Even since Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait on Aug. 2, 1990, the Middle East has been the central focus of American security and foreign policy. The United States maintains military bases or access to facilities throughout the region. Its largest diplomatic post in the world is located in Iraq. American diplomats have spent countless hours encouraging democracy in Egypt and many more trying to forge peace between Israelis and Palestinians. The U.S. government has supported civil society in Tunisia and trained rebels in Syria. And the American defense industry sells billions of dollars worth of weapons to the region annually.
Although the mix of issues and priorities are likely to change under President Donald Trump, Arabs, Israelis, Iranians, Kurds and Turks are likely to continue to preoccupy Washington. Trump’s new CIA director, Mike Pompeo, did not visit London, Paris, Beijing or Tokyo on his first trip abroad. Rather, he went to Ankara, the Turkish capital, on Thursday.
Middle Eastern leaders seem pleased with Trump, though it remains entirely unclear what his policies toward the region might be. Thus far, the administration has sent mixed messages about arming the Syrian Kurds in the fight against the self-declared Islamic State. It has also barred the U.S. entry of citizens of Syria, Libya, Iraq, Sudan, Yemen and Somalia (all members of the Arab League) as well as those of Iran.