Friday, February 20, 1998 Published at 14:26 GMT
US Interests In The Gulf
An anti-sanctions protest in Washington
In the United States, the debate over what to do about Iraq has focused on the need to destroy Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction. But Washington has wider interests to protect, as the BBC's US Affairs Analyst, Maurice Walsh explains:
During the recurrent crises between Iraq and the UN over weapons inspections, the supremacy of American interests in the Iraqi crisis has been more transparent than during the Gulf War, when there was a solid international coalition determined to force Saddam Hussein's invading troops out of Kuwait.
The argument for confrontation has been framed narrowly, confined to the issue of weapons inspections and Saddam's capability to use chemical or biological warfare.
But Washington's motives are defined by a complex set of interests.
Some of these are concrete: the need for oil from the Gulf and passage through its waters. Almost a fifth of American oil imports and nearly half of Europe's oil needs are produced in the Persian Gulf.
Instability in the Gulf states or regimes aggressively hostile to the United States could potentially undermine the world economic system over which Washington presides.
Aside from its strategic interests, the United States has a heavy political involvement in the Middle East.
The key commitment is the guarantee to protect the security of Israel. Over the last two decades the Americans have been pushing for a peace settlement between Israel and its neighbours. A regime such as Saddam Hussein's which could threaten the balance of power in the Arab World is a threat to American interests.
The United States' strategic and political interests in the Middle East are among the reasons why it is regarded in the rest of the world as the only remaining superpower.
So defending those interests becomes, in itself, a way of reaffirming this status. Just as their predecessors in many other major conflicts and disputes since the Second World War - such as the Cuban missile crisis, and the Vietnam War - officials and generals in Washington plotting the American strategy in the Iraqi crisis are possessed by a notion of the need constantly to demonstrate American resolve to lead the world.