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Obama’s Missed Opportunity to Pivot Away from the Middle East

Washington’s Middle East policy is a shambles. The region’s turmoil fundamentally stems from the George W. Bush Administration’s disastrous decision to invade Iraq in March 2003. In the wake of that debacle, President Barack Obama’s policy has been contradictory and ambivalent. President Obama rightly concluded that the United States needs to extricate itself from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars started by his predecessor, and avoid a third war in Syria. Although his instinct is to wind down the American military role in the region, he has given in to pressure from the U.S. foreign policy establishment to re-engage. Consequently the United States has probably lost its best chance to extract itself from the Middle East’s intractable conflicts.

Obama s Missed Opportunity to Pivot Away from the Middle
U.S. President Barack Obama speaks alongside Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter following a meeting with top military officials about the military campaign against the ISIS at the Pentagon on July 6, 2015. AFP PHOTO / SAUL LOEB
 

Events in the Middle East, and the wider region, continue to unfold at a dizzying pace. The war in Syria continues unabated. Russia has now intervened militarily to prop up the government of Bashar Assad. Iran is ramping up its military involvement in the conflict. In Iraq, the U.S.-trained army has collapsed, deep sectarian divisions remain, and the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) controls large swaths of both Iraqi and Syrian territory. Libya has fallen into anarchy. Slightly further afield, the Taliban are resurgent in Afghanistan, and President Obama has been forced to do a U-turn on his pledge to withdraw all U.S. military forces –except for a residual force of 1,000 troops to protect the American embassy in Kabul– from that country by the end of his term in January 2017.

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