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  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 01-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States dramatically increased the commitment of troops and military equipment to a string of permanent bases in the Middle East after the collapse of the Soviet Union and the defeat of the Iraqi army after its 1991 invasion of Kuwait. In the nearly two decades since the Al Qaeda-linked attacks on September 11, 2001, the United States has deepened its military and political commitment to the region, following the decisions to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, and then to intervene militarily in Syria. The Barack Obama and Donald Trump administrations have sought to focus more on Asia, but have failed to disentangle the United States from conflicts in the Middle East. This report assumes that the United States will retain an overwhelming interest in ensuring close alliances and partnerships with America’s transatlantic allies (North Atlantic Treaty Organization) and close partners and allies in the Indo-Pacific even if President Trump is re-elected in 2020. It also assumes that the United States will begin to focus primarily on Asia, with the Russian Federation being considered of secondary importance to the rise of the People’s Republic of China. Given these twin assumptions, the role of American forces and Washington’s policy priorities in the Middle East require new thinking about how to wind down wars that are draining American resources and to re-allocate finite, high-demand assets that could be leveraged for operations in Europe or the Indo-Pacific. This report proposes an interlinked political and military policy that would allow for the United States to retain a robust presence in the Middle East, but in a way that would de-escalate tensions with the Islamic Republic of Iran, and alter how U.S. forces are deployed around the world.
  • Topic: Foreign Policy, Power Politics, Military Intervention
  • Political Geography: Afghanistan, Iraq, Middle East, Syria, United States of America
  • Author: Aaron Stein
  • Publication Date: 11-2020
  • Content Type: Special Report
  • Institution: Foreign Policy Research Institute
  • Abstract: The United States has an interest in allowing the Russian Federation to “win” an outright victory in Syria, so long as it secures from Moscow an agreement that is favorable to the Syrian Kurds, builds in negative consequences for an external actor targeting the Syrian Democratic Forces, and establishes a “deconflict plus”-type mechanism to continue to target Islamic State- and Al Qaeda-linked individuals in Syria. A forward-looking policy that the incoming Biden administration could consider is to deprioritize the nascent threat of the Islamic State as a key factor in driving U.S. national security strategy, and instead focus more intently on long-term competition with great powers. This approach would seek to shape how Moscow spends finite defense dollars—at a time of expected global defense cuts stemming from the COVID-19 pandemic—in ways that are advantageous to the United States. It also would seek to limit the cost of the U.S. presence in Syria—to include secondary and opportunity costs not accounted for in a basic cost breakdown of the U.S. war against the Islamic State. This approach is not without risk, particularly from a nascent Islamic State insurgency in Russian-controlled territory, but seeks to match U.S. strategic priorities with action and to impose upon a long-term competitor the costs of victory for its intervention in Syria.
  • Topic: Conflict Resolution, Foreign Policy, War, Syrian War, Strategic Competition
  • Political Geography: Russia, Middle East, Syria, United States of America