I would argue that the United States prior to 1930 did not act the same way as the great European powers in terms of colonialism and domination; however, it slowly tried to edge its way into the markets of these countries which let it have a smooth transition to becoming an imperial power. The United States also gave itself the contrasting image of being, a liberator, instead of a subjugator like the old powers. This is case in point when looking at President Wilson’s 14 points, where he signaled a more “activist global policy inspiring hope in peoples the world over to escape from oppressive European colonial rule” (Khalidi, 34). It would seem that in the beginning the United States did follow Jefferson’s rules considering he had a caviet that even though you should not get directly entangled in their affairs, seeking friendly trade relations with them would be encouraged (Yilmaz 10). The barbary states were intended to be used by them for economic benefit (Yilmaz 13). This exemplifies the attitude of the U.S prior to 1930, not getting directly involved in their affairs, but still having an intention to seek economic benefit from their existence.
Seeing the relationship between the Middle East, and the great global U.S empire it is hard to imagine that prior to 1930, they did not attempt to directly control political affairs of the Middle East. That is, in the same manner as the British and French. It also is important to note that the United States, especially prior to the 20th century did not have the power and reach to dominate this region, which was the job of the European superpowers. However, we can see with the Barbary situation, the United States “secured its Mediterranean trade routes” which “indicated to the naval powers of Europe that the United States was going to be involved in trade in the area” (Yilmaz 14). The United States continued to expand trading privileged in this region and even attempted signing trade agreements.
President Wilson also started fostering the rhetoric about Islams inferiority to western Christian cultures and values (which Europeans nations were not unfamiliar with), this way in the future like any empire, they could claim that their presence in this country (at this time only traders and missionaries), was to “civilize and help the savages find freedom” (Salt, 26). In 1919, the United States conducted a survey called “The King-Crane Commission” which polled the citizens of the Middle East in countries like Syria Palestine and Lebanon whether they were ready for freedom. At the time, since as Khalidi argues, (p. 31) the average Middle Eastern did not see the U.S a dominating, imperial power, but as one that was to an extent generally concerned with the well-being of their citizenry. Was it just a deviation that the U.S would a short while later on seek to dominate and control the region? It’s hard to completely argue this. Some could argue that the subtle policies pursued and promoted by U.S business and religious interests help pay the way for 3 years after, consolidating power with the brutal Wahabii Abd al ‘Abiz Ibn Saud, founder of the Saudi Kingdom (Khiladi, 33).
Although the United States prior to the 1930’s, did not generally act as a direct imperial power, it shows signs of interest in the region and continued to try establishing friendly contact and relations with this region for economic reasons. We can see from the King-Crane Commission, that they definitely had some interest in the region, whether altruistic or selfish. The United States, only after the 1930’s showed direct economic and later military imperialistic policies. The British, who were more powerful than the United States prior to the 1930’s, did not allow the U.S the same access to the Middle East, although it seemed as though U.S business interests would have not hesitated to be given the same privileges. Considering that looking ahead, the U.S replaced Britain as the world’s hegemon, we can only speculate to what degree of the ruling elite, foresaw that in the future they would directly control and dominate this region for their own economic and political interests. The control prior to the 1930’s was not established or seen, but the interest to use the sought-upon region for them was there. President Woodrow Wilson already made direct his philosophy that the “Mohammadens” were pretty much savages and the European Christians had a moral obligation to educate these heathens. This was in contradistinction to what Jefferson had wrote about and envisioned (Spellburg, 272). So we can see in the beginning of the 20th century somewhat of a transition taking place, although a slight one at that. The U.S definitely showed its interest in the region, but to determine that it qualified as imperialism or the signs of colonialism to come, is something that needs much analysis and speculation. It does seem like there is some sort of connection between the economic and social reach the United States was slowly building up, and the eventual reality seen after 1933. It is only after 1930, that the United States directly got involved in the political affairs of Arab nations.