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The false logic of a China-US choice in the Middle East

Framing the discussion of China's role in the Middle East as a zero-sum game of choosing either US or Chinese patronage has only increased Beijing's clout in the region.

Countering China as an economic power and alternate political and development model is a centerpiece of US national security policy. Countering China in the Middle East, however, has proven challenging due to inconsistencies within US policy and with the growing perception of China's attractiveness to the region. Framing the discussion of China's rise or role in the Middle East to a zero-sum game of choosing either US or Chinese patronage and partnership has served rhetorically only to increase China's stature among the region's political leadership. And relatedly, the US security strategy that explicitly mentions the importance of allies and shared values has failed to rely on those strengths in counterarguments to the Chinese "choice."

The United States has failed to make its own case in the Middle East, mostly because the current administration has undermined the importance of shared values and institutions that demonstrate its superior development model to China's and then failed to demonstrate empirically how it is better. The reality is there is no stark choice for the Gulf states or governments of the broader Middle East to decouple from either the United States or China. The plan to counter China has never been to do it alone. The Trump administration's failure to elevate and amplify its own strategy to rely on allies and shared institutions is an Achilles heel that China and adversaries like Russia see as an easy target.

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