The Russian Military’s People Problem
It’s Hard for Moscow to Win While Mistreating Its Soldiers
In the wake of the 9/11 attacks and the U.S. invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush announced a “forward strategy of freedom in the Middle East,” driven by American “energy and idealism.” A few years after that, President Barack Obama proclaimed a hopeful “new beginning” for U.S. Middle East policy and later hailed the Arab uprisings as “a chance to pursue the world as it should be,” after “decades of accepting the world as it is in the region.” But it didn’t take long for the grand pronouncements to collide with harsh reality—leaving U.S. policymakers scrambling ever since to walk back such commitments without making things even worse.
“Under both Democratic and Republican administrations,” writes F. Gregory Gause, “Washington has proved that it is much better at destroying states than building them.” In his view, it must settle for less in the Middle East, accepting that “dealing with extremely flawed regimes, with blood on their hands, is sometimes the only way to check the dangers of disorder.” Amaney Jamal and Michael Robbins concur that progress has faltered, but drawing on years of public opinion research, they find the cause in democracy’s failure “to produce the kind of economic change that people across the Middle East desperately craved”—prompting more and more of them to look to China rather than the United States as a model.
Amid changes in U.S. policy, regional powers are both confronting new risks and finding new opportunities. Karim Sadjadpour argues that Iran has pursued a strategy that delivers short-term regional dominance at the cost of grave weakness at home. Michael Singh sees the Abraham Accords and the growing wave of Arab-Israeli normalization as “heralding a dramatic reordering of the Middle East.” And Marwa Daoudy considers how regional actors are weaponizing climate change, exploiting scarcity and suffering for short-term gain.
Finally, Marc Lynch contends that a better approach to the region must start by fixing a more basic problem: an obsolete map. U.S. scholars and policymakers have clung to a definition of the Middle East that “threatens to blind U.S. strategy to the actual dynamics shaping the region—and, worse, makes Washington all too likely to continue making disastrous blunders there.”
—Daniel Kurtz-Phelan, Editor