer to Western, Asian and African countries, surpassing Iran and other countries in the Middle East. The political unrest in Iraq, however, threatens to undermine the advancement and management of Iraq’s oil reserves. U.S foreign policy includes supporting unity in Iraq for a united and federal Iraq by extending partnership agreement to provide security and advocate for stability in Iraq. The aim is to prevent the redundancy and exploitation of Iraq’s oil reserves which will ultimately ensure the predictability of global oil output and energy markets (McGurk, 2013.).

The major challenge to this U.S foreign policy objective in the Arab Gulf is the perception among American citizens and some part of the international community that the U.S does not need to get involved in the Arab Gulf because it is no longer dependent on oil from the Gulf region and that the U.S can benefit from Western or Asian interdependence on energy resources. Proposed views to expend territorial security from the Gulf States will potentially have destabilizing effects on the economy regarding oil market prices which account for a significant share of the global economy revenues.

  1. Countering terrorism and mitigating the proliferation of harmful weapons

The Arab Gulf and States in its periphery constitutes the geographic center for terrorism activities on different parts of the world. Arab countries, particularly Iran and Iraq have continually supported terrorist activities through terrorist organizations in their countries against the U.S and its allies. These terrorist organizations do not only target the U.S and its citizens, they target America’s national interests abroad by targeting allies of the U.S evident through the bombings of several American Embassy headquarters in several countries. Additionally, these radical terrorist groups target moderate Arab States that are opposed to terrorism. The U.S, its allies and many countries worldwide have been victim to the most devastating attacks from these terrorist groups. Suppressing terrorism is one of the key reasons that the U.S maintains its presence in the Arab Gulf (Arieff et al., 2012).

Counterterrorism and provision of security to American citizens form the basis of what constitutes U.S foreign policy in the Arab Gulf. Prior to the wave of terrorism in the U.S and around the world, the U.S foreign policy in the Arab World was subtle and diplomatic aimed at securing energy resources. However, after the September 11 attacks in the U.S, the strategy shifted to include military action and full-blown war against terrorist groups in Arab States. The intention was to defend the U.S against Islamist insurgency and terrorist attacks at all costs. The repercussions for adopting this strategy has been daunting because it costs a lot of money and has resulted in the death of several U.S citizens who have been deployed to offer security in the Gulf region (Sokolsky, 2003).

Implementation of the counterterrorism strategy has been difficult to implement because often it requires cooperation with the leaders of these countries who often are facilitating funding for these terror groups. The essence of international relations is building relations even in the wake of extreme adversity. It has been particularly difficult for the U.S to establish the cooperation necessitated to uphold peaceful relations by stifling political unrest and terrorism because most of these leaders are dictators whose methods of governing do not include diplomacy. Additionally, the countries in the Arab world are especially suspicious of each other and forming allies with one country can be interpreted as a threat by another country. As that, these leaders are often ‘luke-warm’ allies at best who can easily defy the terms of an agreement should conflict arise (Solosky, 2003). For example, the recent U.S foreign policy with Iran under President Obama’s administration in which the U.S agreed to remove punishing economic sanctions and in return Iran would stop pursuing nuclear weapons capability. President Obama’s administration opted for a diplomatic agreement to avoid war as was witnessed in Iraq and Afghanistan when the U.S invaded these countries over claims that they were developing harmful weapons. The claims turned out to be false and it is apparent that President Obama’s administration was exercising caution should that be the case for Iran (Faux, 2015). This subtle strategy has drawn significant security concerns because other Gulf States have been following U.S-Iran nuclear negotiations with the mindset that Iran is being allowed to manufacture weapons and as that, they can do so as well. There has been increased speculation that indeed, Iran is developing nuclear weapons prompting a re-evaluation of policy (Barrie, 2011).

