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Geopolitics and the Struggle for the Middle East: The U.S., Russia and China

Panel III-27, 2023 Annual Meeting

On Friday, November 3 at 8:30 am

Panel Description
  • Abstract: This paper explores how the Iraq-Iran waterway border dispute played a key role in Cold War rivalries in the Middle East. Although the waterway border dispute between Iran and Iraq existed prior to the Cold War, the ascendancy of the Iranian Islamic Revolution led by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini in 1979 undoubtedly proved a key element in igniting the war. United States military intrusion in the war was designed ostensibly to preserve and expand US political and economic security in the Middle East. While the US sought to maintain access to Middle Eastern oil, the Soviets worked desperately to exploit the chance to improve ties with Iran and Iraq and establish a position in the Gulf. The involvement of the Cold War superpowers directly influenced the duration and human cost of the war, including more than one million dead, approximately 800,000 injured, and more than one hundred thousand prisoners. Further, it came to be considered one of the most consequential wars for its vital repercussions for Iraq, Iran, and their relations with the US. This paper argues that the involvement of the United States and the Soviet Union in the Iran-Iraq War was rooted in their Cold War rivalry in the Middle East and particularly in the Persian Gulf. Their intervention took various forms, including economic, political, and military, and was based on numerous motivating factors. Description of the Topic: US-Soviet intervention in the Iran- Iraq War was prompted by the necessity of imperialism and Communism’s determination in the Persian Gulf. The ascendancy of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979 threatened the geopolitical ambitions of the US and the Soviet Union and compelled the superpowers to support Iraq in the war. Likewise, the US also looked for a way to solve the American hostage crisis in Iran. Iran proved their hostility to the US yet also refused to cooperate with the Soviets. However, the Cold War rivalry led the superpowers to sell military equipment to both belligerents thereby expanding duration of the war and escalating the death toll. This paper considers the war's influence on relations between Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the Soviet Union and its role in the United States’ increasingly global Cold War strategies. In such, this paper reveals the consequences of the war and how it became a significant factor in Cold War rivalries through the War on Terror.
  • Mustafa Caner
    This study examines China's Middle East (ME) vision, specifically its role in mediating between Iran and Saudi Arabia to resume diplomatic ties after seven years of severed relations. While the United States (US) has been focused on the Ukraine War, it has leveled down its engagement with the ME, leaving a void that China is attempting to fill. Iran has relied on Russia and China since the US withdrew from the nuclear deal, and the deterioration of relations between Iran and Saudi Arabia has harmed both countries. China has seized the opportunity to facilitate the normalization process between them, claiming that it is the new hegemon in the ME. The study investigates how the normalization process serves Chinese interests and poses a risk to US hegemony in the region. The analysis highlights China's growing economic and political influence in the ME, the challenges it faces, and the implications for regional stability and the balance of power. Overall, the study emphasizes the need for a nuanced understanding of China's ME vision and its implications for regional and global dynamics.
  • Prof. Matt Buehler
    Aiming to liberate Europe from Nazi hegemony, the United States landed over 100,000 troops in Morocco and other areas of North Africa in what became known as Operation Torch. To compensate for this landing of foreign forces on Moroccan soil, U.S. President Roosevelt promised Morocco’s ruler in 1943 that he would support its independence from foreign imperialism. But America’s words did not parallel its actions, as succeeding U.S. presidents established a neo-colonial presence throughout Morocco after WWII, without Moroccan approval. This presence included five air force bases, one naval base, secret military and propaganda communications facilities, and a large community of civilian businessmen who exploited Moroccan legal loopholes. Some U.S. military facilities even secretly stored nuclear weapons. The last U.S. facility departed Morocco only in 2007, and discussions re-emerged in 2008 and 2021 concerning re-establishing U.S. military facilities. What explains this long-term U.S. neocolonial presence in Morocco? How does this understudied case of neocolonialism advance scholarly understanding of U.S. hegemony and empire throughout the Middle East and North Africa (MENA), more broadly? This paper—part of a larger book project—seeks to address these questions, drawing on seven months of original research in five different U.S. presidential archives, the Moroccan National Archives, and fieldwork in Morocco. Sources include hundreds of documents declassified by the author, and extensive Arabic and French archival materials. The paper argues that U.S. neocolonialism in Morocco has become intertwined with its regime’s irredentist objectives of re-establishing sovereignty over territories once held before European colonialism. At critical historical moments, Moroccan rulers permitted—and even encouraged—U.S. military presence in their country in bids for American diplomatic support for their efforts to regain these lost territories. Neocolonialism, in short, can be more than a unidirectional process in which a strong state exploits a weaker one, but rather can be bidirectional in which both the occupier and occupied benefit.
  • Ehsan Sheikholharam
    The war in Ukraine has given rise to not only new political alignments but also unlikely ideological alliances around civilizational identities. As Russia, Iran, and China have coalesced their military and economic powers against what they frame as American imperialism and Western hegemony, conservative political commentators have evoked the contested thesis of the class of civilization. While Huntington framed the debate as the incommensurability of the “Muslim world” with the secular West, today the divide is constructed along a different question: is liberal democracy the only viable political model for the future of global politics? This paper examines new conceptions of civilizational difference and ethno-national discourse through the “philosophical” writings of Aleksandr Dugin, a Russian far-right political strategist, and Jason Reza Jorjani, an Iranian-American AltRight thinker. In his influential book, The Basics of Geopolitics, Dugin calls for the reconstitution of a Euro-Soviet empire as “a new anti-bourgeois, anti-American revolution.” What is surprising is that Dugin includes Russo-Arab and Russo-Persian alliances in his scheme. Jorjani, for his part, advocates for a new planetary civilization based on a return to Indo-European and Persian racial and mythical “roots.” Appropriating Nietzsche and Heidegger’s critiques of Western modernity and the Enlightenment, both Dugin and Jorjani wish to create a new world order by reviving ethno-mythical roots of ancient Euro-Soviet and Persia, while also bypassing Islam. The implicit consequence of this project is the exclusion of Muslim civilizations from the future of history. This research project argues that the war in Ukraine has not merely reanimated the Cold War era’s spatial and political divisions. Rather, it has facilitated a move toward political projects that exceed the limits of nation-states and nationalist political imaginaries.