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Why are the American forces withdrawing from the Middle East?

24.02.2022 | By Yishai Gelb
Image by Thomas Ashlock

The Middle East (or MENA) was probably one of the most significant regions in the second half of the 20th Century, starting from World War 1 when the empires started using oil guzzling weapons and needed the Middle Eastern Oil, and into the 21st century. The Middle is a significant energy producer globally, so the USA has interests in the Middle East. Until around 2016, the USA had three main reasons to be in the Middle East. 


One of the US interests in the Middle East had a lot to do with containing the Soviet Union during the Cold War period, also known as preventing hegemony of a hostile power, and protecting its allies in the region, particularly Israel. During the 1960s and 1970s, the US and the Soviet Union saw 3rd world countries, specifically Africa and the Middle East, as legitimate regions to spread their influence. 


I would say that the main reason why the US showed and continues to show interest in the Middle East is because of the vast oil reserves, which fueled not only the US energy needs but also its NATO allies. The US policy, known as the Carter Doctrine, was to ensure the free flow of oil from the Middle East to the world, which is why the US had a presence in the region.


The more recent reason the US has a presence, mainly a military presence, is its war on terrorism and preventing weapons of mass destruction. The terrorist attacks on the world trade centers, among other buildings on September 11th, 2001, sent the US into a war in the Middle East to restore its status as a hegemonic power. 


In 2016, the US started showing withdrawal signs from the region.


The First reason the USA is less interested in the Middle East is the revolution of fracking. Fracking allowed the US to produce more oil than it consumes and currently is a net exporter of oil, benefiting its allies.


The second reason the US is leaving the Middle East militarily is that the American people are tired of endless wars far from home. The funny thing is that the US soldiers aren't precisely going home but being deployed farther east.


The third and most significant reason the US is withdrawing from the Middle East is its Pivot to Asia. The Rise of the Chinese is threatening the US hegemony worldwide, and it has become official US policy to contain the Chinese. Therefore the US is building coalitions in East Asia, leaving its allies to keep the Middle East stable. One of the reasons why the Abraham Accords were signed between the Gulf States, Israel, and other players in the region.


The fourth reason the US is leaving the Middle East is that its allies in the region can finally defend themselves quite well and don't need the US’s presents as much as they needed in the past. Countries like Saudi Arabia, Israel, UAE, Egypt, and even Turkey have significant military capabilities. Now the US feels like it could put more of the security burden on its allies in the region.


All in all, I would say that the most significant reason why the US is leaving the region is because of its growing threat in East Asia coming from China. The ending war on terrorism and declining oil interests are secondary.

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