October 22, 2020

Sharper: U.S. Strategy in the Middle East

Analysis from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy.

By Kaleigh Thomas, Chris Estep and Cole Stevens

For 20 years, American presidents have tried to withdraw U.S. military forces from the Middle East, only to be pulled back in. As calls for the United States to completely withdraw from the region grow, policymakers must adopt a coherent strategy for more efficiently managing America's interests in the Middle East, while also identifying new opportunities for effective partnerships to strengthen U.S. competitiveness. CNAS experts are sharpening the conversation surrounding the future of U.S. strategy in the Middle East. Continue reading this edition of Sharper to explore their recommendations.

Reports

Reengaging Iran

The international community may find Iran ready to consider a return to negotiations in 2021—regardless of the results in November's presidential elections. Any U.S. administration seeking diplomatic engagement with Iran, however, will be forced to deal with a number of complicated challenges. In a CNAS report, experts Ilan Goldenberg, Elisa Catalano Ewers, and Kaleigh Thomas outline a phased approach for engaging Iran in 2021 that takes into account both regional and nuclear issues.

Forging an Alliance Innovation Base

The United States is steadily losing ground in the race against China to pioneer the most important technologies of the 21st century. In a CNAS report, experts Daniel Kliman, Ben FitzGerald, Kristine Lee, and Joshua Fitt argue that Washington’s global network of alliances is a unique asset in the technology competition with Beijing. Drawing on lessons learned from detailed case studies on Japan, the authors offer a blueprint for an alliance innovation base including the United States, Israel, Norway, Australia, and Japan.

Toward a More Proliferated World?

Several trends are eroding nuclear proliferation barriers and generating new proliferation pressures. In a joint report from CNAS and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), experts Eric Brewer, with Ilan Goldenberg, Joseph Rodgers, Maxwell Simon, and Kaleigh Thomas, survey the geopolitical forces that will shape the proliferation landscape and the United States’ ability to manage it in the next 10–20 years. The authors then apply these trends and to three countries that—for various reasons—could develop nuclear weapons within the next 10–20 years: South Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey.

Middle East Security

Reengaging Iran

The international community may find Iran ready to consider a return to negotiations in 2021—regardless of the results in November....

Asia-Pacific Security

Forging an Alliance Innovation Base

America’s current approach to allies on technology innovation and protection remains a work in progress....

Middle East Security

Toward a More Proliferated World?

U.S. policy must adapt unless Washington wants to be faced with a more proliferated world in the future....

Commentary

Demilitarizing U.S. Policy in the Middle East

Ilan Goldenberg and Kaleigh Thomas argue in the Next Defense Strategy series that "a sustainable Middle East strategy that allows the United States to pull back militarily while focusing on realistic diplomacy and a smarter assistance strategy is a central building block for shifting resources to other priorities, for example effective competition with China."

Add Economic Policy to Deterrence Planning

"From Russia and North Korea to Iran and Venezuela," Elizabeth Rosenberg and Jordan Tama write in Defense One, "U.S. presidents and lawmakers have long employed varying levels of economic pressure to alter the policies of foreign governments. Some of these tools – for instance, severing links between a country and the international financial system – can impose greater costs than some uses of military force. Yet policymakers have given too little thought to how different types of economic pressure intersect with different forms of military coercion."

Defense

Demilitarizing U.S. Policy in the Middle East

The next NDS must detail a new approach to the Middle East....

Energy, Economics, & Security

Add Economic Policy to Deterrence Planning

American defense leaders have adapted over the years to shifts in technology and conflict — for example, accepting space and cyber as principal warfighting domains and integra...

9/11 Swallowed U.S. Foreign Policy. Don’t Let the Coronavirus Do the Same Thing.

Ilan Goldenberg writes in The Washington Post, "For years now, America has made the mistake of fighting the last war. Today’s crisis will inevitably force a reassessment. But we should not overreact to the coronavirus crisis nor allow it to be used as an opportunity for ideologues to pursue a narrow agenda. Instead, we must assimilate what we learn from this experience and use this moment to reimagine our foreign policy, institutions and strategic alliances for the 21st century."

Uniting the Techno-Democracies

In an essay for Foreign Affairs, Jared Cohen and Richard Fontaine argue that "the United States is arguably still the world’s leading technological power, and France, Germany, Japan, and the United Kingdom all have large economies and impressive technology sectors. Australia, Canada, and South Korea have smaller economies, but they are also important players in technology. The same is true of Finland and Sweden, which are telecommunications and engineering powerhouses. India and Israel are also logical candidates for membership, owing to the global reach of their flourishing technology and startup sectors."

