This article combines insights from constructivism with historical analysis to argue that the US military engagement in the Gulf, beginning in the 1980s, was primarily driven by the changed roles of two actors: Iran after the Islamic Revolution and the United States attempting to regain its role as a global superpower following the Vietnam War. It argues that the year 1979 constitutes what constructivists deem a “critical juncture,” in which America’s response to three events—the Iranian Revolution/hostage crisis; the siege of Mecca’s Grand Mosque; and the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan—helped to redefine the Gulf’s security architecture and made the region more insecure. It ends with a close examination of US participation in the Iran–Iraq War and the long-term implications of the Carter Doctrine’s changing logic.

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