From his first day in office, President Biden’s Middle East policies, a seemingly “win them over with kindness” approach, have been misguided and self-defeating. From the start, Biden strongly sought a new Iran deal, as if financially rewarding Iran for its signature would ensure its compliance. Indeed, one basis for the first deal was Iran providing its nuclear history—Iran lied. Apparently we did not learn. During the deal’s tenure Iran consistently cheated, obstructed inspections, and ramped up its ballistic missile program, which was foolishly left out of the first agreement. Iranian efforts to bring uranium enrichment to weapons-grade has continued, supposedly due to Trump’s withdrawal from the deal—talk about excuses! The mullahs are clearly determined. Over the past two years the International Atomic Energy Agency has regularly complained about Iranian non-compliance, finally issuing a resolution in early June condemning Iran after traces of uranium were found at three undeclared locations.
But isn’t it strange, or very convenient, that a country whose self-declaration is peaceful use of nuclear materials would then block 27 inspection cameras. To bring Iran to the now-interrupted negotiating table, the Administration accepted its demand that we cannot be in the negotiating room, which should have stopped everything then and there. Instead we huddled outside while Putin’s Russia represented us! Further sweetening things, the Administration earlier rescinded the foreign terrorist organization designation of the Houthis, a group armed and abetted by Iran, one which occasionally lobs missiles into Saudi Arabia or the UAE when it takes a respite from augmenting the Yemen civil war. Iran now requires that sanctions against its Revolutionary Guards be dropped before any negotiations proceed. Congress apparently has had enough, resisting this almost silly ceremonial demand, while the Administration currently tries to work around this latest obstruction. There is a clear pattern —the more we overlook and the more we give, the more intransigent Iran becomes. Alas, Robert Malley, previously Obama’s point man, and now Biden’s, has pursued this holy grail mission with enormous, but blind passion. Unfortunately, his dream is likely to become the world’s nightmare.
Then there is Saudi Arabia, a long-time U.S. ally, custodian of the holy mosques, and a critical player in the global oil market. After the abominable Khoshoggi affair of 2018, the expression “with friends like these…?” immediately comes to mind. Nonetheless, the relationship is a vital one. Naturally, the Saudis view American catering to Iranian demands as near mortifying as well as deeply disturbing to their trust in America. To add more fuel to the fire, in February, 2021, the Biden administration released the previously secret intelligence report on Khoshoggi’s disappearance/death, a source of great embarrassment to Mohammed bin Salman (MBS), son of the king and the country’s defacto ruler. After his election, Biden bypassed MBS by calling the king, another source of Saudi irritation. In late September, 2021, Biden’s national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, met with MBS and brought up the Khoshoggi affair, which ignited MBS into shouting at Sullivan as he abruptly ended their meeting. Reportedly, MBS has refused to take phone calls from Biden, and a request to ramp up oil production to offset Russian sanctions was rejected. Interestingly, a Saudi TV station depicted Biden comically as a tottering old man, an action which could only be undertaken with MBS consent.
Concerning Israel, Biden has continued to ruffle feathers. Support of a new Iran deal has been totally disheartening. And last March Biden physically embraced the Palestinian Authority’s Abbas, a serious endorsement of an ailing, corrupt, and self-serving leader. Biden has restored aid to the Palestinian Authority, despite the Taylor Force Act of Congress, which prohibited aid as long as the Palestinian Authority was paying families of suicide bombers and supporting jailed terrorists. Indeed, the Abbas regime continues to encourage and eulogize such acts of violence, ones which more normally would evoke sanctions rather than financial rewards. While Israel is clearly the one most troubled, most of the Arab world is tired of carrying water for the Palestinians. The Arab signatories to the Abraham Accords–the UAE and Bahrain–can only wonder why the U.S. is leaning against their new ally, Israel. The Saudis are equally unhappy as it makes their fledgling relationship with Israel more difficult.
Biden’s previously planned trip to the Middle East was cancelled, allegedly due to scheduling problems, but more likely due to the cold reception awaiting him. U.S. officials have been working hard to smooth the waters for a July visit.
Back in the 1960s a British journalist wryly noted that “America’s foreign policy is simple—they are friendly to the neutrals, neutral to the enemy, and hostile to their friends.” Current U.S. Middle East policy is even worse—we our very friendly to the enemy, much to the mortification of our friends. July is now upon us and the President’s Middle East hosts may also be wondering “with friends like these…?”