Right-Sizing America’s Mideast Role

In case you missed it, my debut FP column came out yesterday calling for the "right-sizing" of America’s Middle East strategy.  Basically, it argues that President Obama has done some really good things over the last four years, like getting out of Iraq, and has done a good job at avoiding the worst outcomes —  ...

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615329_columpic_12.jpg

In case you missed it, my debut FP column came out yesterday calling for the "right-sizing" of America's Middle East strategy.  Basically, it argues that President Obama has done some really good things over the last four years, like getting out of Iraq, and has done a good job at avoiding the worst outcomes --  yes, even in Syria, where we could easily have just as terrible a civil war but with significant American military involvement. But as he gears up for his second term, this is the time for the new Obama team to take a step back and think about its longer-term goals for the Middle East.  He has his four more years: what does he want to do with them in the Middle East?  How are his policies helping to achieve those goals?

Basically, I argue that Obama does have a Middle East strategy shaped by an accurate assessment of the nature of the Arab uprisings and laid out very well in his mostly-forgotten May 2011 speech.  But that vision is too easily forgotten in the daily grind of crisis management and the inevitable compromises of tough policy choices, and needs to be adapted to the dramatic changes in the year and a half since his last major Middle East policy address.   The column, partly based on a longer article which I wrote with Colin Kahl which will be published in a few months, tries to lay out the logic of "right-sizing" --- not "disengagement" and not "retrenchment", but systematically changing the expectations and the reality of America's military and political role in regional affairs while pushing to build a new regional architecture based upon more democratic and independent allies in key countries like Egypt and Libya as the foundations.  

I hope you'll read the whole column over on the main FP page.  I'll try to respond to comments and questions when possible over here.   My next column is going to focus on one of the main strategic challenges, and arguably failures, of the first term.. but you'll just have to wait to see which one! 

In case you missed it, my debut FP column came out yesterday calling for the "right-sizing" of America’s Middle East strategy.  Basically, it argues that President Obama has done some really good things over the last four years, like getting out of Iraq, and has done a good job at avoiding the worst outcomes —  yes, even in Syria, where we could easily have just as terrible a civil war but with significant American military involvement. But as he gears up for his second term, this is the time for the new Obama team to take a step back and think about its longer-term goals for the Middle East.  He has his four more years: what does he want to do with them in the Middle East?  How are his policies helping to achieve those goals?

Basically, I argue that Obama does have a Middle East strategy shaped by an accurate assessment of the nature of the Arab uprisings and laid out very well in his mostly-forgotten May 2011 speech.  But that vision is too easily forgotten in the daily grind of crisis management and the inevitable compromises of tough policy choices, and needs to be adapted to the dramatic changes in the year and a half since his last major Middle East policy address.   The column, partly based on a longer article which I wrote with Colin Kahl which will be published in a few months, tries to lay out the logic of "right-sizing" — not "disengagement" and not "retrenchment", but systematically changing the expectations and the reality of America’s military and political role in regional affairs while pushing to build a new regional architecture based upon more democratic and independent allies in key countries like Egypt and Libya as the foundations.  

I hope you’ll read the whole column over on the main FP page.  I’ll try to respond to comments and questions when possible over here.   My next column is going to focus on one of the main strategic challenges, and arguably failures, of the first term.. but you’ll just have to wait to see which one! 

Marc Lynch is associate professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, where he is the director of the Institute for Middle East Studies and of the Project on Middle East Political Science. He is also a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security. He is the author of The Arab Uprising (March 2012, PublicAffairs).

He publishes frequently on the politics of the Middle East, with a particular focus on the Arab media and information technology, Iraq, Jordan, Egypt, and Islamist movements. Twitter: @abuaardvark

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