CNAS Report: American Influence in the Middle East

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In a Center for a New American Security policy brief, Dafna Hochman Rand asserts that the idea of declining U.S. influence in the Middle East “is an oversimplification of the issue” and argues that U.S. policy has at times influenced the decisions of leaders in the Middle East and North Africa and at others it has not. She further argues that the “sticks,” or negative coercive policy tools the U.S. has implemented, produced limited but observable outcomes while  the “carrots,” or rewards, led to more effective but often less tangible results.  She explains that what has changed is not the United States’ actual capabilities in the region but rather it’s the “perception of U.S. power,” that has declined, “particularly amid Gulf states’ fears of abandonment, triggered by the drawdown of U.S. troops from Iraq and intensified by the prediction of decreasing U.S. dependence on MENA-based energy resources.”

Rand discusses coercive policy and the U.S. invasion of Iraq and says, “In fact, America’s challenges in shaping Iraqi political outcomes in an enduring fashion may have been a seminal factor contributing to the regional perception of declining U.S. influence and power.” On the other hand, she references America’s success in killing “core al Qaeda leaders,” NATO action in Libya which toppled Moammar Gadhafi, the success of the “crippling unilateral and multilateral sanctions against Iran,” and President Barack Obama‘s “coercive diplomacy” in Syria as examples of times when “U.S. coercion has directly yielded measurable outcomes that have enhanced U.S. security in the MENA region.”

She then writes about America’s four main positive policy tools,  “private diplomacy and persuasion, public diplomacy, civilian assistance in the form of economic support funds, and military assistance and training.” She explains that, while it is challenging to determine whether these forms of positive intervention are decisive in affecting outcomes, there is some evidence which demonstrates “how these four positive levers are translating U.S. power into positive outcomes.”  Rand also suggests that policymakers need a clearer understanding of how these tools can accomplish the United States’ objectives and how they can work together “in a comprehensive, strategic manner.” She concludes, “Considering how…U.S. levers are yielding influence and how they are not may enable policymakers to integrate their diplomatic and programmatic tool kits more creatively.”