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Flexing America's Muscles In The Middle East Will Make Things Worse

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  • Will Sanctions End Nuclear Arms Race in the Middle East?

    Clip: Michael Doran, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, and former National Intelligence Officer Paul Pillar debate whether sanctions will end weaponization and the nuclear arms race in Middle East countries like Libya and Iraq.

  • Let's Face It, The Middle East Is a Nightmare

    Clip: Wall Street Journal editor Bret Stephens and Paul Pillar, fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University, debate foreign policy defined by a peaceful, "dream" Middle East versus the "nightmare."

Debate Details

The rise of ISIS, the disintegration of Iraq, Syria’s ongoing civil war, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the promise and peril of the Arab Spring... What role should America play in the Middle East? For some, America’s restraint has been a sign of disciplined leadership. But for others, it has been a sign of diminished strength and influence. How do we strike a balance between our national interests, moral obligations, and the maintenance of world order? Are we simply recognizing the limitations of our power, or does this embattled region require a bolder, more muscular, American presence?

The Debaters

For the motion

Aaron David Miller

V.P. for New Initiatives, Wilson Center & Fmr. U.S. Mideast Negotiator

Aaron David Miller is currently the vice president for new initiatives and a distinguished scholar at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for... Read More

Paul Pillar

Sr. Fellow, Georgetown’s Center for Security Studies & Fmr. National Intelligence Officer

Paul R. Pillar is a non-resident senior fellow at the Center for Security Studies of Georgetown University and a non-resident senior fellow at the... Read More

Against the motion

Michael Doran

Sr. Fellow, Hudson Institute & Fmr. Sr. Director, National Security Council

Michael Doran is a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, where he specializes in Middle East security issues. He served as senior advisor to the... Read More

Bret Stephens

Deputy Editor, Editorial Page and “Global View” columnist, The Wall Street Journal

Bret Stephens writes “Global View,” the foreign-affairs column for the Wall Street Journal, for which he won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for... Read More

Where Do You Stand?

For The Motion
  • Intervention often results in unintended consequences. We only need to look at Iraq and Libya, both worse off than before, as proof that American intervention in the Middle East has failed.
  • We need to put the threats from the Middle East into perspective. IS does not represent a significant threat America's national security or "a new danger different from ones that have been around for some time."
  • We need to work with other countries where there are common interests. If our priority is stability, it is in America's interest to work with Iran.
Against The Motion
  • The Islamic State is a growing threat to the region and the world. American nationals and thousands of Europeans are believed to have joined IS—we must fight IS overseas and not wait for the fight to come to us.
  • Under President Obama we have empowered Iran and its proxies and pushed our traditional allies away—the result will be an America without partners in the Middle East.
  • There is no other great power to step into the void if we retreat.
  • America would be among the last suffer from a breakdown of world order, but by then it will be too late.


  • Live Audience
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  • Results
  • Breakdown

The Research

The Research

Congressional Research Service Reports on the Middle East and the Arab World

December 31, 1969

Background reports from CRS.

Superpowers Don't Get to Retire

Robert Kagan
May 26, 2014

There is no democratic superpower waiting in the wings to save the world if this democratic superpower falters.

Lessons From America's War for the Greater Middle East

Andrew Bacevich
March 1, 2016

For well over 30 years now, the United States military has been intensively engaged in various quarters of the Islamic world. An end to that involvement is nowhere in sight.

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