Pence  says  the  United States  has  been ‘a  force  for  great  in  the  Middle  East’  for ‘nearly  200  years.’  Here’s  what  historians  say

Pence says the United States has been ‘a force for great in the Middle East’ for ‘nearly 200 years.’ Here’s what historians say

By Anne Rowe for DPS board, March 24, 2019

For almost 200 years, extending back to our Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Oman, the United States has actually been a force for great in the Middle East. Previous administrations in my country too frequently underestimated the threat that radical Islamic terrorism postured to the American individuals, our homeland, our allies, and our partners. Their inaction saw the terrorist attacks from the U.S.S. Cole; to September 11 th; to the growth of ISIS across Syria and Iraq — reaching all the method to the suburban areas of Baghdad. However as the world has actually seen over the past two years, under President Trump, those days are over. —Vice President Michael Pence, Remarks, Warsaw Ministerial Working Luncheon, February 14, 2019

Eight historians reacted to our request for comment; their complete statements and suggested sources are on the Political Utilizes of the Previous page).

The vice president begins with the 1833 treaty with Oman, and so shall we, even though it’s an odd location to start. As Will Hanley of Florida State University kept in mind in his reaction to Pence’s claim, the treaty itself is a piece of regular boilerplate, not so different “from lots of other 1830 s agreements in between Middle East authorities and representatives of American and European states.” However there was at least one innovation, as Hanley explains: “The Sultan of Muscat inserted a stipulation stating that he, rather than the United States, would cover the costs of lodging distressed American sailors. A more precise declaration [by Pence] on this proof would be ‘For nearly 200 years, extending back to our Treaty of Amity and Commerce with Oman, representatives of the United States have pursued standardized contracts in the Middle East and enjoyed meals that we haven’t paid for.’”

Vice President Pence made this broad statement at a ministerial meeting on terrorism, but his mind was mainly on Iran. His intent was to draw a contrast in between the United States and Iran, with the former being a “force for great” in the area and the latter being a criminal of continual violence. However by going back to 1833 to reference a regular and fairly boring trade agreement with a small kingdom, he appears to be understanding at straws.

If Pence was looking for good done by the United States in the Middle East, he could have asked some of the historians who reacted to his declaration. He might have discovered from Joel Beinin how “American missionaries established some of the leading universities in the Middle East: The American University of Beirut, The American University in Cairo and Robert College in Istanbul. The Medical School of AUB is among the finest in the region.” He might have been interested to hear from Indira Falk Gesink that “after World War I, most of those polled in the regions surrounding Syria wanted the United States as their obligatory power (if they desired any).” He may have discovered from Lior Sternfeld how the United States has actually sponsored “schools, universities, and orphanages” and took a stand versus its European allies and Israel during the Suez Crisis of 1956.

But if he had asked and had found out about these efforts, he would likewise have learned from Professor Beinin that many of the missionaries who developed these schools went to work for the CIA in the postwar period, “so even the extremely best thing that Americans have actually done in the Middle East considering that the early 19 th century was damaged by government efforts to exert power over the region in order to control its oil.” And Pence would have also had to hear Teacher Sternfeld inform about the 1953 coup in Iran that sealed a ruthless regime in location for the next quarter-century and how, as explained by Teacher Gesink, “from that point on, US actions in the Middle East were guided by demand for oil and anti-Communist containment.” Lastly, he would have had to hear about how much that 1953 coup has to do with our relations with Iran now.

Historians who responded to our demand for remark might not discover much “force for good” in the historical record. Instead, they find “death, displacement, and damage” (Ziad Abu-Rish), support for “the most callous and brutal dictators at every turn” and the “most fanatical and chauvinistic nationalist and spiritual forces at every turn” (Mark Le Vine), “intense and damaging interventions … defined by public deception, confusion, and combined motives” (Michael Provence), “a ethical compromise with authoritarianism”  (Indira Falk Gesink), and actions that have “contributed to breakdowns in security, extensive violence, and humanitarian catastrophe” (Dale Stahl).

