The US Has Never Been ‘Dragged’ Into the Middle East

The U.S. has nothing at stake that requires this level of involvement in regional conflicts.

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Hal Brands repeats a very popular lie about U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East:

Every recent president gets their Middle Eastern war, whether they want it or not. Since Ronald Reagan’s time, each administration has engaged in at least one significant military conflict in the region. Even presidents who wanted nothing more than to escape the Middle East were, almost ineluctably, dragged back in. Now it’s Joe Biden’s turn.

Every time that the U.S. has involved itself in wars in the Middle East, it has done so by choice. There was no vital interest that compelled the U.S. to send troops to Lebanon or to support Iraq in its war with Iran. The U.S. then chose to intervene to drive Iraqi forces out of Kuwait, and then it chose to keep a significant military presence in the region after the war. Clinton’s military operations in Iraq were relatively minor, but they were far from being obligatory.

The invasion of Iraq was one of the more egregious examples of an American president going out of his way to launch a new war in the region when almost all regional governments and much of the rest of the world were pleading with the U.S. not to do it. The U.S. then helped to fuel the civil war in Syria because it was trying to overthrow the government there, and the U.S. also chose to wage a new war against ISIS in Iraq and Syria when it didn’t have to. Backing the Saudi coalition in Yemen was as unnecessary and as it gets. No president has been “dragged” in to wars in the Middle East. In every case for at least the last forty-five years, the U.S. has been anything but reluctant when it chose to support, start, or join a war in the region.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has nothing at stake that requires this level of involvement in regional conflicts. The few interests that the U.S. may have are not important enough to merit the extensive military involvement of the last three decades. If the U.S. extricated itself from the region, it would not be appreciably worse off or less secure than it is today. It is much more likely that the U.S. would be in a stronger position if it rid itself of its unnecessary and costly entanglements and the many headaches that have come with them. It is also very likely that the countries of the region would be significantly better off without all the destabilizing policies of our government that have done so much damage across the region by fueling conflicts and reinforcing repressive governments.

Brands claims that “the Middle East remains far too important to be ignored, and far too unsettled to sort itself out.” As far as the U.S. is concerned, the first part is nonsense. The second part is a self-serving lie that hegemonists tell themselves to justify causing widespread suffering, displacement, and death in the name of “sorting out” the problems of other countries. No one honestly believes that the U.S. knows how to “sort out” the region’s problems in any case, and no one seriously thinks that the U.S. has been making a good faith effort to solve anything for the benefit of the people that live there. The U.S. has been and continues to be a major cause of unsettling the region. It is safe to say that the region will not know enduring peace and stability as long as the U.S. insists on meddling in its affairs as frequently and as violently as it does.

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Daniel Larison is a contributing editor for and maintains his own site at Eunomia. He is former senior editor at The American Conservative. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.