In a stunning turn of fortunes, not unexpected but hard to digest all the same, China is wading into the Middle East – aiming to replace the United States top ally, market, peacemaker, and influence. The latest effort, indulged by all, is letting China take credit for reopening of diplomatic relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. For 60 years, America led in the region – Biden is fast killing that legacy.
In truth, many countries in the Middle East talk and trade often with each other, including Arab countries with Israel, and they have for decades. That said, the region is a hotbed of sectarian conflict, with terrorist organizations deeply rooted in places like Iran and Syria – and one nation, Iran sprinting for nuclear weapons, which would in turn set off an arms race across the region, destabilizing the world.
So, that is where we are, and that is why President Trump – and virtually every president before him back to at least Richard Nixon – endeavored to advance peace, if only incrementally. Where Trump pressed the Abraham Accords, using a bilateral model to grow consensus, others tried region-wide models, conferences, and accords, some Israeli-Egyptian, others Israeli-Palestinian, all a labor.
The main point, however, in the interests of greater potential peace for this war-torn region, has been to keep that labor – for regional and all humanity – alive.
Long before the Gulf Wars and after them, the United States served as a peace broker, from Secretaries of State like Henry Kissinger, George Schultz, Cy Vance, Jim Baker, Madeleine Albright, and Colin Powell – to Presidents Nixon, Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, Clinton, Bush, and even Obama, the goal – even before Trump – was to prioritize peacemaking, and work to tamp down conflict, modeling democracy.
Now, that whole dynamic is changing. American leadership has been vital in the region, a combination of recognizing cultural differences, pressing for change that helped advance individual liberties, and gradually building credibility as Arab nations fell away from the Soviet Union, including Egypt and others.
Under Carter, Reagan, Bush 41, and up through Bush 43, America was viewed as a reliable ally, trading partner, and source of national and regional security – with strong relationship across the Arab world back 60 years, or longer. That has been especially so with Saudi Arabia, Jordan, UAE, Egypt, Bahrain, and others.
Then came Obama– Biden, a team that talked peace, but indulged – and was used by – Iran, a terrorist-promoting nation hungry for sectarian advantage, seethed with hatred toward Israel and the United States, anxious to gain leverage, and eventually dominance, in the region.
Obama-Biden paid Iran enormous sums of money for nothing, allowing them to ink an accord that effectively offered tacit permission for Iran to build a nuclear weapon in the future if they would slow down now, and then – as predicted by most experts – Iran blew off much of the accord, kept working.
Now we come to this moment, when – after a genuine shift by Trump, one that penalized Iran, slowed their nuclear program, sanctioned their economy, and put them back on their heels, while also pushing bilateral peace accords around the region – we see the reverse under Biden-Harris.
Not only did Biden-Harris try to restart the morally bankrupt, dangerous Obama-Biden nuclear deal with Iran, they dropped the bilateral accord momentum like a hot rock, since it was a Trump-Pence idea.
Then Biden took it a step further. After crippling US fossil fuel production and transport – opening the market to foreign domination – he went on bent knee to Saudi for oil. He did this after vilifying them on the world stage as a cultural violator of human rights.
Like someone reading the book backwards on how to properly negotiate, Biden dismantled what Trump and other administrations had done to build up US influence, credibility, and strength in this region.
So embarrassing and fundamentally inept was Biden’s approach – that he tried again to bribe Iran to ink a document, knowing they would cheat. He demonized Saudi Arabia, despite a major shift our way. He offended most of America’s Arab allies, then cozied up to China, forgiving them horrific human rights abuses, a mere “cultural difference.” He invited Putin to make a “minor incursion” into Ukraine.
He then went back to Saudi and asked them for oil, then to cut production. They could not take him seriously, a buffoon who indulged their enemies, insulted them, and spun. They would not even take his call. America’s former allies – effectively laughed at Biden.
Is it any wonder, then, that we are where we are? China – which Biden gives a free pass to on everything from COVID to trade and military aggression – is moving into the void. Who can blame them? China is a ruthless communist nation that wants America’s position in the Middle East, as the Soviets once did. That is why that just “brokered” – actually were permitted by Iran and Saudi – a resumption of ties.
Is it good that Saudi and Iran are on better diplomatic terms? Sure. Better is always good, but what is really happening is that China is angling to wholly replace the United States as the leading credible influence and force for all purposes in the Mideast. The real question, then, is where is Biden?
America has been a force for good in that region – developed it, helped it prosper, and has kept the peace, as allies migrated toward greater freedom, equality, and tighter relations. All that is at risk now. Someone needs to tell Biden to wake up – because China is “eating our lunch” and our allies’ too.
Robert Charles is a former Assistant Secretary of State under Colin Powell, former Reagan and Bush 41 White House staffer, attorney, and naval intelligence officer (USNR). He wrote “Narcotics and Terrorism” (2003), “Eagles and Evergreens” (2018), and is National Spokesman for AMAC.