American leaders have offered a range reasons for the great investment of American blood and treasure in the region: to replace dictatorships with democracies, to enhance the rule of law, to support allied governments and to fight terrorism.
But for some scholars of the region, the concrete benefits of all that engagement pale in comparison to the size of the American efforts.
“When you look at the cost-benefit analysis, there is a limited payoff, and the United States is going to reduce its footprint over time because there are so many other things to deal with in the world,” said Gary Sick, a Middle East scholar at Columbia University who served on the National Security Council under three presidents.
American soldiers near Manbij, Syria, in February. President Trump has ordered them to leave.