Middle East Notes and Comment: Pivoting to Asia Doesn't Get You Out of the Middle East


Of all of President Donald Trump’s foreign policy ideas, the one that may enjoy the broadest public consensus is that the United States has been overcommitted to the Middle East. Seemingly endless U.S. military engagements, intractable problems, and rising energy self-sufficiency all push a growing number of Americans to argue for a far lighter footprint there, in favor of a shift in focus to the Pacific. There, the United States can partner with dynamic economies, engage with fast-growing populations, and confront Chinese aggression. Much of the same argument was behind the Obama administration’s “rebalance to Asia,” announced almost a decade ago.

Read Jon Alterman's Brief on the CSIS website.

From the Middle East Program


Jon released a short memo as part of a new series by CSIS scholars analyzing the opportunities and decisions the next administration will face. The memo gives insights into challenges that might arise for the United States from the Iranian election.

Jon explained why the United States needs to rethink its Middle East strategy in an article for DefenseOne. "The Middle East will strongly influence U.S. security for years to come. Abandoning allies to the depredations of adversaries will not change that, but it would make it much worse," he wrote.

Babel: Translating the Middle East

We released the final three episodes of our six-part miniseries, Russia in the Middle East. Catch up on the series here and listen to Jon talk with some of the foremost experts on Russia's political, security, and economic presence in the region.

Part four looks at U.S.-Russian competition in the region. Part five focuses on how the Middle East views Russia, and part six looks into the future of Russia in the Middle East.

We also released a mezze episode on AI fatwas in Dubai.


The Middle East Program cohosted an event with the CSIS Humanitarian Agenda. Refugee International's Sahar Atrache, Basmeh & Zeitooneh's Yasim Kayali, and Egna Legna founder Banchi Yimer spoke on supporting marginalized groups amid Lebanon's cascading crises. Watch the event back here or read the transcript

Natasha Hall spoke on a United States Institute of Peace (USIP) panel with co-panelists Saroj Kumar Jha, Harun Onder, Randa Slim, and Mona Yacoubian. As part of a series of events coordinated between USIP, the Middle East Institute, and the CSIS Middle East Program, the event focused on the World Bank's new report, The Fallout of War: The Regional Consequences of the Conflict in Syria.

In the News

Will spoke with Haaretz about the abuses Kurdish women face post-ISIS. Of Turkey's role, Will said "Part of the incentive is the money and part of it is turning a blind eye to the abuses that go on there." (10/9/20).

Jon talked to NPR about how President Trump's illness made U.S. foreign policy more consistent. "The key driver of unpredictability in U.S. foreign policy is the president," he said. "And when you take the president out of the equation, in many ways it's more predictable how the U.S. will behave." (10/2/20).

Jon told Politico that while the Trump administration is aiming for diplomatic wins with the maximum pressure campaign, it's unlikely that many countries will comply. (09/19/20).

“Arab Gulf States and Israel have more in common in terms of their opposition to Iran than they have in opposition in relation to their views on Palestinian aspirations as stated,” said Will to VOA. (09/15/20).

"With the U.S. elections approaching, it seems that the administration felt the need to lock in a diplomatic win. There have not been many in the last four years," said Jon about the Israel-UAE agreement. (USA Today, 09/15/20).