The Antimonies of American Global Power: U.S. Foreign Policy and the Emergence of the Second Ba‘thist Regime in Iraq

By Brandon Wolfe-Hunnicutt
Submitted to Session P3011 (The United States and the Middle East: The End of the American Century?, 2012 Annual Meeting
19th-21st Centuries;
This paper contributes to the panel theme: “The United States and the Middle East: The End of the American Century?” by interrogating what the “American Century” was, and how it operated in the Middle East. After first exploring the concept of an “American Century” and how it relates to traditional notions of empire and hegemony, my paper looks specifically at U.S. foreign policy toward the Ba‘thist government that took power in Iraq in July 1968. I investigate the extent to which Iraq in the late 1960s and early 1970s should be considered a part of the “American Century.” What was the U.S. relationship to Iraq prior to the Ba‘th’s 1968 coup? How did US foreign policymakers respond to the emergence of a Ba‘thist government in Iraq? How did the emergence of a Ba‘thist government in Iraq affect the regional oil economy?

In answering these questions, I draw on a variety of international sources. These include: recently declassified U.S. government documents – particularly the records of the Office of Near Eastern affairs within the U.S. State Department (located at the US National Archives II, College Park, MD), the Iraq Petroleum Company Archive (located at the University of Warwick, U.K.), and Ba‘thist memoir literature.

These records clearly indicate that the Ba‘th’s 1968 coup occurred at an important inflection point in the history of American global power – indeed, a moment that can be considered the beginning of the end of the “American Century.” I show that while the Ba‘thist coup forestalled a burgeoning oil nationalization movement in Iraq, U.S. foreign policy-makers were unable to develop a clear and decisive response to the emerging Ba‘thist regime in Iraq. Despite repeated overtures from Ba‘thist leaders seeking American support between 1968 and 1970, American policy-makers remained divided amongst themselves. One faction advocated embracing the Ba‘th as means of stabilizing western oil interests in the region. An opposing faction perceived the Ba‘th as a potential ally of the Soviet Union and a threat to Israel.

American fears of Ba‘thist-Soviet alignment proved a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the American refusal to accommodate the Ba‘th, led the government in Baghdad to seek Soviet support. Drawing on this support, the Ba‘th nationalized the Iraq Petroleum Company (IPC). I argue that this development did indeed undermine the structure of American power in the region.