Recent presidents of both parties have agreed that the United States has vital interests in the Middle East. But the region has become extraordinarily turbulent. Civil wars rage in Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya, where central authority and state structures have broken apart. Various regional powers are intervening in these wars, many of which serve as proxy contests between Iran and Saudi Arabia. America is fighting a war against ISIS in Iraq, Syria and, increasingly, Libya. Russia has intervened in the Syrian Civil War.

Richard Sokolsky
Richard Sokolsky is a nonresident senior fellow in Carnegie’s Russia and Eurasia Program. His work focuses on U.S. policy toward Russia in the wake of the Ukraine crisis.

The chaos convulsing the Middle East concerns the United States but is deeply rooted in local factors—in the failure of Arab governance, regional rivalries, and sectarianism and identity politics run amok. Alas, the last fifteen years have demonstrated the limited ability of the United States to bend these historical forces to achieve its preferred outcomes of peace, prosperity, security and better governance in the region.

Confronted with this clear mismatch between American aspirations and capabilities, some experts are calling for a partial U.S. disengagement from the region, while others want to double down on existing U.S. commitments. Most agree that nonmilitary tools of statecraft are important to protecting American interests and that the United States should continue to use them to address the political, economic and social drivers of instability. The main fault line in this debate focuses heavily on the role of military force in U.S. strategy for the region...

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This article was originally published by the National Interest.