As mentioned, apart from terrorism, the U.S is keen on preventing the proliferation of harmful conventional and unconventional weapons in the Gulf region that could potentially be used to cause mass destruction to the U.S and other global countries. These countries have massive capacity for developing nuclear weapons owing to the energy resources available in that region. The U.S fears that terrorist activities may increase with the acquisition of nuclear weapons such as long-range missiles.

It has been difficult to strategically balance priorities and implement methods of achieving U.S foreign policy objectives to secure the U.S and other regions of the world against terrorism emanating from the Arab world. Therefore, it is integral that the U.S maintains its presence in these countries until the situation is stable. Some of the countries in which the U.S has deployed military forces to ensure security include Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia, Syria, Iraq, Libya, and Egypt among others. There is considerable risk that withdrawing intrusive security forces in the Arab Gulf could grant radical terrorist activities to flourish.

  1. Promoting Strategic Independence, Stability and regional Integration

One of the main consequences of U.S involvement in the Arab States affairs has been the revolution in political and administrative systems in the region. U.S foreign policy in the region includes promoting stable political systems in these countries aligned with democratic ideologies and the protection of human rights. The Gulf region has for a long time experienced political instability and unrest due to oppressive forms of governance where the people are subjected to authoritarian governments, corruption, stagnant economies leading to unemployment and poverty among others (Barrie, 2011). The course to achieving democracy in these countries has not been an easy one. It starts with attacking the roots of terrorism and ousting the governments that support radicalism and terror. These oppressive activities limit the shaping of these countries into stable, democratic territories since some of the leaders in power are radicals.

So far, the U.S has been integral in advocating for democracy and human rights by being responsible for freeing these countries from the oppressive rule of dictator leadership. The U.S has been part of effort to dethrone prominent brutal dictators in the Arab world such as Saddam Hussein of Iraq, Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar el-Qaddafi of Libya (Thompson, 2014). This contribution has sparked activist movements and revolutionary efforts spearheaded towards changing the political dynamics of the Arab world. For example, the U.S and other Western nations are responsible for supporting the Arab Spring which was a step in the right direction.

The Arab Spring refers to a series of mass unrest and protests in the Middle East and North Africa in 2011. In particular, the revolutionary protests and movements began in Tunisia in December 2010 when a young man, Mohammed Bouazizi, a vendor set himself on fire in protest following torturous injustice, corruption, and humiliation from the police. His death caused upheaval and mass mobilization against the repressive policies of Tunisia’s authority systems, from the police to its autocratic and authoritarian government under President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali. An exemplary wave of protests quickly spread to other countries in the Arab world who were in the same predicament as Tunisia, most noticeably, Egypt, Libya, Syria, Jordan, Morocco, Bahrain, and Yemen. Collectively, these protests are what is known as the Arab Spring (Barrie, 2011).

However, the intentions and objectives of the Arab Spring did not last long and it remained as an over-hyped revolution that did not yield the significant change needed. Radical Islamist activities and political systems continue to exist in the Gulf region and the U.S is keen to revolutionize the state of Arab politics despite opposition people nay- sayers who argue that the U.S ought to focus on domestic politics. Additionally, there are views that from democratic systems cannot work in these countries owing to historical experience regarding false perceptions that Arab countries cannot be democratic due to Islamist radicalism such that the Islamic religion is often related to oppressive activities (Weber, 2013). It is important to realize that as a religion, the doctrines of Islam do not advocate for violence and oppression, and it is the fault of radical groups who propagate violence in the name of Islam.

There have been several challenges in the advocacy for democracy where Islamist activist parties assume power under the pretext of upholding democracy and equal rights for all only to return to oppressive systems once elected. However, hope is not lost because several countries such as Jordan, Bahrain and Yemen have adopted democratic systems with the promise of better governance (Elzeini, 2015). The U.S objectives to promote democracy in the Gulf region aligns with the theories and principles of International relations that countries should not only implement policies which support their national interests, policies should equally serve the countries in which they apply.

