The Middle East continues to consume the world’s attention and poses special challenges to the United States. Devastating civil wars grind on in Syria and Yemen, driven in part by outside powers, creating humanitarian catastrophes and defying efforts at political solutions. Iran is poised to resume nuclear activities while pursuing expanded influence in Iraq, Syria, and Yemen. There are dwindling prospects for a lasting settlement between Israel and the Palestinians.
The United States has played a role in shaping many of these developments. President Donald J. Trump took office vowing to both end military engagements in the region and take a tougher line against the regime in Iran. He withdrew the United States from the Iran nuclear agreement, brokered by the Barack Obama administration and leading world powers, and he has pursued a number of other controversial moves. He has stepped up support for Israel, long a major U.S. ally. He moved the U.S. embassy there to Jerusalem and has questioned Washington’s long-standing consensus on the need for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. He has also embraced Saudi Arabia, despite bipartisan calls in Congress to end U.S. support for Riyadh’s war in Yemen and outcry over the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Trump has pushed for restrictions on refugees from the Middle East. He has also threatened military action against Iran in response to incidents in the Persian Gulf, though he has so far responded to Iranian provocations with increased sanctions rather than force.
Trump’s 2020 challengers contend that his actions are increasing the risk of war, allowing Tehran to restart its nuclear program, supporting authoritarian leaders in Saudi Arabia and elsewhere, and making the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian peace increasingly remote. They largely call for a more coherent strategy to end U.S. “forever wars” in the region and a return to diplomacy, especially with Iran.