John Mearsheimer has an article in Newsweek outlining his proposed strategy for US policy toward the Middle East “offshore balancing” as a military posture plus indifference to what goes on inside these states. I’m not so sure about the indifference, but I think it’s worth observing that Mearsheimer’s points about military posture hold up independently from the deep theoretical roots that he uses to ground them.
The question Mearsheimer is raising is whether it really makes sense for us to maintain extensive military facilities in and around the Persian Gulf. These bases are costly for the United States, both in terms of their direct financial cost and also in terms of the fact that unlike our European bases they’re extremely unwelcome. And the benefits are pretty obscure. Until the Gulf War, we got along without this massive apparatus and in fact we were able to prosecute the war successfully without it. And for better or for worse, the Iraqi threat that the apparatus was supposed to contain is gone.
Meanwhile, I think a lot of people have the sense that these bases are giving us “influence” in a key region of the world. But the influence is actually hard to see. The Saudis aren’t selling us discount oil. And our bases don’t give us any magical abilities to spread democracy.