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What’s Really Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

The real question isn't whether or not we should stop "trying to solve" problems in the region, because we haven't been trying to do that, but whether we should stop using the countries of the region as pawns in our government's destructive fixations with terrorism and Iran.
What’s Really Wrong with U.S. Foreign Policy in the Middle East

Foreign Affairs recently asked a number of analysts and scholars what U.S. strategy in the Middle East should be. The participants were asked to agree or disagree with the statement, “The United States should stop trying to solve the regional problems of the Middle East,” and they were asked to assign their level of confidence in their answer. The responses were mostly what you would expect. For example, Elliott Abrams strongly disagrees with the statement and Emma Ashford strongly agrees with it (both confidence level 10). John Mearsheimer very much agrees and Shadi Hamid disagrees almost as much. Some were less certain, and others professed to be neutral. With maybe a couple exceptions, informed readers could have accurately guessed the participants’ answers before they gave them. It’s an interesting exercise for gauging the relative hawkishness and/or meddlesomeness of the people answering the question, but it may be the wrong question for thinking about what is really wrong with U.S. policies in the region.

The question takes for granted that the U.S. has spent the last several decades trying to “solve” the region’s problems, and the disagreement is over whether it should keep making the effort, reduce that effort, or give up entirely. What if the U.S. has not been trying to “solve” the region’s problems at all, but has instead been trying to exploit and compound them with other goals in mind? For instance, taking sides in Syria’s war and funneling arms and equipment to insurgents is not what one does when one wishes to bring a conflict to an end more quickly. It it what an outside government does to keep a conflict going longer than it otherwise would. Maintaining an illegal, open-ended military presence in Syria doesn’t seem designed to “solve” any of Syria’s problems. No one can seriously argue that U.S. policy in Yemen has been aimed at trying to solve that country’s problems. It’s also true that the U.S. isn’t very good at solving regional problems because we don’t understand the region, but finding solutions to those problems has not been a high priority for Washington for a very long time. The real question isn’t whether or not we should stop “trying to solve” problems in the region, because we haven’t been trying to do that, but whether we should stop using the countries of the region as pawns in our government’s destructive fixations with terrorism and Iran. My answer to that question is obviously a yes, and I think this question gets to the heart of why U.S. policies in the region have been so destructive and harmful.

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