In any debate over the merits of U.S. military involvement in the Middle East, the most important bit of information should be, what vital interest does America have in the region? Before committing forces to any cause, policymakers should consider whether or not it meets the threshold set by the Weinberger/Powell Doctrine. The first rule set out by the guidelines developed by Caspar Weinberger and Colin Powell is that any engagement is based on a compelling national interest.
In the Wall Street Journal, Martin Indyk makes the case against involvement in the Middle East. Whereas the valuable oil reserves in the region were once vital to American interests, with the end of reliance on imported oil, Indyk suggests that the case for U.S. involvement in the region is less compelling. Even, says Indyk, the plight of Israel is less urgent a concern for Americans as its “survival is no longer in question.”
He writes (abridged):
Few vital interests of the U.S. continue to be at stake in the Middle East. The challenge now, both politically and diplomatically, is to draw the necessary conclusions from that stark fact.
There has been a structural shift in American interests in the Middle East, one that Washington is having a hard time acknowledging.
In the past, the U.S. has had two clear priorities in the Middle East: to keep Gulf oil flowing at reasonable prices and to ensure Israel’s survival. But the U.S. economy no longer relies on imported petroleum. Fracking has turned the U.S. into a net oil and natural-gas exporter. The countries that still depend on the oil flowing from the Gulf are in Europe and Asia.
As for Israel, it is still very much in America’s national interest to support the security of the Jewish state, but its survival is no longer in question. Decades of American economic and military largess and close security cooperation have made it possible for Israel to defend itself by itself
Today, Israel enjoys stronger strategic relations with the leading Sunni Arab states—Saudi Arabia, Egypt and others—than they maintain with one another.
Preventing a nuclear arms race in the Middle East does remain a vital U.S. interest—the one current case where the U.S. might need to resort to war.
Curbing Iran’s nuclear aspirations and ambitions for regional dominance will require assiduous American diplomacy. Sanctions have given Mr. Trump considerable leverage. He should now signal to Tehran that he is willing to ease sanctions if it reverses its recent violation of its commitments under the nuclear pact.
We need a sustainable Middle East strategy based on a more realistic assessment of our interests
—Mr. Indyk is a distinguished fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations
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