Asia-Pacific Security

9/11 swallowed U.S. foreign policy. Don’t let the coronavirus do the same thing.

For two decades, American foreign policy has been shaped by the 9/11 attacks. The catastrophic wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, our failure to see the full threat posed by Russia...

Asia-Pacific Security

Uniting the Techno-Democracies

The world’s advanced democracies have something the autocracies don’t: a long history of multilateral cooperation for the benefit of all....

Sanctions by the Numbers: Spotlight on Iran

In a recent edition of Sanctions by the Numbers, Abigail Eineman explores Iran sanctions, tracking how designations and delistings have evolved over time, the dozens of countries affected by Iran-related sanctions programs, and the top types of U.S. designations.

The American Public Wants a Sustainable Middle East Policy

"The motivation to end forever wars and reduce U.S. involvement in the Middle East is compelling," Kaleigh Thomas and Emma Moore argue in Defense One. "President Trump has himself latched onto this idea, tweeting his opposition and withdrawing some U.S. troops from Syria last fall. However, America’s best shot at preventing a 'forever war' is not a total withdrawal of U.S. troops from the region.

Energy, Economics, & Security

Sanctions by the Numbers

This edition of Sanctions by the Numbers explores Iran sanctions, tracking how designations and delistings have evolved over time, the dozens of countries affected by Iran-rel...

Military, Veterans, & Society

The American Public Wants a Sustainable Middle East Policy

After the U.S. strike on Qasem Soleimani, Americans feared the United States was on the brink of war with Iran. “World War III draft” memes circulated around the internet, and...

Congress Must Use Its Tools To Influence the Decisions of War

"In matters of peace and war, no one seems satisfied with Congress," Richard Fontaine and Loren DeJonge Schulman argue in The Hill. "Over the past two decades of conflict and despite its formal powers to declare wars, appropriate funds, and organize the armed forces, Congress has largely deferred and used more of a rhetorical fight than actively shaping American wars. But it need not be this way.

Making the U.S. Military’s Counter-Terrorism Mission Sustainable

Stephen Tankel warns in War on the Rocks, "The over-militarization of U.S. counter-terrorism efforts has had pernicious consequences both for these efforts and the U.S. military. Focusing on interstate strategic competition requires investing the mental energy necessary to develop a more sustainable approach to counter-terrorism.

Congress & National Security

Congress must use its tools to influence the decisions of war

With its informal toolkit, Congress can question existing military and political strategies and test assessments about how the fight is going....

Defense

Making the U.S. Military’s Counter-Terrorism Mission Sustainable

Focusing on interstate strategic competition requires investing the mental energy necessary to develop a more sustainable approach to counter-terrorism....

In the News

Featuring commentary and analysis by Ilan Goldenberg, Kaleigh Thomas, and Peter Harrell.

Middle East Security

The UAE-Israel deal is Trump's first genuine foreign policy success, experts say

The groundbreaking agreement between Israel and the United Arab Emirates has delivered a political lifeline to Israel's embattled prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and repres...

Middle East Security

U.S. Could Do More to Deter Iran Gray Zone Strategy, Experts Say

When American administrations develop a deterrence strategy for Iran in the Middle East, a model to follow could be how Israel runs a covert military campaign against Iran in ...

Asia-Pacific Security

China emerges as potential strain on US-Israel relationship

Increasingly close ties between China and Israel risk straining the special relationship Israel has with the U.S., especially as Washington ramps up its feud with Beijing over...

Middle East Security

Exclusive: U.S. to slap sanctions on over two dozen targets tied to Iran arms

The United States on Monday will sanction more than two dozen people and entities involved in Iran’s nuclear, missile and conventional arms programs, a senior U.S. official sa...

Across the Center

CNAS Task Force: A New U.S. Agenda Toward the Israeli-Palestine Conflict

This June, CNAS announced its task force on developing a new U.S. agenda toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The task force, which began convening this past winter, seeks to re-examine U.S. policy given the deteriorating situation on the ground and shifting American, Israeli, and Palestinian stances on longstanding issues and how to preserve the two-state solution. The group will build on the success of CNAS’ 2018 task force on U.S. policy towards Gaza.

About the Sharper Series

The CNAS Sharper series features curated analysis and commentary from CNAS experts on the most critical challenges in U.S. foreign policy. From the future of America's relationship with China to the state of U.S. sanctions policy and more, each collection draws on the reports, interviews, and other commentaries produced by experts across the Center to explore how America can strengthen its competitive edge.

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