Some of the most important of these implications include the emergence of the Caspian basin as a strategic counterpoint to the Persian Gulf in Southwest Asia, the parallel expansion of Iranian and Turkish interests into that area in keeping with established historical patterns of regional international relations, and the gradual reemergence of Iran as the critical regional power linking the various elements of Southwest Asia together and with the larger international system.
These developments have dramatically enhanced the strategic importance of Iran, and as a result, have also drawn the United States into a regional constellation with which it is ill-prepared and equipped to cope. As a result, U.S. policy in the crucial Transcaspian portion of Southwest Asia has to date largely been defined by its preexisting policy in the other salient regional theater, the Persian Gulf.
Process of policy
This process of policy by default has placed the United States in the untenable position of attempting to influence regional affairs on the basis of a zero-sum approach to Iran, a regional power whose cooperation is crucial to the future political and economic security of the Former Soviet republics (FSRs).
The perceptions of U.S. policymakers regarding Southwest Asia have been shaped by several overriding factors that inhibit the formulation of effective policy in the contemporary context. First, the United States is a relative newcomer to the region.
The importance of this fact should not be obscured by the legacies of either suspicion or trust that post-1945 U.S. policies have engendered among different regional actors. It is the foundation of the inability of U.S. policy to come to grips with the full sweep of the challenges presented to it by the independence of the FSRs in Central Asia and Transcaucasia and their reintegration into Southwest Asia.
It is, therefore, no surprise that the reemerging connections between the FSRs and the Middle East are an underappreciated and misunderstood dimension of regional affairs in the United States. Indeed, the very inability of U.S. policymakers to conceive of these two areas as comprising one reemerging historical political and economic region illustrates this fact. Second, the petroleum resources of Southwest Asia have long been a central determinant of U.S. policy.
Even before the United States was willing to get politically involved in regional affairs, commercial enterprises especially in oil characterized the primary U.S. interests in the region.
Thus, a persistent thread runs through U.S. policy in Southwest Asia, from the time U.S. oil firms first attempted to break the British monopoly on oil exploration in Palestine and Mesopotamia in the 1920s, to the Iranian coup of 1953, the creation of the Rapid Deployment Force in the late 1970s, and the 1991 Persian Gulf War: ensured access to oil at reasonable prices.