American troops on th​e road between Qamishlo ​and Tel Tamr, Syr​ia, October 2019
Eugenio Grosso / Redux

U.S. foreign policy hands are rightly grappling with how engaged the United States should be in the Middle East. Thought-provoking essays by Martin Indyk (in The Wall Street Journal) and Mara Karlin and Tamara Cofman Wittes (in Foreign Affairs) have argued that the United States has few remaining vital interests—those worth going to war over—in the region. Washington should “do less” in the Middle East, as Karlin and Wittes put it, and lighten the U.S. footprint because, as the headline of Indyk’s essay noted, it “isn’t worth it.” Gone are the days when 180,000 U.S. troops fought in Iraq or when spiking oil prices held the U.S. economy over a proverbial barrel. And the terrifying outbreak of a global pandemic has been the starkest reminder yet that the United States has work to do to refocus its priorities on the most pressing current and future challenges.

Yet while the trend toward Middle East minimalism is broad based—both U.S. President Donald Trump and Democratic opponents talk about “ending endless wars”—it remains ill-defined, the start of the conversation rather than the end of it. Above all, downsizing the U.S. presence in

To read the full article

  • DANIEL BENAIM holds Fellowships at the Century Foundation and the Center for American Progress. He previously served as a Middle East Policy Adviser in the Office of the Vice President and on the U.S. Secretary of State’s Policy Planning Staff.
  • JAKE SULLIVAN is a Nonresident Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He served as National Security Adviser to the U.S. Vice President in 2013–14 and as Director of Policy Planning at the U.S. Department of State in 2011–13.
  • More By Daniel Benaim
  • More By Jake Sullivan