The United States remains in the 21st century the only superpower and the most influential country in the world. The foreign policy of the United States is based on defending its national interests. According to the US State Department, its strategic goal is to create a more secure, democratic, and prosperous world for the benefit of the American people and the international community.
ISOLATIONISM VS. INTERVENTIONISM
In US history, foreign policy had two basic tendencies. Isolationism prevailed in the 19th century, combining non-interventionist military policy and protectionism towards internal economic markets. In the 20th century, interventionism became more prominent in the US foreign policy, especially in World War II and its aftermath.
Two ideological blocks led by two superpowers -- the United States and the Soviet Union -- emerged and carried out the so-called "Cold War" for more than 40 years. During this period, US foreign policy of containment sought to impede the spread of Communism, leading the country into the Korean and Vietnamese wars.
There was also a brief period of détente in the middle of the Cold War, during which both sides tried to ease strained relations. However, this ended after the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan (in 1979), causing US policymakers to worry that the Soviets were trying to control the Gulf. As a consequence, the US provided military and economic support for Afghan guerrillas throughout the 1980s.
END OF COLD WAR
With the end of the Cold War in 1989, US foreign policy underwent a major transformation with the US becoming the only superpower and focusing on the spread of democracy and human rights. According to the US State Department, democracy is a national interest that helps to secure all others.
A further turning point in US foreign policy occurred after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001. The US administration, led by President George W. Bush, labeled this new foreign policy as the “War on Terror” and subsequently invaded Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003).
Under the new Obama administration (2009), however, US foreign policy is becoming more multilateral, focusing on diplomatic solutions and engaging the broader international community.
US MIDDLE EAST POLICY
US foreign policy towards the Middle East region is shaped by strategic security and economic interests. The Gulf region was defined as an area of US national interest since World War II, and gained vital importance during the Cold War era due to its oil reserves.
According to US State Department, among key US policy priorities is the promotion of peace and security in Israel
and the Middle East. The United States strongly supports the two-state solution, Israel and a Palestinian state, living side-by-side in peace and security.
SUPPORT FOR ISRAEL
When Israel declared its establishment on May 14, 1948, US President Truman was among the first to recognize the provisional Jewish government. The following day, Arab states denounced the recognition, beginning the first Arab-Israeli war, also known as the 1948 war.
Prior to the 1967 war, the United States had been careful not to express favoritism towards any country in the Middle East region. However, as professors Mearsheimer and Walt put it, from 1967 onwards the centerpiece of US Middle Eastern policy has been its relationship with Israel. According to them, this unwavering support for Israel and the related effort to spread "democracy" throughout the region has inflamed Arab and Islamic opinion and jeopardized not only US security but that of much of the rest of the world.
The October 1973 war between Israel and its Arab neighbors resulted in the Camp David peace treaty (1979), considered the beginning of the peace process
. As William B. Quandt says, sometime in the mid-1970s the term "peace process" was introduced to describe American-led efforts to bring about a negotiated peace between Israel and its neighbors.
During the Clinton administration, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict witnessed a major breakthrough in the signing of the Oslo Accords
between Israel and Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO
) on September 13, 1993. One year later, Jordan signed first a nonbelligerency agreement with Israel and on October 26, 1994, a peace treaty that indicated normalization of relations between both countries.
In 2000, the Camp David
summit was one of the last attempts of Clinton administration to reinvigorate Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. This effort to negotiate the final status agreement led by Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak
and Palestinian Authority Chairman Yasser Arafat
eventually failed and, with the deteriorating peace process, the al-Aqsa intifada
From the beginning of his administration, President George W. Bush developed a good relationship with Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon
. Previous US governments had denounced Israel’s settlement
policy in the occupied Palestinian territories
. Bush stated, however, that it was unrealistic to expect that the outcome of final status negotiations will be a full and complete return to the armistice lines of 1949. In 2005, US administration supported Israel’s unilateral withdrawal from Gaza Strip
and George Bush said it was a positive step towards the road map for peace.
Under the administration of Barack Obama, the incoming Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed US support for Israelzzz*zs military invasion of the Gaza Strip
during the winter of 2008-09, saying that Israel has the right to self-defense. US officials also criticized as deeply flawed the Goldstone report
that investigated violations of international humanitarian law in connection to the Gaza war.
On June 4, 2009, President Obama delivered a speech
at Cairo University calling for improved mutual understanding and relations between the Islamic world and the West.
In May 2010, the administration brought to a close an 18-month period of frozen negotiations between Palestinians and Israelis with the start of zzz*zproximityzzz*z talks. Special envoy George Mitchell was to shuttle between the two sides for four months of talks over final status issues.