- Richard Nixon, Great Britain and the Anglo-American Alignment in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Peninsula: Making Allies Out of Clients
Richard M. Nixon is clearly one the most controversial US presidents and an individual who held office at a particularly difficult time in American history. He is known as a foreign policy president who sought to end the Vietnam War and build a structure of peace that included the other major global powers. The Middle East was never one of his leading foreign policy priorities, and his Middle Eastern policy is often understood primarily in terms of the Arab-Israeli conflict and particularly the October 1973 Arab-Israeli war and its aftermath. There was, however, a lot going on in the Middle East besides the Arab-Israeli conflict during the Nixon presidency. These other factors have usually not been studied as closely with the exception of some dimensions of US-Iranian relations. Tore T. Petersen has attempted to help correct this deficiency with a detailed examination of the US and British approach to Gulf Arab and Iranian issues during this time frame. He also occasionally discusses non-Gulf oil producers such as Libya in order to provide important context for US and British policies toward that region. Throughout this work, Petersen makes extensive use of primary sources including large numbers of diplomatic cables and de-classified State Department and inter-agency correspondence. While this approach sometimes makes the work a bit choppy, it is also highly authoritative and exceptionally well reasoned.
A central theme of this book is that the Nixon Administration sought to establish a new international framework in which it could advance the President's version of the US national interest. Henry Kissinger, who served as Nixon's National Security Advisor and eventually as Secretary of State, is well-known as the President's partner in all of his significant foreign policy efforts. The core of their policy for the Gulf was the well-known "Nixon Doctrine," whereby the US leadership hoped to reduce its overseas commitments by bolstering the security role of local allies in a variety of regions. In the case of the Gulf, these powers were identified as Iran and Saudi Arabia. Petersen points out that Nixon's efforts to empower these states sometimes led to particularly unexpected policy turns. The Republican president, for example, broke with the traditional business interests of Western oil companies by allowing and even encouraging Middle East nations to negotiate increased oil prices. These revenues could in turn allow US and British military sales to be realized with recycled petrodollars. This approach was designed to support Western defense contractors while encouraging local powers to play a larger role in providing for regional security. Petersen even maintains that the United States was not particularly concerned with the 1973 Arab oil embargo due to Washington's desire to support local allies. Rather, he suggests that Nixon was prepared to accept Saudi acts of assertiveness as the price of maintaining stable allies [End Page 173] that could not be identified as Western stooges. The limits of their independence would be regulated by their hunger for arms among other factors. The overall policy framework of this approach nevertheless included some anomalies such as the US government's willingness to sympathize with some of the demands of the Libyan revolutionaries who overthrew King Idris in 1969. Petersen has no use for such a strategy and repeatedly uses the word "appeasement" to describe US policies toward Colonel Qadhafi and his associates in discussions over oil and other matters (pp. 33, 46). He does this while noting that the ousted Libyan king had always been a particularly accommodating US ally.
Petersen also considers the dynamics of the US/UK relationship as it applied to the Gulf during this time frame. The British are portrayed as taking clever advantage of their 1956 Suez humiliation by the United States, and pleading weakness to avoid commitments that they...