November 08, 2023

American forces in the Middle East are constantly under attack, but they aren't really retaliating. Here's why the US holds its fire.

Source: Business Insider

Journalist: Jake Epstein

American policymakers are "looking at their strategic objectives in the region and understand that adversaries are trying to pull us off of those or make those fail, including in the context of luring us into these side conflicts," Jonathan Lord, a former political military analyst at the Pentagon, told Insider.


Escalation against US forces doesn't work on a binary scale where all of the sudden these groups just decide to go all in on attacks, said Lord, the director of the Middle East Security program at the Center for a New American Security think tank. Their activities are calibrated based on their own political goals.

Attacks against US forces, for example, could help boost the militias' credentials against competitors and hamstring US operations in Iraq and Syria, where around 3,500 troops remain to help defeat the Islamic State. And with tensions boiling throughout the region amid Israel's war with Hamas, the Iran-backed militias are choosing now as their time to escalate, Lord said. But Washington isn't taking the bait.

"I think US policymakers are trying to balance defensive responses that effectively demonstrate US capabilities to protect its people, while also keeping on the balance beam of walking towards those strategic goals that include the defeat of ISIS," Lord said. "In this case, another important goal that's been thrown on the board is not seeing regional conflicts with Iran proxies escalate or expand the conflict going on in Gaza."


"The policymakers are trying to keep their heads above the emotional level to keep us focused and moving towards those broader objectives that prevent wider conflict," Lord said, "and in the end, likely will serve to save us lives."

Read the full story and more from Insider.


  • Jonathan Lord

    Senior Fellow and Director, Middle East Security Program

    Jonathan Lord is a Senior Fellow and Director of the Middle East Security program at CNAS. Prior to joining CNAS, Lord served as a professional staff member for the House Arme...