The process by which American interests in the Gulf emerged and then quickened has already been discussed, as has the transfer of responsibility for the security of the Gulf from Britain to the US in 1971. Thus it can be seen that the United States' assumption of primary responsibility (at least as self-perceived) for this task has been evidenced for little more than a single decade. The official commitment to defend the Gulf physically if necessary, howevet, emerged only at the beginning of the 1980s, as did the creation of viable machinery to handle this task. 1
At the time of British withdrawal, there really did not seem to be much evidence of concern, at least among the American public, for the security of oil supplies from the Gulf, nor was there even much recognition of US and Western dependence on Gulf oil. Briefly, American policy in the Gulf since 1971 falls into two distinct periods: 1971-9 and 1979 to the present. While the first was characterised by benign inaction, the second has tended towards overreaction. The initial American response to British withdrawal involved little more than approval of the strengthening of indigenous military capabilities and leaving the US Navy's MIDEASTFOR at its existing strength. American policy towards the Gulf at this time was predicated on the Nixon Doctrine, first enunciated on Guam in 1969, with its minimisation of the role of the US as a world policeman. In large part, the impetus for the doctrine came from America's disillusionment over the war in Vietnam and was aimed at 'military retrenchment without political disengagement'. 2 It was not long before the search was on for a surrogate or surrogates in the Gulf.