In 1990, the U.S. possessed one military base in the Middle East, a small naval installation in Bahrain.
That August, Iraq invaded Kuwait, and the U.S.-led response in the Gulf War would lay the foundation for the “forever wars.” The United States would establish dozens of permanent Army, air and naval bases from which it would launch military operations across the region over the next three decades.
The U.S. military presence in the Greater Middle East is now so prosaic that it is easy to forget the time when our leaders avoided sending large forces into that volatile region, which was viewed as strategically less important than Europe and Asia in the early years of the Cold War.
But that started changing in the late 1970s after two oil shocks and the Islamic Revolution in Iran.
In this episode of History As It Happens, historian Andrew Bacevich discusses the importance of the Reagan administration’s decision in 1983 to establish CENTCOM, whose imperium covers 20 nations from Egypt east to Afghanistan.
“Probably 98% of our fellow citizens think we’ve always had a major military commitment to the Persian Gulf. The fact of the matter is prior to the 1980s we had a negligible commitment. We were not geared up to fight a war against Iraq, Iran or anybody else,” said Mr. Bacevich, who is the president of the Quincy Institute for Responsible Statecraft.
Reagan’s move followed through on the previous administration’s new strategic priorities, articulated by President Carter in his 1980 State of the Union address.
Carter stated, “Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
What Mr. Bacevich referred to as the “Carter Doctrine” became U.S. foreign policy, initiating an era of military interventions in a region where past generations of American leadership had steered clear.
“The Middle East was on the back burner. All that changed in 1980. And the creation of CENTCOM in 1983 was an important symbol of how U.S. policy had become militarized,” Mr. Bacevich said.
To listen to the entire interview with Andrew Bacevich, download this episode of History As It Happens.