In the past, the U.S. has had two clear priorities in the Middle East: to keep Gulf oil flowing at reasonable prices and to ensure Israel’s survival. But the U.S. economy no longer relies on imported petroleum. Fracking has turned the U.S. into a net oil and natural-gas exporter. The countries that still depend on the oil flowing from the Gulf are in Europe and Asia.
To be sure, the global economy—and therefore the American economy—would be hurt by a major disruption in oil supplies from the Gulf. But the natural-gas revolution in the U.S., the discovery and development of energy sources elsewhere and the growing substitution of “clean energy” have made markets surprisingly resilient in the face of chaos in the Middle East. The Arab countries that export oil and natural gas are still important to us, but the free flow of their oil is no longer a vital interest—that is, one worth fighting for. Difficult as it might be to get our heads around the idea, China and India need to be protecting the sea lanes between the Gulf and their ports, not the U.S. Navy.
As for Israel, it is still very much in America’s national interest to support the security of the Jewish state, but its survival is no longer in question. Decades of American economic and military largess and close security cooperation have made it possible for Israel to defend itself by itself. We are right to be concerned by Iran’s repeated threats to destroy Israel, but it is today’s nuclear-armed Israel that has the means to crush Iran, not the other way around.