Pulling Out: Debating Middle East Disengagement (Closing)
Having already devoted several thousand words to the topic of American involvement in the Middle East, I will make my closing comments brief.
First, I’d like to thank Dave for a vigorous debate, James for hosting this discussion, and all the readers who have taken the time to follow the back-and-forth and comment on the posts. This has been a useful exercise for me, pushing me to justify and clarify and even do some actual new research in defense of my arguments.
Second, I want to clarify a few points. I don’t believe that the U.S. presence in the Middle East has raised the price of oil. Rather I simply believe that our presence has not had the stabilizing effect on prices that proponents of active engagement suggest. I also do not believe that the American presence has caused movements like al Qaeda to arise, but I do believe that our highly visible role gives credibility to their extreme, conspiracy-dominated interpretations of history. My point is not that we are making things worse necessarily, but rather that the benefits of our presence are largely illusory.
Finally, I am not making a call for isolationism. Quite the contrary. I believe the United States should have a significant global role. But I’d like to see us adopt an internationalism that is more reflective than reflexive. Instead of simply rationalizing a ratchet-like expansion of the American role anywhere and everywhere, we have to be aware of the costs and benefits and tradeoffs of our commitments. I believe that in the Middle East, our assessments are out of balance. Our policies there provide many fewer benefits than expected while carrying many more costs than commonly assumed.