Biden Risks Casting Away Trump’s Progress in Middle East

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Samuel Johnson described a second marriage as a triumph of hope over experience. This sums up the Biden administration’s determination to revive President Obama’s Middle East doctrine that failed the first time around. Worse, this reprise of past mistakes threatens to undo the significant, though provisional, progress the Trump administration achieved in the region by doing the opposite of its predecessor.

Instead of courting Iranian regime, President Trump deemed Iran enemy number one in the Middle East. Mr. Trump abrogated President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran because it would facilitate Iran crossing the nuclear threshold even were the Iranians to abide by it. It depended for verification on Iranian goodwill that didn’t exist It subsidized Iranian aggression by lifting sanctions, and relied on the UN Security Council to re-impose sanctions in the event that we detected Iranian violations.

Mr. Obama’s Iran deal also failed to tame either Iran’s threats toward Israel or Iran’s campaign to incite sectarian violence across the Middle East through its surrogates in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Nor did Mr. Obama’s nuclear deal constrain Iran’s burgeoning ballistic missile program from menacing America’s allies in both the Middle East and Europe..

President Trump’s re-imposition of primary sanctions and the threat of secondary sanctions crippled the Iranian economy, diminishing the regime’s capacity to foment mayhem beyond Iranian borders. Mr. Trump’s — and, let it not be forgotten, Congress’s — decision to move the American Embassy to Jerusalem, emblematic of broader policy to embrace rather than distance America from Israel, bolstered our credibility globally.

Contrary to predictions of Middle East regional experts, Mr. Trump’s repudiation of moral equivalence between Israel and its enemies was met with the emergence of a regional coalition, with Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia as the linchpins, to contain Iran.

Mr. Trump managed to accomplish all this without involving America in another conflict that would have detracted from his long overdue goal of devoting primary energy and attention to the Indo-Pacific. America’s emergence as an energy superpower also diminished our exposure in the conflicts our energy dependence on the Middle East had heretofore necessitated.

President Biden risks casting away all of the Trump administration’s progress. His strategy is to do the same thing President Obama did while expecting different results. Mr. Biden is signalling an eagerness to rejoin the Iran nuclear deal on Iran’s terms — that is, no significant changes in terms, a swift and significant easing of sanctions, without no changes in Iran’s foreign – or domestic — policy..

Mr. Biden miscalculates that reviving the Iran deal might pave the way for transforming Iran from an adversary to partner, the way President Nixon sought to do with Communist to China. It’s an analogy Kissinger consistently has assailed as false and dangerous.

The Biden administration’s conciliation of Iran goes beyond the Iranian nuclear program. Presenting the State Department’s 2020 report on Human rights, Secretary Blinken named Saudi Arabia as a significant violator, while making no mention of an Iranian regime that is at least as bad or possibly even worse.

President Biden’s restoration of Aid to the Palestinian Arabs, while giving Prime Minister Netanyahu the cold shoulder and rejecting Israeli entreaties about the danger of the Iran Deal, signals the administration’s inclination to put distance between the United States and Israel, yet another misguided element of the Obama Doctrine. Mr. Biden’s reprise of Mr. Obama’s flawed strategies in the Middle East will yield the opposite of what the Administration intends:

  • An emboldened Iran;
  • An nuclear arms race in the world’s most volatile region;
  • An imperiled Israel;
  • Pressure on Western countries to make unsavory bargains with Middle East tyrants as the Green New Deal imperils our capacity as an energy superpower.

Count on the chaos and erosion of American credibility in the Middle East having negative ramifications elsewhere, most ominously in the calculations of Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin of whether the United States has the fortitude and foresight to resist their ambitions.

Meanwhile, our Middle Eastern allies and collaborators will rue Mr. Trump’s defeat while yearning for a Republican victory in the 2024 Presidential election that offers the best opportunity for reversing the Biden administration’s perilous course.


Mr. Kaufman holds the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Chair in Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Photo: Pepperdine School of Public Policy.

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