His doctrine, outlined 40 years ago, doesn’t get enough credit.
Jimmy Carter deserves a bit of the credit for the killing of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qasem Soleimani. In his Jan. 23, 1980, State of the Union address, the 39th president laid down the Carter Doctrine: “An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.”
Long after Mr. Carter left office, the doctrine has proved one of Carter’s greatest successes. It took a few years and the Reagan buildup before America had a credible military option in the region, but eventually the U.S. achieved predominance in the Gulf.
Mr. Carter backed up the doctrine by creating the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force, which was reorganized in 1983 into the U.S. Central Command. The U.S. proved its dominance in the Iran-U.S. Tanker War (1986-88), the Gulf War (1991), the 2003 overthrow of Saddam Hussein, and the defeat of the Iraqi insurgency and Islamic State. The Jan. 3 strike that killed Soleimani was only the latest application of the Carter Doctrine.
Amid the Iranian threat and the fighting in Yemen, much of the world’s oil supply flows out under the watchful eyes of U.S. armed forces. The American role in Syria may be winding down, but the U.S. isn’t about to pull out entirely. In Afghanistan, whose geopolitical relationship to the Gulf was evident to Mr. Carter as well as to Osama bin Laden, the campaign against the Taliban sometimes seems endless and futile. But U.S. bases in Bagram and Kandahar are important for the ability to project military power, as Gibraltar once was to Britain’s dominance of the Mediterranean.
One sign of the Carter Doctrine’s success has been the left’s hostility to Saudi Arabia, which demonstrates that Riyadh is unambiguously aligned with Washington. The Saudis’ human-rights record hasn’t changed much, but their geopolitical posture has.
When Mr. Carter spoke, Iran was occupying the U.S. Embassy and holding 53 Americans hostage. The Organization for the Petroleum Exporting Countries was able to disrupt Western economies by restricting supply, as it did in 1973 and again in 1979. That clout began to dissipate when Reagan completely deregulated oil prices in 1981, and fracking in the U.S. has ended it entirely. Since President Trump’s election, the U.S. has effectively imposed an embargo on Iranian exports, with the support of the Saudis and other Arab oil states.
For 40 years the U.S. has pursued an unsentimental, coldblooded policy in the region. Most of the time it has meant pushing morality, human rights and democracy into the background. Mr. Carter may not be fond of the doctrine that bears his name, just as George Kennan came to regret advocating “containment” of the Soviet Union. But like containment, the Carter Doctrine has proved durable and effective at advancing American interests.
Mr. Dinerman writes on space policy and national security.