You are right that the conflicts in the Middle East are deep, long and unsatisfying.
We have tried engagement – regime change in Iraq under the Bush Administration – and failed to satisfy almost anyone
We have tried turning tail and running away – Ronald Reagan’s precipitous withdrawal from Lebanon – and failed to successfully disengage.
We have tried grand gestures to make peace – Bill Clinton’s 1999 efforts to establish a Palestinian state – only to have them scorned by those whom such efforts would benefit most.
We have tried picking winners and losers – the Trump Administrations refusal to address the crimes of MBS – and generated scorn both at home and abroad.
I would suggest the last US President to have a successful policy in the region was Jimmy Carter – the peace he brokered between Egypt and Israel has lasted for forty years and remains stable Ironic, that Carter tends be scorned while Presidents who achieved far less are thought superior. (Maybe history is written by the whiners, not the winners.)
It certainly is frustrating.
But abruptly taking our ball and going home ignores several difficult facts:
- · America’s allies need to believe in American constancy. Even when constancy is costly, it is a price we pay to have allies and influence in the world. An isolationist America is an America without influence.
- · America should continue to support Israel because it is our one democratic ally in the region and America should avoid policies that strengthen Israel’s adversaries
- · The global economy is dependent on the uninterrupted flow of Persian Gulf oil, even as the US is less dependent on it. Any disruption to that flow would damage the US economy
- · Problems in the Middle East are not confined to the Middle East. 9/11 was an effort to draw the US into ongoing Sunni/Shiite conflicts. And it worked! As Yael Harari points out, terrorists are like a gnat trying to destroy a china shop. The gnat can’t do that by itself, but if it can make a bull angry, the bull will do the gnat’s work for it. The Bush Administration did exactly that – creating a pro-Iranian Shiite state in Iraq – something ISIS could never have done without the Bush Administration’s help
So sadly, and costly as it is, there is value to staying engaged in the Middle East in a constant, unhappy fashion.
The best way to achieve disengagement from the Middle East would be to focus on transitioning our economy (and the world’s) to renewable energy sources. Drying up the income sources of the major actors in the region (other than Israel, whose economy is diversified) and, as a collateral benefit, drying up Russia’s economy would provide the only basis for lasting change in the region and greatly limit what those bad actors could do.
And you don’t even have to accept the science of global warming to acknowledge the benefit of transitioning off of fossil fuels. Green New Deal anyone? It probably is the best way to achieve the Middle East exit you wish for