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America and the Middle East: The Problem of Staying and the Controversy of Leaving
US Army soldiers from 2nd Battalion, 503rd Infantry Regiment and 173rd Airborne Brigade Combat Team; Afghan National Army soldiers; and members of the Afghan Border Patrol train on Forward Operating Base Fortress. in the Konar province of Afghanistan in 2008. (Sgt. Johnny R. Aragon/US Army)

America and the Middle East: The Problem of Staying and the Controversy of Leaving

Al-Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, January 1

On the eve of a new year and with the end of the combat operations of the American forces in Iraq, the same perennial question once again comes to the surface: Is America withdrawing from the Middle East? Analysts are divided into two camps. The first group believes that the Middle East is no longer important for the future of the United States, which has become preoccupied to the greatest extent with East Asia, especially in terms of confronting Russia and China. Meanwhile, the second group holds that Washington doesn’t have the luxury of such a withdrawal, because it simply means handing over the Middle East to competing forces, which will, in turn, detract from the global strength and invincibility of America. Dalia Dassa Kaye, a senior fellow at UCLA’s Burkle Center for International Relations, believes that it is necessary to shift US thinking from the concept of withdrawal, which generates more crises, to the concept of cooperation with America’s allies in the region. It is no secret that the chaotic and confused US withdrawal from Afghanistan last August generated a strong impression that Washington is no longer willing to stay in the Middle East in one way or another. However, the reality on the ground paints another picture, given the challenge posed to Washington by the Iranian regime, in conjunction with the obvious Chinese and Russian ambitions to assume the United States’ role in the region. This helps explain why the US still maintains a sprawling network of military bases in the Middle East, in what seems like a paradoxical reality: telling the world it wants to withdraw from the Middle East while maintaining an extensive foothold in the region. According to an in-depth analysis published by the well-known Foreign Policy magazine, President Joe Biden, since entering the White House, has unequivocally asserted that his focus will be on China and the Indo-Pacific region, with his desire to “rebalance” the US military presence in the Middle East. Washington appears to be at a difficult crossroads. On the one hand, and under pressure from the isolationists, it doesn’t want its soldiers to set foot outside its national soil. On the other hand, however, it appears to be facing a contradictory commitment to defend its allies in the region while preventing the reemergence of terrorist groups like ISIS. The truth is that the US doesn’t need to mobilize tens of thousands of soldiers to the region. Some at home are suggesting that Washington could negotiate contingency agreements with regional partners so that it could deploy minimal forces and expand its on-the-ground presence only if and when necessary. Others argue that the United States could move away from operating a set of large bases in the region, and instead adopt a system of distributed bases designed to keep American assets away from potential attacks such as Iranian missiles. Ben Rhodes, the former deputy national security adviser under President Barack Obama, believes that the world is a difficult and dangerous place at times, so the United States must impose itself on other countries to defend its interests. However, the post-9/11 era should be defined not through confrontation with the next enemy who awaits their turn, but rather through the revitalization of democracy as a successful means in human organization. Perhaps the most important thing is for Washington to replace the war on terror with a better project for generations to come. The time has come for America to advance ideas it supports instead of fighting those that it opposes. – Amil Ameen (translated by Asaf Zilberfarb)

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