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The Persian Gulf is one of the few regions whose importance to the United States is obvious The flow of Gulf oil will continue to be crucial to the economic well-being of the industrialized world for the foreseeable future developments in the Gulf will have a critical impact on issues ranging from Arab-Israeli relations and religious extremism to terrorism and nuclear nonproliferation Every president since Richard Nixon has recognized that ensuring Persian Gulf security and stability is a vital US interest The Clinton administrations strategy for achieving this goal during the presidents first term was its attempted dual containment of Iraq and Iran This is more a slogan than a strategy however and the policy may not be sustainable for much longer In trying to isolate both of the Gulfs regional powers the policy lacks strategic viability and carries a high financial and diplomatic cost Saddam Hussein is still in power six years after his defeat at the hands of a multinational coalition and the international consensus on continuing the containment of Iraq is fraying The strident US campaign to isolate Iran in turn drives Iran and Russia together and the United States and its Group of Seven allies apart Finally the imposing US military presence that helps protect the members of the Gulf Cooperation Council GCC from external threats is being exploited by hostile elements to take advantage of internal social political and economic problems The advent of the Clinton administrations second term together with the imminent inauguration of a new administration in Iran following this Mays elections provides an opportunity to review US policies toward the Gulf and consider whether midcourse corrections could improve the situation The first step in such a reevaluation is to view the problems in the Gulf clearly and objectively In Iraq the United States confronts a police state led by an erratic tyrant whos limited but potentially serious capacity for regional action is currently subject to constraint In
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