Contradicting Views

Contradicting views regarding the U.S longstanding presence in the Arab Gulf suggest that it has become unnecessary and unproductive to engage in Arab politics and interests because it requires extensive resources when in reality the problems in these Arab States are persistent (Thompson, 2014.). There are also views that suggest that the America’s national interests in the Arab Gulf are not particularly the interests of the greater American citizens. The supposed “national interest” include the interests of the affluent owners of energy companies and political big-wigs in the U.S government. Other arguments suggest that the U.S interests in the Gulf region are Imperialist interests motivated by the need to achieve status quo by taking control of the energy resources and regimes in these countries and additionally preventing the rise of movements or countries that might threaten U.S control over the region (Faux, 2015). These views are equally valid and debatable. However, it is important to analyze and understand the advantages that have resulted with the U.S presence and involvement in the Gulf region. The decision to occupy these countries is risky, one that was made due to counteract the severity of the consequences that would result should the U.S have decided to not get involved at all. A clear assessment of the situation indicates that the U.S foreign policy objectives in these countries are majorly driven by efforts to achieve stability and not so much the preservation of status quo (Weber, 2013).


Countries often protect their national interests by aligning these interests with foreign policy and interactions with other countries. The geographical position of the U.S allows it to be isolated and distant from global conflicts but also limits its access to energy resources. The threat on security from the Gulf region has necessitated the U.S presence and involvement in the region to ensure security while benefiting from its robust energy resources. I do not agree with the statement that it is in the US national interest to disengage from the Arab Gulf. The Gulf region is not stable enough to warrant U.S withdrawal of its military forces or involvement in political matters affecting Arab countries. The tensions and concerns that continue to arise in the American-Gulf region relations are due to the fact that the dynamic of the alliances between states in the region and America are unbalanced where the U.S is the stronger ally. As that, America’s interest in the Gulf region is often seen as opportunistic and leaning towards imperialism. During President Obama’s administration, foreign policy still included U.S intervention in the Gulf region albeit using a moderate approach that includes diplomacy as evident in the U.S-Iran foreign policy. There is still threats of insecurity from insurgent terror groups such as, ISIS, and it is, therefore, wise to maintain presence in the Arab world a bit longer.



Arieff, A., Danon, Z., Katzman, K., Sharp, J. M., & Zanotti, J. (2012). Change in the Middle East: Implications for US Policy. Congressional Research Service. Retrieved from http://kms2.isn.ethz.ch/serviceengine/Files/ESDP/146551/ipublicationdocument_singledocument/5bcdb31a-0829-4e59-b6f6-1b10acc6c689/en/187411.pdf

Barrie, A. (2011). Talk About a Revolution: Social Media and the MENA Uprisings. Globalizations, 8(5), pp 681-686.

Elzeini, S. (2015). Energy Resources and Political Dynamics with Gulf States. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://foreignpolicyblogs.com/2015/03/09/energy-resources-and-political-dynamics-with-gulf-states/

Faux, J. (2015). Why Are We in the Middle East? Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jeff-faux/why-are-we-in-the-middle_b_7301370.html

McGurk, B. (2013). U.S. Foreign Policy Toward Iraq. Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.state.gov/p/nea/rls/rm/217546.htm

Slaughter, A.-M. (2011). International relations, principal theories. Max Planck Encyclopedia of Public International Law, 129. Retrieved from https://www.homeworkmarket.com/sites/default/files/qx/15/08/30/06/slaughter_principal_theories.pdf

Sokolsky, R. (Ed.). (2003). The United States and the Persian Gulf: reshaping security strategy for the post-containment era. Washington, D.C: National Defense University Press.

Thompson, L. (2014). What Happens When America No Longer Needs Middle East Oil? Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://www.forbes.com/sites/lorenthompson/2012/12/03/what-happens-when-america-no-longer-needs-middle-east-oil/

Weber, P. (2013). What happens if the U.S. disengages from the Middle East? Retrieved November 19, 2016, from http://theweek.com/articles/455341/what-happens-disengages-from-middle-east