The Sectarian Resurgence in the Post-American Middle East

Vali Nasr in Foreign Affairs:

The Biden administration’s mantra for the Middle East is simple: “end the ‘forever wars.’” The White House is preoccupied with managing the challenge posed by China and aims to disentangle the United States from the Middle East’s seemingly endless and unwinnable conflicts. But the United States’ disengagement threatens to leave a political vacuum that will be filled by sectarian rivalries, paving the way for a more violent and unstable region.

The struggle for geopolitical primacy between Iran’s Shiite theocracy and the countries led by Sunni Arabs and, more recently, Sunni Turkey is stoking conflict across the region—eroding social compacts, worsening state dysfunction, and catalyzing extremist movements. Both sides have weaponized religious identity for their own purposes, using it to rally partisans and bolster their influence across the region. As a result, the broader Middle East remains a tinderbox.

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