The U.S. Role in the Middle East


Throughout history, America has habitually interfered and intervened in international conflicts with motivations that rarely if ever based were in anything but self-interest. The countries of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan once held flourishing cities and were prominent hubs for art and literature in the Middle East. Each of these countries experienced violent conflict and were faced with irrelevant American intervention, interference, and sometimes even invasion. My research for this paper will be qualitative and focus on the political consequences of American involvement in Middle-Eastern conflict that contribute to the continuation of instability and violence.

This study identifies and exemplifies the cases of Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan and highlights the political effects of foreign intervention.

What other researchers have found

Toby Craig Jones comments on American motivations for foreign involvement in his article America, Oil, and War in the Middle East: “American oil wars have not been about establishing direct control over oil fields nor about liberation or freedom, at least not political freedom for the peoples of the region.

Instead, they have primarily been about protecting friendly oil producers” (Jones, 2012).

In this statement, Jones asserts the assumption that America has a primarily realist approach in involving itself in foreign conflict. Human rights violations are a lesser motivation for intervention than oil, gold, and communism, which serve as the more appealing situations for American attention, simply because of the reward. He continues on and speaks regarding militarism being the largest contributing factor to political instability:

“…embattled Gulf state leaders sought security through the purchase of billions of dollars worth of weapons, which the American government and the American weapons industry were happy to provide.

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The result was further massive militarization of the region and a boon for the military-industrial complex. By the end of the decade, the largest oil producers in the Gulf were in a full blown arms race. The Soviet Union pitched in by committing to sell over $10 billion in weapons to Iraq, its main client in the region and the principal rival to Iran. But it was the United States that did the most to facilitate the militarization of the region. Between 1975 and 1979 Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia purchased 56 percent of all the weapons sold in the Middle East and made almost one-quarter of all global arms purchases.” (Jones, 2012)

In summary, Jones recognizes that in efforts to bolster alliances and earn capital, America had no moral qualms about introducing such a large amount of advanced weaponry in an already tumultuous region. As a result of the introduction of such a large amount of high-efficiency artillery and weaponry, terrorist organizations and extremism skyrocketed. In essence, Jones fully exemplifies the true motivations of the Western World as well as how ulterior motives ultimately worsen political tensions and aggravate the violent conflict.

Additionally, political scientist and NYU Associate Professor Patrick Deer comments on the lasting consequences of American intervention that Middle Eastern countries still experience: “The ‘active combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan ended officially in November 2011 and December 2014 respectively, but the disastrous state of Iraq, the precarious military situation in Afghanistan, the ongoing Syrian conflict and refugee crisis, and the continuation of drone strikes in multiple theaters suggest wars without end” (Deer, 2016). It is by this that one can affirm that though the U.S may have withdrawn troops, they have caused enough damage to leave a lasting impact. Much of this consequence is due to extended militarization, which can be argued to have caused the majority of the political tensions that still exist today.

Variables Syria Iraq Afghanistan

Dependent Variable:

  • Political consequences
  • Extreme-dysfunctional government
  • High- functional but vulnerable government
  • Extreme- dysfunctional government

Independent Variables

Key IV: American Involvement Yes Yes Yes

Reason provided for American Involvement Curbing human rights violations Curbing communist influence War on terror

Ulterior Motives Oil Oil/threat of communism Oil

Solution/agreement reached No No No

Militarization/Occupation Yes Yes Yes

Current violence/conflict Yes Yes Yes


American intervention in foreign conflict is ineffective and creates larger, long-lasting political conflict, without solving any preexisting problems. This is due in part to America involving itself for the wrong reasons, such as potential capital or natural resources, as well as careless and dangerous behavior on foreign soil.

Methodologies: In this study, I used most similar systems design, with the key independent variable being the degree of American involvement in Middle Eastern conflicts. The dependent variable in this study is the vast number of rising political consequences that occur as a result of American involvement. I researched the three countries listed above: Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan. I used most similar systems design because of the correlation between infrastructures, culture, governing structures, and the presence and involvement of militant, rebel, or terrorist organizations between the three countries. Each of these countries experienced a violent political conflict that the United States intervened in or took action in.

All of these countries had totalitarian or corrupt governments that were vulnerable. All of these countries also sit upon a century’s worth of natural resources and have suffered for decades at the hands of ruthless terrorist organizations. It is integral to identify the roots of these organizations, or at least their supplier—which just happens to be the United States. Suleiman Mourad, author and professor at Smith College, argues this in his article, “The genealogy of ISIS can, no doubt, be traced a good way back in Islamic history. But it includes a very prominent and recent pedigree: the Sunni jihadists that the US sponsored and armed to fight its then-ideological enemy, the USSR, in the 1980s and 1990s” (Mourad, 2017). Prior to the beginning of arms trading with the West, the Middle East did not possess the technologies to cause the terror that is now inscribed upon them.

When researching the countries, I identified the similarities between them that were known to have significant impact, such as the presence of natural resources and whether the country was militarized during U.S. involvement. Then, I researched the conflicts to see if they were ever solved. I determined this by trying to find peace agreements or treaties that are currently in effect. Unfortunately, I found that any existing treaties are grossly ignored, or ineffective in preventing violence. As a result, all of these countries still face an indiscriminate amount of violence due to political instability. Because of this I found that American involvement is not only realist in origin of motivations, but is also both ineffective in foreign conflict and further creates political conflicts.

