Middle East Notes and Comment: Doing Less Is Not Enough

Doing Less Is Not Enough

It is a sign of how far U.S. Middle East policy has gone astray that is considered news that the U.S. government is aligning its ambitions with its resources. Two decades of maximalist U.S. goals in the region have exhausted the U.S. public and military—not to mention the residents of the Middle East—while U.S. policy has failed to meet many of its stated objectives.

Senior U.S. officials have been increasingly visible in recent months describing a "back to basics" U.S. approach to the Middle East that stresses routines of cooperation and partnership. Yet, activity without an organizing principle is merely busyness, and without a positive strategy to organize U.S. efforts, U.S. partners and adversaries alike will focus entirely on what the United States has done in the past but will no longer do.

What should the strategic goal of U.S. Middle East policy be? A bumper sticker could fit it: promote regional stability as the world moves past oil. The goal sounds hopelessly ambitious, but it is not. The nature of the energy transition will be a huge determinant of global peace and security for the next three decades, and while the United States has neither all the answers nor the resources to achieve a peaceful transition on its own, its skills, knowledge, and inspirational power are huge assets. Even more, the smoother the transition goes in the Middle East, the better it will be for the United States.

Read Jon Alterman's commentary on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program

New Projects

The Middle East Program is pleased to announce four new major projects in 2022. Check out the project pages below to learn more:

Babel: Translating the Middle East

In the most recent episode of Babel, Jon spoke with Ghassan Salamé about UN conflict mediation and his career shuttlling between academia and public service.

We also a released two new mezze episodes: one on the illegal grave trade in Damascus and another on Saudi Arabia's crackdown on cosmetically enhanced camels.


On December 1, the Middle East Program hosted Glenn E. Robinson for a discussion of his latest book, Global Jihad: A Brief History. You can watch the event back here.

In the News

Jon spoke with the Wall Street Journal about Iran's diplomatic ties with China and China's role in nuclear negotiations. “This is a moment of clarity where the Chinese aren’t happy just to be invited to the party,” he said. The Chinese “are calculating how they work to advance their interests.” (12/06/21)

Natasha Hall spoke to Middle East Eye about Iran's influence in Syria. "Iran has an on the ground presence, militarily, economically, and increasingly within communities. For the past ten years, countries without a military presence in this conflict have little relevance to the chessboard."(11/23/21)

The Washington Post reported on Natasha's commentary examining aid diversion through Syria's central bank. (12/6/21)