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A nation must think before it acts.
The Middle East is a complex system, not comprehensible through simplistic, “single factor” thinking. Global dynamics—a re-emergent multipolar power system, anti-globalism and xenophobia, the decline in U.S. willingness to lead and engage—interact corrosively with deep regional trends. The West has given up on engaging or changing the Middle East, and now wants to quarantine and wall it off. The important actors in the region today sit on its margins: Russia, Iran, Turkey, and Israel. With Egypt and Iraq sidelined, Arab leadership is left to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, who struggle with it. Washington avoids the burden of leadership, which its rivals assume, while on Palestine and Iran, has been activist and even disruptive. American policy is too focused on Iran and the Islamic State; Russia and Turkey, which may be greater challenges over the long term, are more significant and influential players in the region than the United States.