Implications of US Disengagement from the Middle East

By Efraim Inbar

BESA

July 26, 2016

 

Executive Summary

 

The United States is retreating from the Middle East. The adverse implications of this policy shift are manifold, including: the acceleration of Tehran’s drive to regional hegemony, the palpable risk of regional nuclear proliferation following the JCPOA, the spread of jihadist Islam, and Russia’s growing penetration of the region. Manifest US weakness is also bound to have ripple effects far beyond the Middle East, as global players question the value of partnership with an irresolute Washington.

 

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Conclusions

 

Washington is retrenching. It is projecting weakness and eliciting doubts

about its value as an ally. The US has the potential to snap back under

different leadership, but this could take time. Building military assets is

a lengthy process, particularly when it comes to training qualified military

forces. Overcoming mistrust is perhaps more difficult. Certain strategic

losses, such as foreign policy reorientation by former allies, are not

easily reversible.

 

US allies in the Middle East believe Washington needs a different lens

through which to view international affairs.

 

It needs a clear conceptual framework by which to identify friends and foes.

This is a basic mechanism for any military activity and has to be deployed

also within the politico-strategic sphere. As Samuel Johnson observed,

though there is twilight, there is still light and darkness. Strategic

clarity is vital for astute policy-making.

 

Washington’s reluctance to deploy ground forces is understandable, and such

military involvement is not always useful. Conserving blood and treasure,

rather than expending them to pursue ambitious political schemes, is a good

instinct. But Obama-style disengagement has produced harmful outcomes for

the US and its allies. While the Middle East seems to have become gradually

less important in the international arena, it is still very relevant with

respect to several global challenges: Islamic radicalism, nuclear

proliferation, and energy security. These issues cannot be ignored. For the

time being, there is no alternative to a responsible and well-calibrated US

role in world affairs. An assertive US position is also

important for spreading the values for which it stands – democracy and the

free market. Abdicating this role is simply irresponsible.