US Military Strategy in the Middle East and the Challenge of Demilitarization
Dr. Waleed Hazbun (University of Alabama)
Imad K. Harb (ed.), A US Pivot Away from the Middle East: Fact or Fiction? (Washington D.C.: Arab Center Washington DC, 2023), pp. 23-32. Sept. 13, 2023
With its troop withdrawals from Iraq in 2011 and Afghanistan in 2021, the US exhibits a much smaller military footprint in the Middle East than it did in the mid to late 2000s. US regional strategy, however, remains structured around the capacity to deploy military force as a means maintain regional influence, contain Iran, and compete against China and Russia.
For many analysts, political leaders, and much of the US public, a reduced military posture in the Middle East is very compelling. While some argue the US should completely withdraw its forces from the region since no vital security interests are currently threatened, even those calling for continuing engagement recognize the value of rebalancing the US military posture in response to changing contexts and needs.
The challenge for any withdrawal or rebalancing, however, is that US engagement in the region has become so deeply entangled within military institutions and assets that uprooting them would further erode US influence in the region. At the same time, even as previous rationale for the strategic value of the region decline, the US increasingly approaches the Middle East as an arena for militarized great power competition. As a result, any sustained reduction in the US military posture in the Middle East would require a broader demilitarization of US policy, the reduction of great power conflict, and the development of alternative means to address the diverse sources of regional insecurity.