Why the U.S. Should Pivot Out of the Middle East and Lift Sanctions on Syria

By S. Farah

The United States (U.S.) and China are engaged in a great power competition and the winner will set the standard for our future world. Since the end of the World Wars, the U.S. has laid the technological and security architectures, as well as norms and practices worldwide, including trade and investment. Today, China is fast eclipsing the U.S. in key areas, including 5G, civil engineering, infrastructure, quantum computing and cryptography, and artificial intelligence. Additionally, China’s economy is poised to overtake that of the U.S. as the biggest economy in dollar terms by 2027; however, based on purchasing power parity, the cost of goods and services, China’s economy is already about $4 trillion bigger than that of the U.S.

For the U.S. to succeed, this competition requires an all-hands-on-deck approach, including a massive investment in research and development in new technologies and realignment of our military. The Middle East (M.E.), with the trillions of dollars being sunk there, is a distraction, especially considering how little strategic value the M.E. is to the U.S. today.

Historically, the U.S. had justified its involvement in the M.E. based on the strategic importance of oil to the U.S. economy. Today, however, imports of crude oil and petroleum products from OPEC is down 75%; meanwhile, U.S. production of crude oil and petroleum products has increased by over 250%, making the U.S. a net exporter of crude oil and petroleum products. At the same time, the volume of trade between the U.S. and the entire region of the M.E. is merely around 1% of the total value of U.S. trade. Despite this trend, the number of U.S. military bases in the M.E. has increased from a small handful of bases during the Cold War with which we were able to confront the Soviet Union and protect the flow of oil, to 25 bases today.

The U.S. should pull back from the M.E., and the U.S. and the M.E. will be better off for it. After decades of deepening U.S. engagement in the region, the M.E. today is not flourishing with the liberal democracy the neoconservatives imagined, but is a cesspool of nationalists, Islamists, theocracies, autocracies and dictatorships mired in corruption. Turkey, once hailed as an example of democratization in the Muslim world, is increasingly authoritarian and irredentist. Israel and the Palestinian territories under its control are being called a single “apartheid” regime by leading Israeli human right groups. On terrorism, the record is not much better. Al Qaeda, once operating in the mountainous region of Afghanistan, is now in Idlib on the Mediterranean, bordering Turkey, a NATO country, and ISIS, a far more violent group than Al Qaeda ever was, has spread to over 18 countries. Regime-change operations in Iraq, Libya, and Syria have emboldened Turkey and Iran and expanded their reach in the region through armed proxy jihadi groups. These regime-change operations have plunged Iraq, Libya, and Syria into war and destruction for over a decade, the human cost of which is incalculable. Those countries were once middle-income countries and are now on the brink of starvation, with devastated infrastructure and crippled health care systems.

The unilateral broad sanctions imposed by the U.S. on Syria are exacerbating an already dire humanitarian crisis. The sanctions are hitting the reconstruction, energy, health care, banking, and agricultural sectors. These sanctions are indiscriminate and are affecting a large section of the population and disproportionately hitting the poor and vulnerable, leaving many Syrian children going to bed cold and hungry.

These sanctions have pushed Syria deeper into the Iranian orbit and have made it dependent on Russia. There is agreement in foreign policy circles that sanctions will not force regime-change; they have only harmed innocent Syrians.

Everyone in the U.S. intelligence community as well as many politicians from both parties know that while there is a legitimate political opposition to the Syrian government, Assad has been fighting jihadists that cover the entire spectrum of Salafi-jihadism. All the armed groups fighting Assad called for a greater application of Sharia law. The U.S. tried to fashion a “moderate” rebel force, but failed. And for a large section of the Syrian population, a jihadist win is not merely a political issue, but an existential one.

It is abundantly clear now to all sober and independent political observers that the U.S.’s deepening involvement in the M.E. is counterproductive. It has made the region worse off, at a huge cost to the U.S. treasury and at the expense of thousands of American lives. It is time to pull back. The first step for the U.S. out of the M.E. should be to reverse the last one it made, to pull its troops out of Syria and allow for reunification and reconstruction of this war-torn country.


Comments (1)


Andrew Thomson said:

A very well written article, full of information. There is no doubt the time has come for US to change its policies and shift the focus from ME. With the passage of time, the use and dependency on oil is getting lesser. So the ME is also facing the problems that they had never thought.

It is fact that ME is already surrounded by the fire of the War. Either it is Syria or Yemen, the things are not good in the region. Wouldn’t it be better for the Super power to help resolving the issues that are haunting the region, and play is vital role.

It is also pertinent that china and US are continuously in the state of economic war and it’s china who is challenging the supremacy of US openly.

and i fully endorse the last part of the article, “It is abundantly clear now to all sober and independent political observers that the U.S.’s deepening involvement in the M.E. is counterproductive. It has made the region worse off, at a huge cost to the U.S. treasury and at the expense of thousands of American lives. It is time to pull back. The first step for the U.S. out of the M.E. should be to reverse the last one it made, to pull its troops out of Syria and allow for reunification and reconstruction of this war-torn country.”

February 23rd, 2021, 12:45 am