December 19, 2018

America’s Yo-Yo Diet in the Middle East

By Ilan Goldenberg

President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw all U.S. troops from Syria is a mistake. But unlike so many of his other ill-considered moves, this one is completely conventional and consistent with the bad choices of past presidents.

For the past 20 years, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East has resembled a yo-yo diet. We declare we have gotten too heavy in the region and need to spend more time on what really matters – China and, to a lesser extent, Russia. We announce we are leaving the region. We start to reduce our military presence and senior leaders spend more of their time on other topics.

This strategic decision is reinforced by politics. The American public is sick of fighting wars in the Middle East that make no sense, cost a lot of money and have nothing to do with their daily lives.

But inevitably we go too far. We diet too heavily too quickly in a way that is not sustainable. We leave ourselves vulnerable, most notably to terrorist attacks but also to other problems that jump to the front page of the news and create a political outcry at home to act. And so we respond by again binging on the Middle East until it’s time to try another extreme diet.

Read the full commentary in POLITICO.

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