Feb 23, 2021
Researchers assess the advantages and trade-offs of a reimagined Middle East strategy where strategic goals link to a broader understanding of stability that prioritizes reduced conflict, better governance, and greater growth and development. They analyze long-standing U.S. interests and relationships with central partners and develop an alternative framework in which the Iranian challenge is one among several factors that should be considered.
U.S. policy toward the Middle East has relied heavily on military instruments of power and has focused on regional threats—particularly the Iranian threat—with the goal of keeping partners on "our side." These long-standing policies have largely fallen short of meeting core U.S. interests and adapting to new regional realities and strategic imperatives.
RAND researchers offer an alternative framework, suggesting that the U.S. strategic priority must center on reducing regional conflict and the drivers of conflict. This revised strategic approach puts a greater focus on addressing conflict and socioeconomic challenges that are creating unsustainable pressures on the region's states and immense suffering among its people. Researchers analyze how the tools of U.S. policy—political, security, economic, diplomatic, and informational instruments—would need to adjust to more effectively address such challenges in ways that are mindful of limited resources at home. Researchers also examine how the United States deals with both partners and adversaries in and outside the region and consider how to better leverage policies to the benefit of U.S. interests and the region.
The researchers recommend specific actions organized into the following three pillars: (1) shifting resources from the current heavy reliance on military tools to a more balanced approach that prioritizes economic investments, governance, diplomacy, and programs focused on people; (2) favoring a long-term time horizon to reduce regional conflict and support growth and development, even at the cost of short-term risks; and (3) working multilaterally with global and regional partners to address key challenges.
Toward Aligning Partnerships with U.S. Interests
Global Competitors in the Middle East
Recalibrating Policy Tools
Security-Focused Grants and Sales to Middle East Partners