America’s presence in the Middle East holds hidden costs, unknown risks, and nominal benefits in maintaining the status quo. The “pivot to Asia” under the Obama administration required balancing how to secure U.S. interests in the Middle East with fewer resources. The U.S. must consider actions of the past, specifically the strategic baggage that has accrued over years of growing military commitments. One key case study in strategic baggage is in Syria.
“Strategic baggage” refers to a military commitment that has outlasted its utility. This occurs when, on balance, the perception of the costs is either too high, benefits too low, or risks too great to continue. The build-up of baggage impacts other choices regarding global priorities, goals, and allocation of military forces. In this way, it hampers America’s ability to make strategic choices moving forward, because we are wedded to the past and cannot wipe the slate clean.
We have baggage in the Middle East we should let go.
As the U.S. tries to focus on great power competition, we have baggage in the Middle East we should let go. For example, U.S. strategic objectives in Syria often appear confused and the military role is not clear. As Central Command commander, General Kenneth McKenzie, has said: “There’s no viable military solution to the conflict in Syria.” Yet, without a clear policy regarding U.S. interests — and more importantly, a realistic path forward — we are left with an open-ended military commitment. Thus, in trying to