Washington, D.C. — During its first six months, the Biden administration has tried to shift U.S. policy in the Middle East by prioritizing diplomacy and making some modest shifts on the military front, but key human security challenges loom on the horizon.
As with its recent moves in Afghanistan, the Biden administration has moved to decrease its military engagement in the broader Middle East, according to a new issue brief from the Center for American Progress. The brief outlines the administration’s actions in the Middle East and North Africa on five key fronts: human security, conflict resolution, Iran, Arab-Israeli affairs, and overall U.S. military posture and engagement in the region. It offers an assessment of where the administration has had success thus far and where it’s fallen short.
“The Biden team has sought to limit direct U.S. involvement in the region so far in an effort to limit the costs of U.S. engagement,” said Brian Katulis, a CAP senior fellow and co-author of the brief. “But that carries the risk of putting the United States in a reactive position—beholden to events—instead one that seeks to proactively shape trends through diplomacy and other forms of engagement.”
Over the next six months and beyond, the United States is likely to face challenges on two main fronts. First, diplomacy with Iran over revival of the nuclear deal has not yet produced a breakthrough. Second, tensions between Israel and some of its neighbors, including Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a range of groups operating from Syrian territory, could erupt into a wider conflict.
Chronic human security challenges also prevail, including the COVID-19 pandemic, widespread electricity shortages, the climate crisis, and suppression of human rights in parts of the Middle East and North Africa. Conditions that produced popular uprisings across key parts of the Middle East and North Africa in 2011 remain, presenting an opportunity for the United States to recast its overall engagement with the region.
Read the issue brief: “Seeking a New Balance for U.S. Policy in the Middle East: A Look at the Biden Administration’s First 6 Months” by Brian Katulis and Peter Juul
For more information or to speak with an expert, please contact Sam Hananel at gro.ssergorpnacirema@lenanahs.