Saudi army artillery fire shells towards Houthi movement positions at the Saudi border with Yemen April 15, 2015. REUTERS/Stringer
Moving beyond good and evil in the Middle East

The chaotic and conflict-ridden Middle East is a scene of American failure. In recent decades, the United States has lavished more resources and attention there than on any other region. It has incurred more American military deaths in Iraq than in any other war since the Vietnam War. The current state of the region, and of U.S. influence in it, doesn’t come close to representing a worthwhile return on that huge investment.

A major redirection of U.S. policy toward the Middle East is in order, and not only in the sense of correcting the worst mistakes of the Trump administration. That administration has carried to extremes an assumption that has underpinned previous administrations’ approach toward the region. That assumption, simply put, is that the U.S. must exert its power, including military might, on the side of those in the region considered good and friendly, to secure superiority or domination over those considered evil or unfriendly.

That approach might be defensible in responding to the threat of an unfriendly power achieving hegemony over the Middle East, but no such threat exists. Iran is most often mentioned as a supposed regional hegemon, but it is militarily inferior to several of its rivals, and it has the permanent handicap of being a mostly Persian and Shia nation in a region that is mostly Arab and Sunni.

One major problem with the U.S. approach of trying to prop up good over evil is that players in the Middle East do not sort readily into good guys and bad guys. The region is a tangle of cross-cutting rivalries and conflicts—of Sunni against Shia, Arabs against Israelis, Arabs against Iranians, fundamentalists against secularists, and monarchies against republics. Trying to hammer these competing interests into a U.S.-imposed imbalance has been disastrous for human security—and ignores the regional powers’ own capacity for checking each other’s emergent threats.

Read the full article in The New Republic.

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