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The U.S.’s Defense and Security Role in a Changing Gulf Landscape


Ever since the promulgation of President Jimmy Carter’s namesake “Carter Doctrine” in 1980, declaring that any threat to the free flow of commerce in the Gulf would be regarded as a threat to the United States, America has served as the Gulf’s primary security guarantor. American hegemony in the Gulf led the United States to protect the Strait of Hormuz during the Iran-Iraq War, force Saddam Hussein’s army from Kuwait in 1991, and topple the Iraqi dictator twelve years later. However, over the past two decades, America’s military deployments in the Gulf have come under greater scrutiny at home, and successive U.S. administrations have grown increasingly reluctant to participate in regional conflicts.

While former president Trump sought to reassure America’s Gulf allies that the United States would continue to support them, he also pushed for the United States to draw down its regional military footprint, and President Biden has shown similar instincts, declining to support Saudi Arabia during its military intervention in Yemen and seeking to return to a nuclear agreement with Iran. Uncertainty over America’s future role in the Gulf has led its traditional partners in the region to seek alternative foreign patrons and address their own security needs. As Washington has wavered, the GCC states have pursued closer ties with Russia and China, America’s two great-power competitors, and have also sought to resolve their disagreements with the Islamic Republic. These new developments have forced the United States to seriously rethink its own strategy in the region. America is not a “Gulf state,” but it is directly affected by the events in it—much as it was under President Carter.

What does the future hold for America and the Gulf? In what ways has America telegraphed uncertainty in its Gulf policy? How can Washington address Gulf states’ concerns in this regard? How have other world powers reacted? And must the “Carter Doctrine” always be enforced, or could it ever be made irrelevant by a new understanding of regional security?

Featured Speakers: Dr. Dania Thafer, Shaikh Nawaf bin Mubarak Al Thani, Bilal Saab, and Ambassador Patrick Theros (moderator).

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