Leaving on a jet plane: an F-18 on its way to the Persian Gulf, March 2017
John Gambrell / ASSOCIATED PRESS

When U.S. President Donald Trump talks about the Middle East, he typically pairs bellicose threats against Iran and the Islamic State (or ISIS) with fulsome pledges of support for the United States’ regional partners, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. But the tough talk is misleading: there is little reason to think that Trump actually wants the United States to get more involved in the region.

He pulled the United States out of the Iran nuclear deal but has shown no eagerness for a conflict with the Islamic Republic. He has continued U.S. President Barack Obama’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen but resisted calls for deeper military engagement there. Despite his promise of a “deal of the century,” a U.S. proposal on Arab-Israeli peace remains on the shelf. His support for an “Arab NATO,” a security alliance among Egypt, Jordan, and six Gulf states,

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  • MARA KARLIN is an Associate Professor at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies and a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She was U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Strategy and Force Development from 2015 to 2016.
  • TAMARA COFMAN WITTES is a Senior Fellow in the Foreign Policy Program at the Brookings Institution. She was U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs from 2009 to 2012. 
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