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The End of Pax Americana

Why Washington’s Middle East Pullback Makes Sense

Don’t look back: U.S. soldiers leaving Iraq, December 2011. SCOTT PETERSON / GETTY IMAGES

The Obama administration has clearly pulled back from the United States’ recent interventionism in the Middle East, notwithstanding the rise of the Islamic State (also known as ISIS) and the U.S.-led air war against it. Critics pin the change on the administration’s aversion to U.S. activism in the region, its unwillingness to engage in major combat operations, or President Barack Obama’s alleged ideological preference for diminished global engagement. But the reality is that Washington’s post-9/11 interventions in the region—especially the one in Iraq—were anomalous and shaped false perceptions of a “new normal” of American intervention, both at home and in the region. The administration’s unwillingness to use ground forces in Iraq or Syria constitutes not so much a withdrawal as a correction—an attempt to restore the stability that had endured for several decades thanks to American restraint, not American aggressiveness.

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