The new geopolitics of the Middle East: America’s role in a changing region

Source: Brookings

Author(s): Jeffrey FeltmanSamantha GrossMartin IndykKemal KirişciSuzanne MaloneyBruce RiedelNatan SachsAmanda SloatAngela StentTamara Cofman Wittes, and Bruce Jones

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The perception of U.S. withdrawal from the Middle East overstates reality, but American influence in the region is certainly on the decline. The United States retains a significant troop presence in the region, but the American public has limited support for military engagement in Middle Eastern conflicts. The perception that the United States is no longer dependent on the region’s oil supplies is not borne out by the realities of the global oil market, but does shape contemporary American decisionmaking. The United States has stepped back from diplomatic leadership on the Middle East peace process and conflict management across the region. Only on issues related to Iran has the United States had a sustained—but not consistent—focus.

Other actors have been inserting themselves into regional decisionmaking. As these two dynamics converge, a new geopolitical structure is evolving. It has six primary countries—Saudi Arabia, Iran, Turkey, Israel, the United States, and Russia. Others, like Egypt, maintain some of their past influence, although at significantly diminished levels. China does not currently play a central role in directing regional affairs, but is building its economic and diplomatic ties across the region and is poised to be more influential in the future.

The primary actors have distinct strategic objectives. Iran and Saudi Arabia seek to balance each other.


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