Case #1- Syria

American involvement in Syria began with the arming of rebels and slowly progressed to independent airstrikes within the region. The US also armed anti-Assad rebel groups as well as groups of Kurdish rebels fighting for an individual Kurdish state. The United States also declared that they will be doing airstrikes in the region to combat the use of chemical weapons that have been used by the Syrian government. They also claim that the intervention is due in efforts to curb human rights violations.

However, Syria sits on a complex network of oil pipelines, stretching all over the Middle East. This pipeline is integral of gaining control of the Middle East, as the network could potentially provide economic control of Iran and Iraq. Additionally, while the United States claims that their involvement is in efforts to aid in prevention of human rights violations, it is evident that the intervention is in interest of curbing Russian influence in the area, as well as gaining geographical and capital benefit. This war is clearly a bout for power in the Middle East between the United States and Russia. As a result of this, there is increased violence between rebel groups, government, Kurdish revolutionaries, and terrorist organizations. There are also more civilian casualties and a general distrust of Americans. Due to this intervention, Syria now is subject to an even more unstable government now vulnerable to conflicting ideologies and governing structures. Aside from heightened poverty and disease, this has also contributed to the elephant in the room: the Syrian refugee crisis. According to UNHCR, there are roughly ten million Syrians that have been displaced from their homes (UNHCR, 2018). According to reporter Dylan Collins, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein cites this atrocity as ‘the worst man-made disaster since World War II’ (Collins, 2017). Evidently, this is far worse than pre-American intervention conditions.

Case #2 – Iraq

America has been involved in Iraq since its intervention in the Arab-Israeli War. Though the excuse for involvement was curbing communist influence in the area and to prevent the Chinese spread of communism to countries that could potentially be dangerous for their democratic neighbors, it is evident that was not the case. America has been heavily invested in the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC) since 1928.

At the conclusion of the Arab-Israeli War, the U.S. encouraged the IPC to increase oil production and to share a larger portion of revenues with the Iraqi government while also providing them with economic and military aid. On the other hand, U.S. officials covertly equipped Kurdish rebels in order to weaken the Iraqi government. By arming and antagonizing both sides, the U.S contributed greatly to the resulting conflict.

Foreign relations and Middle East specialist, Peter Hahn comments on the eventual U.S. militarization in his article, A Century of U.S. Relations with Iraq: ‘Some 125,000 U.S. soldiers, bolstered by 20,000 British and 500 Australian troops, launched aerial and ground operations that quickly resulted in a military victory” (Hahn, 2012). Hahn claims that U.S operations resulted in military victory; however the concept that the U.S was the catalyst for that very conflict remains unsettling. Hahn may claim victory, but the lasting effects of war still remain in Iraq, including a shattered infrastructure and general distrust in western morals. They were left with mounting civilian deaths, due to the fact that their military was rendered incapable by U.S troops to the degree that they can no longer defend against the militant and terrorist organizations surrounding them. By leaving such a vulnerable government behind, it also contributed to increased political tension between democratic and communist countries, given Iraq’s strategic location.

Case #3 – Afghanistan

In the beginning, the U.S was not incredibly involved in Afghanistan. However, the convenient timing of the “war on terror,” and the discovery of Afghanistan’s natural resources prompted further action. The U.S. did temporarily defeat the Taliban, resulting in false security and eventual lack of preparation for suicide bombings due to forced demilitarization. These still cause terror all throughout Afghanistan. The U.S. also instated a new government, without identifying the needs or culture of the region. Along with this, U.S. troops were exceptionally careless with civilian lives. One situation is described by the Council for Foreign Relations, where “errant fire” results in the US accidentally killing over 140 civilians (CFR, 2018). This was one out of many situations that passed unpunished, resulting in mounting animosity towards Americans.

The most detrimental action taken by the U.S however, was militarization. The U.S. sent thousands of troops to Afghanistan in order to ensure cooperation. This created a toxic and tense environment for civilians and soldiers alike, as violence could break out at any time. With this, the U.S. prepared a new Afghan military to combat terrorist organizations in the region. Unfortunately, they instated a military with no structure or resources and limited training to fight militant groups in the area. Consequently, security and military forces are unable to handle militant groups because of nonexistent infrastructure and rising casualties. Because of this, there is increased violence now directly between civilians and militant groups, as well as heightened casualties with fewer reports because of the normalization of violence.


American involvement has been actively present in the Middle Eastern conflict. Unfortunately, it does far more harm than good for the estranged region. After analyzing and comparing the political situations before and after American involvement in Syria, Iraq, and Afghanistan, the data obviously yields overall negative results. American militarization and superfluous interference have resulted in extreme political consequences and weak, unstable governing structures to now-vulnerable countries. American interference in foreign conflict should cease or adapt to a more culturally-appropriate, rehabilitative, and constructive approach.

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The U.S. Role in the Middle East. (2021, Mar 09). Retrieved from

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