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Can Europe and the U.S. disengage from the Middle East?

George Joffé, 2 June 2016

Western policy towards the so-called Islamic State (IS) in the Middle East is inextricably intertwined with the policies of the European Union and the U.S. towards the civil war in Syria, Iran and the sectarian crisis in Iraq. In consequence, neither can disengage from the affairs of the Middle East. Globally, the Middle East crisis also reflects the changing relationship between the West and Russia, as well as U.S. reluctance towards a continuing commitment to Middle East and North African security as it reduces its external energy dependence and seeks engagement in Asia. Europe remains entrapped in the region through geographical contiguity and the migration and refugee crisis. The problem of IS exacerbates these issues, as recent terrorist attacks in Europe have shown. It is impossible to know what the new presidential administration in Washington in 2017 will mean for U.S. policy options in the Middle East and North Africa. It seems likely that the main lines of policy laid down by the Obama administration will largely remain in being.

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