During his four-day visit to the Middle East, President Biden explained the larger strategic purpose behind several agreements that he announced in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, from the opening of Saudi airspace to flights to and from Israel, to the Yemen cease-fire, to the development of 5G and 6G communications networks.
“The bottom line is this trip is about once again positioning America and this region for the future. We are not going to leave a vacuum in the Middle East for Russia or China to fill,” Mr. Biden said.
In Mr. Biden’s focus on thwarting foreign influence in a region where the U.S. has spent the better part of the past two decades fighting wasteful wars, there are echoes from a bygone era of American leadership.
In 1979, the Greater Middle East was rocked by two seismic events whose consequences continue to shape the region’s politics and the U.S. role in it. The Islamic Revolution in Iran and the USSR’s invasion of Afghanistan led to a new era of American involvement aimed at preventing the spread of Soviet influence. The U.S. had come to depend on brutal autocrats, namely the Shah of Iran, to protect its regional interests and ensure stability. The revolution in early 1979 followed by the Soviet invasion at the end of the year threw the region into turmoil from a U.S. point of view.
In his state of the union address just weeks after the Red Army invaded Afghanistan, President Carter announced the U.S. would tolerate no outside interference in Middle Eastern affairs.
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“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,” Mr. Carter said.
In this episode of History As It Happens, Bob Vitalis, an expert on Middle Eastern politics at the University of Pennsylvania, discusses the important parallels between 1979 and the geopolitical knots Mr. Biden is trying to untangle today, including the simmering conflict with Iran.
“The nature of the U.S.-Iranian relationship reversed itself. Since that time it has been one not of amity, but enmity. The Iranians have been for the most part the major power, or would-be major power, in the region most involved in resisting U.S. efforts to secure and maintain its regional hegemony,” Mr. Vitalis said.
Listen to the full episode with Bob Vitalis by downloading this episode of History As It Happens.
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