What if the US left the Middle East alone?

I’m guessing some of y’all have studied enough about the Middle East balance of power to understand this a bit better than I do.

Assume the US pulled forces out of the Middle East entirely, and backed off propping up governments other than Israel. (Just assuming Israel support will always remain since every other country in the region wants them gone.)

What’s the expected repercussions for the US? If the US just packed up and left completely, what happens to the region?

I see a number of different possible results:

  • Another Middle East player gets aggressive and takes control of the region. Iran and Syria don’t have the forces to defeat to defeat Saudi Arabia or other countries with modern arms. Iraq would likely get absorbed by its neighbors.

  • ISIS takes hold across the middle east, eventually becomes a nuclear theocracy, and BOOM Armageddon. Unlikely to happen, and if you had the US/Russia out of the middle east I would think ISIS would lose some recruiting power.

  • Oil costs grow due to reduced conflict in the region and OPEC nations banding together. Okay, how many trillions will we save on combat operations that we can spend on pricier oil?

  • Russia moves in and installs puppet leaders, gaining control of much of the world’s oil supply. But also becoming the target of revolutionary aggression if the US pulls out.

  • Wars happen and national borders change, and the end result is a middle east split between repressive conservative theocracies and repressive slightly less conservative monarchies – basically, today’s situation with new borders.

  • The US is forced to finally put serious effort behind alternative energy to further reduce dependence on foreign oil. Some rich oil people stop getting richer, but we’re able to stop interfering in the Middle East.

  • Hopes for Democracy in the regions die out and despots reigns supreme. Yeah, right. Like there’s a viable push for truly representative gov’t now in that part of the world? Plus we’re all about letting the monarchs stay in place as long as they play nice.

So with all of the above, why don’t we just leave?

You forgot the American Theocracy option: Gog and MaGog.

Hmm. In the absence of an outside power historically, the Middle East is probably largely an Iranian sphere of influence. Whether that is good or ill is hard to judge since you would have to go back a hundred years or more to eliminate all the outside interference that brought us to this point.

That said, it isn’t obvious to me that things would be dramatically worse if the US were quite a bit more hands-off than we are. Obama was right about one thing: we ought to be able to agree on a policy of don’t do stupid shit, even if we can’t always carry it out properly.

The U.S. produces more than half of the oil we use, and less than 1/4 of our imports come from the Middle East. (Even about half of OPEC imports are from South America rather than the ME.)

You left out “American energy companies will lose influence over the most important source of oil”.

Even if we decided that the influence of these companies was not sufficient to keep us there, the very fact that you aren’t entertaining abandoning Israel shows why we can’t just leave. If you have to have your fingers in there, you want to bring in the whole hand so you aren’t just a passive target.

Lose a finger versus lose a hand? I know what I’d choose.

That’s great if losing a finger is the end of it. But if it was, you could just get the fingers out of harm’s way in the first place.

That’s true, but the price of oil is subject to global arbitrage.

So if the Middle East produced less oil, then China/Europe/etc would start to buy oil from whoever currently supplies the US, thus increasing the price that Americans pay.

Our biggest supplier is Canada, and we get it mostly by pipeline.

Oil is sold on a global market.

Sure, that’s trueish. 96% of Canadian oil exports go to the U.S. and nearly half of our oil is produced by Canada. 97% of Canada’s crude production is transported by EDIT: pipeline (NOT rail) to refineries in Western Canada and the U.S. I’m sure global pricing has an effect on the economics of that operation, but I can’t imagine that the geographic realities don’t isolate the U.S./Canada market somewhat from global price swings. I’d think Canada would have a hard time shifting a significant fraction of its oil exports overseas.

Forget about Canada, the US itself exports oil. Even though it also imports oil.

It’s a global market. If global supply decreases and prices increase, the US will export more. Americans aren’t getting any special deals.

Has this ever been the case? I don’t believe so.

I have no idea, and yeah global oil indexes all do track each other. The U.S.'s North American oil consolidation is relatively recent, so I’m not sure that’s been tested. But there is a price spread for oil producers, dependent on quality, transport, refinery capability, etc. Canadian oil, for instance, sells for about 2/3 of the WTI (West Texas Intermediate) benchmark–but Canada’s production pipeline is all geared specifically to satisfy the demands of American refineries. Should Europe or whoever decide that OPEC is too expensive and try to buy from Canada, how would that work? Canada doesn’t have the transportation infrastructure to support exports, nor do European refineries have the capability to refine Canada crude.

I mean, yes, I really know nothing about this industry (though I find it fascinating) so everything up there is totally conjectural, wondering, and speculative, but I’m just not sure how OPEC oil price gouging would work. We’ve specifically spent the last decade divesting ourselves of overseas oil dependence precisely to forestall that kind of geopolitical maneuvering.

Just some random thoughts on the matter.

The U.S. Is a convenient boogey man as long as they are there with troops on the ground.
Foreign powers influence on the region has for quite some time now, prevented a “natural” re-organization of the area, one that I think it desperately needs. Climate change forecasts predicts the Middle East becoming even drier and hotter in the future and less able to sustain humans. Conflict in the region will not go away any time soon. The genocidal tones of some countries against Israel is quite troubling, and the hard question in this post Hitler world is do you sit back and watch it?

These things had a way of sorting themselves out in the past, through all out war. There was a victor and a loser. The cost was always terrible, but the result was a new, more stable political order. In the present it seems that the middle east is instead mired in constant strife, and I wonder if these ongoing conflicts are better for the people that live there. Regardless, I think it’s up to them to figure out.

If burning more oil is the main concern, than don’t worry. We are all quite fucked, no matter where we live.

saw this and thought it fitting.

Unpopular opinion (perhaps): it would be good if the price of oil went up (gradually), because we can’t seem to get carbon emissions under control any other way.

I actually agree with this opinion.

Me, too.