The Role of the US in the Middle East

I sat down with my host family and talked to them about their perception of the US and its foreign policy strategy in the region. There was a wide range of opinions concerning the US and other countries around the world. For some background, my host father was born in Jordan but lived in the US during his college, postgraduate, and even some of his professional years when he taught. He also spent time with the US military as a translator and has dual citizenship. My host mom grew up in Syria and has lived in Jordan ever since she married. And my host brother (their son) has lived in Jordan his whole life but is very familiar with American holiday traditions thanks to his dad.

I talked with my host brother (19, college student) about the issue first and had talked to him about political issues multiple other times since I had been here. To be blunt, he is very anti-American concerning their approach to foreign policy. He believes that for the most part, America has always exploited Arabs for their resources while keeping them weak enough to ever organize themselves to be a legitimate power that can be less reliant on foreign powers. He alluded to past coups that the US has supported, and US support for oppressive government regimes.  He even went further to say that he would prefer that Arab powers ally themselves with Russia if they had to pick a side. He said that Russia would be more likely to take stronger action against Israel, put some restraints on the Saudis, and be less suppressive in general because they aren’t as strong as America. Despite these views, he still wants to go to America to work and study one day. He likes Americans and has made many friends with the ones that have stayed at his house. So while he dislikes the government and their decisions, he is not against the people or the country as a whole.

Next, I talked with my host father (55, self-employed translator). He was much more pro-American, which makes sense given his history with the country. However, even he does not support a lot of American foreign policy in the region. He thought that Iraq was a waste of young men and time, which left a ruined country. However, he is very wary of growing Russian influence and would never want any connection with them. He also has strongly disapproved of government policy more since the election of Trump. He views him as a racist bully that doesn’t care about any of the Arabs and views them all as the same. If I had to sum up his views it would be that America treats the Arab states with more respect and meddles less, but still wants to maintain a close relationship with America.

Lastly, I interviewed my host mother. She didn’t have a lot to say about the topic because she admitted she wasn’t too educated on it. But even this gave me an insightful view of how the passive bystander views America. She just generally associated American foreign policy with increased violence in the region and thus was generally against American intervention. However, she also thought that any other big country would have similar interventionist policies and that it’s not solely an American problem.

I was most surprised by my host brothers position that he believed that the American government specifically was a problem. I understand the host mothers position that most other world powers would have similar interventionist policies, but I did not expect to hear that another power such as Russia (or anyone else) would be a better alternative. This really has made me give serious thoughts to the issues the US government will have to address in the region especially if the autocratic regimes in the region should fall. While there has been a trend of democracies liking each other and being close allies, I think that Middle Eastern democracies would tend to buck this trend. I think the two governments (ME and US) would be “friendly”, but it’s pretty clear to me that if it were left in the hands of the people, Middle Eastern states would not be pushovers. They would probably give more resistance than they give currently, and could be a rogue “thorn in the side” of a purely self-interested US government.