Samuel Johnson described a second marriage as a triumph of hope over experience. This sums up the Biden administrationís determination to revive President Obamaís 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 Obamaís 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 didnít 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. Obamaís Iran deal also failed to tame either Iranís threats toward Israel or Iranís campaign to incite sectarian violence across the Middle East through its surrogates in Syria, Lebanon, and Yemen. Nor did Mr. Obamaís nuclear deal constrain Iranís burgeoning ballistic missile program from menacing Americaís allies in both the Middle East and Europe..
President Trumpís re-imposition of primary sanctions and the threat of secondary sanctions crippled the Iranian economy, diminishing the regimeís capacity to foment mayhem beyond Iranian borders. Mr. Trumpís ó and, let it not be forgotten, Congressís ó 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. Trumpís 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. Americaís 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 administrationís 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 Iranís terms ó that is, no significant changes in terms, a swift and significant easing of sanctions, without no changes in Iranís foreign Ė or domestic ó 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. Itís an analogy Kissinger consistently has assailed as false and dangerous.
The Biden administrationís conciliation of Iran goes beyond the Iranian nuclear program. Presenting the State Departmentís 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 Bidenís 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 administrationís inclination to put distance between the United States and Israel, yet another misguided element of the Obama Doctrine. Mr. Bidenís reprise of Mr. Obamaís flawed strategies in the Middle East will yield the opposite of what the Administration intends:
- An emboldened Iran;
- An nuclear arms race in the worldís 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. Trumpís defeat while yearning for a Republican victory in the 2024 Presidential election that offers the best opportunity for reversing the Biden administrationís perilous course.
Mr. Kaufman holds the Robert and Katheryn Dockson Chair in Public Policy at Pepperdine University. Photo: Pepperdine School of Public Policy.