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

The BriefGet Up To Speed

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?


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.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016
Andrew Bacevich

Every time the U.S. touches the Middle East, it makes things worse. It’s time to walk away and not look back.

Thursday, August 7, 2014
Stephen Walt

We can’t know. But we do have reasonable evidence from the past thirteen years of what an escalating American military intervention is likely to do: not whatever it is that Washington wants it to do.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014
Tom Engelhardt

But if President Obama follows through on his plan to degrade and destroy the Islamic State, that's exactly what we’re going to get.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Rosa Brooks

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

Monday, May 26, 2014
Robert Kagan

Today, terrorism has metastasized in Syria and Iraq, Jordan is at risk, the humanitarian toll is staggering, terrorist groups are growing fast and relations with U.S. allies are strained. How did it happen

Sunday, June 22, 2014
Elliott Abrams

Obama's supporters like nothing better than to portray him as the peacemaker to George W. Bush's warmonger. But it is now almost certain that more people have died violent deaths in the Greater Middle East during this presidency than during the last one.

Friday, February 21, 2014
Niall Ferguson

Air attacks alone will not be enough to deal with ISIL now that it controls so much of Syria and Iraq—and threatens the U.S. and Europe—argues Kagan.

Saturday, August 23, 2014
Frederick Kagan
Wednesday, December 31, 1969

A glance at what the U.S. is attempting to do throughout the convulsed region and what some of the experts are saying.

Monday, August 25, 2014
Greg Myre
Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham

Is it ISIL, ISIS or Islamic State?

Tuesday, September 9, 2014
Ray Sanchez

President Obama outlines his strategy toward defeating the Islamic State. Read a <a title="Fact Sheet" href=" shee</a>t from the Office of the Press Secretary.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014
The White House

A look at Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the leader of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, a militant group that now rivals Al Qaeda in power and popularity.

Sunday, August 10, 2014
Tim Arango and Eric Schmitt

President Obama's announcement that he will expand the military campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria marks an appropriate reaction to a gathering threat to U.S. and world interests, says. Haass. But the president's stated goal of destroying ISIS is unrealistic.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Richard Haas

By limiting U.S. goals in Iraq and Syria, the president makes less likely the exit he so desperately wants.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
David Rothkopf

Although no one is seriously suggesting sending large ground-combat formations to Iraq or Syria, there is a pressing need for a substantial force of trainers, air controllers, intelligence experts, and Special Operations Forces to direct air strikes and augment the very limited capabilities of our local allies.

Thursday, September 11, 2014
Max Boot

Talk to any Syrian you meet on the Syrian-Turkish border these days, and in less than five minutes the conversation is likely to turn to Da’ash—the Arabic acronym for the rebel organization known as the Islamic State of Iraq and Greater Syria, or ISIS.

Friday, December 27, 2013
Sarah Birke

A CFR Backgrounder on the Syrian crisis. (last updated late 2013)

Wednesday, September 11, 2013
Zachary Laub and Jonathan Masters

Almost three million people have fled across Syria's borders to escape the bloody civil war that has engulfed the country. The daily flow of men, women and children has become one of the largest forced migrations since World War Two.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013
BBC News

Lessons from NATO's use of force in Libya suggest the need for considerable caution and a comprehensive exploration of alternatives when contemplating if and how to conduct humanitarian military intervention.

Sunday, September 1, 2013
Alan Kuperman

By limiting efforts to help the new Libyan government gain control over the country, critics say, the U.S. and its allies have inadvertently helped turn Libya into a higher security threat than it was before the military intervention.

Friday, June 27, 2014
Paul Richter and Christi Parsons

Libya’s parliament has called for foreign intervention to protect civilians form deadly clashes between rival militia groups.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014
BBC News

However, to relocate French forces, Paris needs consensus from Algeria, which doesn’t seem thrilled by the idea.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

This report provides an overview of the key issues related to Egypt and information on U.S. foreign aid to Egypt.

Thursday, June 5, 2014
Jeremy Sharp

Three experts offer firsthand observations on Egypt's presidential election and its aftermath, including recommendations for the future direction of U.S. policy and aid dollars.

Friday, June 6, 2014
Eric Bjornlund

After the uprisings of 2011, the Arab world seemed to be moving towards democracy, but the recent resurgence of strongmen have illustrated just how deep certain divides still are -- and how desperate people are for stability.

Monday, August 4, 2014
Shadi Hamid

Obama’s staunch defense of democracy protesters in Egypt drew him into an upheaval that would test his judgment, his nerve and his diplomatic skill.

Monday, September 24, 2012
Helene Cooper and Robert Worth

An overview of Iran's political history, nuclear program, support for terrorist groups, and U.S. policy options.

Friday, July 25, 2014
Kenneth Katzman

Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said Monday that he had rejected early U.S. overtures to join a coalition against the Islamic State extremists because Americans have ‘evil intentions and dirty hands.’

Monday, September 15, 2014
Doug Stanglin

The 11-year investigation into the possible military dimensions of Iran’s nuclear work may never yield conclusive evidence on whether the country sought weapons.

Monday, September 15, 2014
Jonathan Tirone

Why the U.S. shouldn’t play chicken with Tehran.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Colin Kahl

Diplomacy remains unlikely to neutralize the threat from Iran’s nuclear program.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014
Matthew Kroenig

No bilateral relationship in the Middle East is more consequential for the region’s future and U.S. interests than that between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran. On nearly every single major issue in the Middle East, Tehran and Riyadh appear to be on opposing sides, confounding America’s efforts to bring stability.

Thursday, May 22, 2014
Frederic Wehrey and Karim Sadjadpour
Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Background on the Israel-Gaza conflict and key U.S. policy issues.

Thursday, July 31, 2014
Jim Zanotti

As fighting goes on, moral condemnation will likely do little to prevent the next round. Understanding how we got to this point—and, more importantly, how we can move beyond it—calls for an examination of the political events that led up to the operation and the political context in which it took place.

Thursday, September 25, 2014
Assaf Sharon

‘Probably the worst relationship’ for U.S., Israeli leaders since Eisenhower, an analyst says.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014
Elise Labott