Desert shield of the republic? A realist case for abandoning the Middle East

Patrick Porter, David Blagden

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)
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Political realists disagree on what America should “do” and “be” in the Middle East. All are skeptical toward extravagant geopolitical projects to transform the region. Yet they differ over whether hegemony in the Gulf and its wider environs are worth the substantial investment of blood and treasure. Hegemonic “primacy realism” finds the commitment effective and affordable, and that Washington should stay to stabilize the region to ensure a favorable concentration of power. There is an alternative “shield of the republic” realism, however, which views the pursuit of armed supremacy in the Middle East as harming political order at home, reducing security more than generating it, and costing too much for too little gain. It involves interests that are either manageable from a remove or largely generated by being there in the first place. In this article, we lay out the latter position, arguing that the unruly Gulf is increasingly peripheral to US national interests. The region is losing its salience grand strategically, entanglement and continuous war damage republican liberties, and the calculus of whether continued hegemony is “worth it” has shifted decisively toward the downside. The time for abandonment has come.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)5-48
JournalSecurity Studies
Issue number1
Early online date19 Feb 2021
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 19 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

The authors thank Emma Ashford, Stephen Brooks, May Darwich, Ben Denison, Michael Desch, Colin Dueck, David Dunn, Joe Fitzgibbon, Ben Friedman, Brendan Green, Kelly Greenhill, Jacqueline Hazelton, Mohamed Helal, Richard Herrmann, Jonathan Howarth, Robert Jervis, Sean Kay, Jonathan Kirshner, Michael Lind, Justin Logan, Michael Mazarr, John Mearsheimer, Elizabeth Mendenhall, Steven Miller, Helena Mills, Evan Montgomery, Jeanne Morefield, John Poreba, Barry Posen, Christopher Preble, Brian Rathbun, Jane Rogers, William Ruger, John Schuessler, Joshua Shifrinson, Robert Vitalis, Nicholas Wheeler, Stephen Walt, participants in 2019 workshops of the Ohio State University’s Mershon Center, Harvard University’s Belfer Center, and the International Studies Association, and especially Randall Schweller and the anonymous reviewers for valuable comments on iterations of this paper. They also thank the Program on Realist Foreign Policy at the Mershon Center for financial support of the conference that enabled its development.

This work was financially supported by Program for the Study of Realist Foreign Policy (Travel Grant), Mershon Center for International Security Studies, Ohio State University:

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Political Science and International Relations


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