Beyond the Blob: The Politics of Restraint in the Middle East

Discussant: Ebenezer Azamati

Why has the United States has found it so difficult to disengage from the Middle East since 9/11? For over two decades, American blood and treasure has been invested disproportionately in a region of declining strategic importance to US interests. Yet despite a growing recognition of this reality and strong majorities of public opinion in favour of ending the era of “endless war”, the US footprint in the region remains vast. This article addresses this puzzle by exploring the ways in which domestic constraints impede the pursuit of a coherent programme of retrenchment. Drawing on insights from adjacent sub-fields concerning public opinion, foreign policy decision-making and civil-military relations, it goes beyond existing accounts which tend to attribute the lack of strategic adjustment to the obstructionism of a foreign policy establishment, or “blob.” Instead, using the Obama administration as its central case study, the article maps out several pathways through which political incentives frustrate attempts to do less in the Middle East.