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Knowledge Base

The Middle East and Retrenchment Syndrome

Bashar al-Assad: The president of Syria (2000–present). Though many hoped that Assad would lead democratic reform, his presidency has been marked by authoritarianism and a civil war that has been ongoing since 2011.

Disengagement: Removing military forces from an area.

Hegemonic: Politically or socially dominant.

ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria): A militant terrorist organization based in Iraq and Syria.

Jihadist terrorism: A term used to describe militant Islamicist movements. Although the term jihad is nuanced within Muslim communities and encompasses many kinds of striving or struggling, Western countries have adopted a simplified definition of the term to describe radical terrorist movements.

Mujahideen: Guerilla fighters in the Middle East who fight against non-Muslim forces.

Proxy war: Conflicts where countries use intermediaries in order to accomplish political or military goals. During the Cold War, the United States and the Soviet Union did not fight one another directly. Instead they supported people and regimes in various countries in order to expand their influence. Iran has been engaging in a four-decade long proxy war against the United States. Rather than directly attacking the United States, Iran prods anti-American sentiment in countries like Iraq, Lebanon, and Saudi Arabia. Iran then provides support to violent actors in these countries in an effort to drive the United States out of the region.

Retrenchment: A move to a more isolationist foreign policy, motivated by the assumption that any engagement in the world is a source of conflict.

Sectarianism: A type of prejudice or hate arising from attachment to a particular sect.  

September 11 attacks (9/11): A series of attacks coordinated by terrorist group al-Qaeda against the United States on the morning of September 11, 2001. The attacks consisted of four hijacked planes: three flown into the twin towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, and a fourth that crashed into a field in Pennsylvania before hitting its target. The attacks on September 11 resulted in almost three thousand fatalities and spurred the US War on Terror and invasion of Afghanistan.

Strategic empathy: An understanding that ideology, emotions, and aspirations drive and constrain the actions of other countries.