Term Paper: Contemporary Middle East History

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¶ … international political economy of the Middle East is complex and derives both from historical factors and economic and political actions of more recent origin. The tensions in the Middle East date back centuries, but they have been made worse by such actions in recent times as the creation of the state of Israel, Israeli actions with regard to the Palestinians, the discovery and development of oil in the Arab countries, and shifts in the world. The state of Israel was created in 1948 with fighting between the newly declared state and her Arab neighbors, and in 1949 the fighting ended with armistice agreements between Israel and Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, and Syria. Israel as a state developed out of the Palestinian question. When the British wanted to turn the state of Palestine over to the United Nations, a solution to the issue of what people would reside in Palestine was reached in the form of partition. Jerusalem would be made an international city in which there would be free access for worship in Christian, Islamic, and Jewish shrines and holy places. The Jews accepted the partition, but the Arabs did not, feeling that the agreement actually gave Jewish landowners more than 50% of Palestine. After the war and the creation of the state of Israel, Israel now controlled half of Jerusalem, and nearly 60% of the Palestinians had been uprooted from their homes. Displaced Palestinians lived in crude refugee camps, and the remaining Palestinians lived within the 22.6% of the territory the Israeli's had failed to capture.

The creation of Israel came after more than a decade of Zionist pressure in one direction and increasing Palestinian nationalism in another. British pressure at the United Nations led to the partitioning of Palestine, leading to the civil war that would creae the state of Israel and to the destruction of Palestinian society, producing a large population of refugees, many of whom "ended up in camps supported by the United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), where they and their descendants have lived to this very day" (Gelvin, 2005, pp. 213-214).

U.S. involvement in the region started after World War II and had been virtually non-existent before that time, at least officially. For the first part of the twentieth century, the U.S. saw the French and the British as the Western powers responsible for that part of the world. After the war, the U.S. set out to replace the old imperialist powers and achieved this by the mid-1950s. Many of the reasons were set out in a report under Eisenhower that noted certain objectives, beginning with the strategic importance of that part of the world, considering the need for stable governments there, the conflict between the Arabs and the Israelis and the threat it posed, a desire to reverse anti-American positions among these countries, a concern about the possibility of Soviet influence in the region, and the recognition of the aspiration of the people of the region to create sovereign states. Gelvin (2005) states that the primary concern for America was containment of the Soviets, and he also finds that there was ample reason for concern on this point:

second goal cited, and one that many emphasize much more, is access to oil. This has been a major issue for policy planners for years, though it cannot explain the beginning of American involvement because at that time, American dependence on oil from the Middle East had not yet developed. The oil market in the 1950s was glutted, and the shift did not take place until after the recession of 1958. The oil crisis of 1973 would increase awareness of the issue. Oil as an engine of economic recovery was given greter importance by the U.S. As a way of preventing social revolutions: "American policy makers have viewed oil as a strategic commodity ever since" (Gelvin, 2005, p. 260).

U.S. involvement in the Middle East has been necessary, though how that involvement is actually implemented might be done with greater care. The tensions in the Middle East are real and have the potential to explode into a worldwide conflict, giving the U.S. ample reason for taking a hand in what happens there. In the earlier period, a concern about what the Soviet Union would make of the same opportunity was a motivating factor, and with the end of the Soviet Union, the tensions among countries in the Middle East serve to give just as much reason for American involvement in the future.

3. Turkey was founded by Mustafa Kemal, a Turkish World War I hero later known as "Ataturk" or "father of the Turks," and he founded the republic of Turkey in 1923 after the collapse of the 600-year-old Ottoman Empire. He also instituted reforms which moved Turkey away from religious control and toward secular control of the government. The issue of how well the reforms have lasted and how viable they are today relates to the issue of the health of Islamic fundamentalism in Turkey today and how well the secular government will be able to function in the face of rising Islamic fundamentalism throughout the Middle East. However, centuries-old traditions began to resurface soon after Ataturk's death in 1938, and they have continued to gather force with the democratization that has been proceeding by fits and starts since the 1950s, and especially since the early 1980s.

The modern evolution of Turkey has been influenced by its decision to seek Western assistance after World War II to protect it from Soviet territorial demands, and Turkey's membership in NATO should be seen in this light. Turkey was admitted to NATO in 1952. Turkey remains a strong adherent to NATO, and participation in NATO gives Turkey a voice in major strategic decisions by Western democracies and a framework for multilateral cooperation where Turkey's security is concerned. In the era after World War II, the United States was Turkey's closest ally, in part because of the strategic location of Turkey in the Middle East and because of Turkey's control of the Black Sea straits. After the statement of the Truman Doctrine in 1947, both Greece and Turkey were provided with aid to counter the Soviet threat. The U.S. has developed and maintained several military installations on Turkish bases as part of agreements under NATO.

The nature of Turkey as a developing nation was set by Mustafa Kemal, who introduced Westernization into Turkey and who "might also be viewed as an heir to the great defensive developmentalists of the nineteenth-century Ottoman Empire" (Gelvin, 2005, p. 190). Her sought to expand the role of the state, though the era of state-directed economic planning ended around 1950. Turkey serves as a model because it has been successful, refusing to remain stuck in the centralized planning era and introducing numerous reforms and external ideas that helped the country develop its economy and its political system. Keamlism has been opposed by some from the first and did not always meet its promise, and "the transformation of Turkey into a secular republic was not as easy, humane, or thorough as many of the devotees of Mustafa Kemal have made it out to be" (Gelvin, 2005, p. 191). One unfortunate effect of the process has been the use of repressive tactics against the opposition, a move that is not peculiar to Turkey by any means. Turkey as a model for development does not mean that all of the aspects of that development are equally admirable or to be replicated, but overall, the degree to which Turkey adopted Western ideas aided in the modernization of the country and prevented many of the economic disruptions that have plagued other eme3rging nations.

4. Arab nationalism, Islam, and Islamism are related concepts emphasizing somewhat different ways of approaching issues and different ways of viewing the nature of rule in the Middle East. The tension between traditional and modern plays out internally in terms of contrasts and conflicts between the rural fundamentalist and urban capitalist elements, and one way of addressing this difference has been by replacing religion with nationalism as the main unifying force, a process only partially successful. Islam is a religion, and nationalism in this context is not really secular but is clearly more secular than Islamism. Nationalism can differ from one region to another in the degree to which it emphasizes the sovereignty and individuality of each country, while Islamism sees all of the countries of the Middle East as existing for and promoting Islamic values even over what might be termed national interests. The rapid economic development of many of the oil-rich Arab countries since 1950 outpaced political development, in part because fundamentalists resist the necessary political reforms. Islam remains the primary cohesive ideology in the region, and it is also the source of legitimacy for much of the leadership as well as a pervasive system for moral guidance and spirituality. The experience in Saudi Arabia is typical in that it shows how the future has been a much debated issue in… [END OF PREVIEW]

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