Presidents Hassan Rouhani of Iran, Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, and Vladimir Putin of Russia hold a joint news conference after their meeting in Ankara, April 2018.
Umit Bektas / REUTERS

Having long criticized U.S. policy in the Middle East, President Donald Trump has outlined the contours of a fresh approach to the region. Last month, his administration unveiled its new Syria strategy, marking a departure from a mission focused on countering the Islamic State (or ISIS) to one aimed at containing Iran. But these new plans don’t consider a critical challenge: the shifting alignments in the region, which have intensified following the killing of the Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul.

Alignments in the Middle East have long been shifting tectonic plates. For decades, regional powers—particularly Iran, Iraq, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey—have competed to maximize power against the backdrop of interventions by Russia, the United Kingdom, and, later, the United States. Until recently, the United States and its regional allies—Israel, the majority of the Arab Gulf states, and Turkey—were

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  • COLIN P. CLARKE is an Adjunct Senior Political Scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation and a Senior Research Fellow at the Soufan Center. ARIANE M. TABATABAI is an Associate Political Scientist at RAND.
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