The debate over whether America is the world’s indispensable nation will continue, but when it comes to the Middle East nobody is waiting for the answer. Washington’s gradual but steady retreat from its once-unabashed exercise of influence in the region has sparked a rush by second-tier powers to fill the vacuum that has resulted.
As the U.S. holds back, other nations are raising their profile, hoping to gain from Washington’s reluctance to play a larger role. The more passive the U.S. becomes, the more assertive others grow.
To be sure, the U.S. remains far and away the most influential outside force in the region, and the White House still has the ability to fully reverse any strategic or tactical withdrawals it has made in recent years, as long as it moves quickly. The longer the process continues, however, the more difficult it will be to push against the inroads made by other nations.