America has been notoriously active in the Middle East over the last two decades, and in the wake of the attacks of September 11, America has ramped up its activities in the region significantly. America’s strategy in the region could absolutely be called active, as it has going in and tried to effectuate changes in the region rather than waiting around for things to happen. The nation has used the theory of pre-emption to justify entering into a number of wars that might have been thought to be outside of the purview of the nation previously. Likewise, as the country has pursued its interests in the Middle East, relations with Russia have gotten icy and rocky at some points. In the years since the Cold War, the United States and Russia have jockeyed for position, with Russia not fully accepting its role as a member of the Western political world and America being unwilling to give the new Russian government the autonomy that it has demanded during that time.

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American foreign policy in the Middle East has largely been based upon the concept of pre-emption. This doctrine, which is closely linked with former President George W. Bush, is meant to describe the way in which America justified going into independent countries in order to chase down terrorists and oust governments that supported terrorism. The seminal example came in Afghanistan, where America used this doctrine to justify its presence in the country and its fight against both the Taliban and Al Qaeda. To describe American foreign policy in this region as a mess would be going too far, but it probably accurate to note that American foreign policy has largely blurred the lines between terrorist groups and sovereign governments. American foreign policy hawks have been more willing than ever to associate governments with non-state actors like Al Qaeda, and in doing so, America has justified a host of pre-emptive wars.

In his essay, “The Moral Basis for International Action,” Cropsey writes, “What begins as a reflection on duty to man ends, under the influence of a glimpse at human superiority, as a reflection on duty to civilized man and to civilized nations.  The way to discharge our duty to civilization is to sustain it where it exists before trying to inspire it where it never has been” (Cropsey). Part of his point was that quite often, the lines between maintaining order and humanity in one’s own nation is overrun by the goal of bringing civilization to places where it might not exist. America, it seems, has been convinced that a major part of its role in the Middle East has gone well beyond simply rooting out terrorism. While this is technically what the US has been doing with its foreign wars, the reality looks much different. In reality, the United States has been leading a campaign in which it has engaged in nation-building, hoping to eliminate terrorism both by taking away from the resources of the terrorist groups and supporting the concepts of freedom and democracy in the region. This has led to some messy entanglements, of course.

In Afghanistan, it is unclear when soldiers will leave and even more unclear what their purpose is at this point. In “The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy,” Morgenthau wrote that America’s “statecraft” developed as the result of a lengthy process, and often, Americans forget this when talking about political wisdom (Morgenthau). America seems to believe with its foreign policy that it can simply plant down great democracies in the Middle East, but this has proven to be folly, just as Morgenthau predicted.

American foreign policy must be viewed in the context of the country’s interactions with Russia, as well. Overall, America and Russia have had an icy relationship in the wake of the Cold War. The end of the Cold War promised to bring slightly better relations, and for the most part, this has been true. What has also been true, though, is that Russia has not made as much progress toward a pro-Western arrangement as America would like. Putin and company have re-instituted some of the corruption that was supposed to leave the country when the USSR evaporated. Perhaps more importantly, Russia has pulled away from the international community, and Putin’s strategy has been to do what he believes his people want – and more aptly, what he wants – despite what the international community might want. While Russia and the US have not been openly hostile toward one another, Russia has shown some support for Iran, which is a chief political rival of the United States right now. Given the relative power of the two countries, both practice avoidance strategies in order to avoid the big conflict. Relations have changed, and we are not engaged in a new Cold War, but there is nothing even resembling cooperation taking place between these two countries.

Overall, American foreign policy has become significantly aggressive over the last fifteen years. After America was attacked, it gave itself a veritable blank check in order to go after the groups and nations that were responsible. In doing so, it has done more than just try to kill terrorists, though. It has tried to wage a cultural war, as well, installing democracy and trying to build pro-American nation states throughout the Middle East. This has been a difficult process, of course, as America has failed in many respects to uphold and sustain these pro-American arrangements.

  • Cropsey, Joseph. “The Moral Basis of International Action.” Robert Goldwin. Chicago: Rand McNally (1963).
  • Morgenthau, Hans J. “The Mainsprings of American Foreign Policy: The National Interest vs. Moral Abstractions.” American Political Science Review 44.04 (1950): 833-854.