The U.S. presence in the Middle East continues to shrink and policymakers are tasked with the choice of deciding how and to what extent to advance their interests in the region. Career diplomats reported that they fail to remember a time when the U.S. maintained such a low influence in the Middle East. Looking to Eisenhower’s Farewell Speech in 1961, he advises that threats cannot be ignored, like they were in the past. This view directly contrasts with George Washington’s warning to maintain a policy of isolationism. Russia remains at the center of the power struggle in the Middle East, exemplified by their military base and control of the airspace over Syria. President Obama chose not to intervene upon confirmation of chemical weapons, which prompts the question of what would incite intervention in the region.
Heeding Eisenhower’s warning surrounding the influence of the military-industrial complex, U.S. policymakers would be wise to plan for the future and avoid massive military spending. Currently there is a juggling act between being bogged down in another costly foreign intervention and maintaining an influence in the region. Career diplomat, Ryan Crocker, asserted, “it’s the lowest ebb since World War II for U.S. influence and engagement in the region.”Reflecting upon both of the inaugural addresses, Obama is required to decide between the recommendations of staying militarily unengaged or acting as a hegemonic power and combating threats because of their global implications. Between the two addresses, both Presidents emphasize the importance of the economy. Increased trade may be the most peaceful transition to greater influence in the region. In addition to trade, it would seem beneficial for President Obama to align more with Eisenhower’s recommendations by increasing its commitment to appease feelings of abandonment in Israel and other Gulf allies following the signing of the Iranian nuclear deal. Former U.S. ambassador to Iraq and Turkey, James Jeffrey, stressed the importance of maintaining a presence in the region, “Nobody is willing to take any risks if the U.S. is not taking any risks and if people are afraid that we’ll turn around and walk away tomorrow.” One predicament Obama and the next president will face is that of intervening in the Middle East with past actions of Afghanistan and Iraq so fresh on the mind of the American public.