Homage  to  the  Shah  after  coup  d'état,  5  September  1953
Homage to the Shah after coup d’état, 5 September 1953, The Guardian – Unseen images of the 1953 Iran coup.

Three historians listed below recommend The Coup: 1953, The CIA, and The Roots of Modern U.S.-Iranian Relations by Ervand Abrahamian, and this book is extremely important today. Previous historic accounts and reasons by 1950 s policymakers made the coup all about Mosaddegh’s unwieldiness to compromise or stated it was all about winning the Cold War. Abrahamian rather shows that it was about oil, or, more particularly, “the repercussions that oil nationalization might have on such distant places as Indonesia and South America, not to reference the rest of the Persian Gulf.” And for this, Iran and the Middle East got, courtesy of the United States, the harsh Mohammad Reza Shah. The shah crushed the democratic opposition, filling his jails with thousands of political detainees, and left “a gaping political vacuum—one filled eventually by the Islamic motion.” And so here we are.

Mike Pence’s extremely blinkered declaration can be seen as an severe counterpoint to the conservative view of Obama’s Cairo speech, in which the president slightly acknowledged that the US had not constantly been on the side of right in the Middle East, and that its history of actions have come back to haunt us all. Such things, it seems, need to not be spoken in the muscular Trump administration, even if it suggests abandoning an understanding that might really be useful. “For me as an historian,” Mark Le Vine notes listed below, “perhaps the worst part the history of US foreign policy in the area is precisely that scholars have for so long done everything possible to notify politicians, the media and the public about the truths there. Largely to no avail.” Certainly, Mike Pence here appears intent on absolutely obstructing out history and historic believing, even as he dreams of a long and marvelous past.

Browse and download sources advised by the historians below from our Zotero library, or shot our in-browser library.

Ziad Abu-Rish, Assistant Teacher of History at Ohio University

I’m only going to tackle the “force for excellent” claim, without getting into the claims about Trump compared to his predecessors or the idea of “radical Islamic terrorism.” Let’s provide Vice President Pence a opportunity at being appropriate… Read more

Joel Beinin, Donald J. McLachlan Teacher of History and Teacher of Middle East History, Emeritus, Stanford University

American missionaries established some of the leading universities in the Middle East: The American University of Beirut, The American University in Cairo and Robert College in Istanbul. The Medical School of AUB is among the finest in the area… Read more

Indira Falk Gesink, Baldwin Wallace University

I think this is a much more complicated concern than is normally acknowledged. On the one hand, some American private people have had lasting favorable impact—for example the starting of instructional institutions such as Roberts College, the American University in Beirut (originally the Syrian Protestant College), and the American University in Cairo. At that time, the United States generally was viewed positively in the region. … Read more

Will Hanley, Florida State University

It’s not possible to usage historical evidence to assistance a black-and-white declaration like “The United States has actually been a force for good in the Middle East.” Even if it were possible, the slim 1833 treaty in between the US and the Sultan of Muscat is meager proof. … Read more

Mark Andrew Le Vine, Teacher of Modern Middle Eastern History, UC I rvine

This statement is outrageous even by the standards of the Trump administration. The United States has actually been amongst the most damaging forces in the Middle East for the last 3 quarters of a century. … Read more

Michael Provence, Teacher of Modern Middle Eastern History, University of California, San Diego

The United States had no function in the Middle East prior to 1945, apart from private company and instructional efforts. Within a couple years of 1945, the US slanted towards Israel in its very first war, started toppling democratic Middle Eastern governments, and propping up pliant totalitarians. … Read more

Dale Stahl, Assistant Professor of History, University of Colorado Denver

I see this declaration as “more or less incorrect” because there are clear examples where the United States has not had a positive impact in the Middle East. One needn’t reflect really far back into that “nearly 200 years” of history to know that this is so. … Read more

Lior Sternfeld, Penn State University

While the United States had some moments where it was a force for great, with jobs like schools, universities, and orphanages, it was also a source for instability in cases like the 1953 coup against Mosaddegh that overturned the course not simply of Iran however of the region in its entirety. Read more