AMAC Exclusive by Aaron Kliegman
Five months in, the Biden administration continues to upend America’s alliances in the Middle East, betraying all of our historic friends while cozying up to our longtime foes with moves that may prove disastrous for American interests for decades to come.
In its determination to revive the Iran nuclear deal at all costs, last week the Biden administration lifted economic sanctions on several Iranian officials and companies amid stalled attempts to resume negotiations with the regime. This decision came after Biden said he would only lift sanctions if Iran stopped enriching uranium beyond the limits of the accord. Iran hasn’t stopped, but Biden is evidently desperate for an agreement. So, he caved.
A nuclear Iran is not only a danger to the United States, but also an existential threat to our closest ally in the region, the state of Israel. Biden has apparently sought to cool relations with Israel since day one. He waited an entire month to call the country’s prime minister. The delay would’ve seemed like less of a snub if Biden hadn’t already spoken with the leaders of so many other allies — and touted those calls publicly.
Then the Biden administration went to work to undermine the Abraham Accords, a series of historic peace agreements between Israel and Arab states brokered by the Trump administration.
According to reports, Biden’s State Department has been discouraging employees from referring to the accords by their official name, erasing the name from official communications and instead using the term “normalization agreements.” The administration has also interfered in Israel’s blossoming relationship with the United Arab Emirates and foolishly returned the Palestinians, who had long kept Israel and the Arab states apart, to center stage in Washington.
Israel isn’t the only American ally in the Middle East that Biden has betrayed with his crusade to revive the Iran deal. Virtually all of America’s partners are against it — especially Saudi Arabia, which rightly sees the Iranian regime as a grave threat and regional rival.
Biden, however, does not appear to care what the Saudis want. In fact, he promised during his presidential campaign to make the Saudis “the pariah that they are.”
As president, Biden has already done much to alienate Riyadh. He imposed a freeze on American arms sales to Saudi Arabia. He released an intelligence community assessment linking Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi—a provocative and entirely unnecessary action. And he ended America’s support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.
The last point is critical. For years, Democrats and the media have decried Saudi Arabia’s campaign in Yemen against the Houthis, extremist rebels backed by Iran. They argue the campaign is responsible for Yemen’s humanitarian crisis. Therefore, they’ve demanded the US cease support for the Saudis’ efforts and called for downgrading the alliance.
To be sure, the Saudi war has at times been conducted incompetently. But in decrying the Saudis, many American elites, especially on the left, miss the bigger picture in Yemen: Iran is using the Houthis to create a proxy force on Saudi Arabia’s southern border that threatens the country’s physical security, just as Iran uses Lebanese Hezbollah to threaten Israel from the north.
For all the criticism western elites level at the Saudis, the Houthis also have been vicious and brutal in their conduct of the war. They recently fired a ballistic missile at a government-held city and killed at least 17 people, including a five-year-old girl. They have failed to repair sanitation services, worsening Yemen’s cholera epidemic. They have confiscated food and medical aid from civilians to support their fighters. They have used child soldiers to field more fighters. And it is the Houthis who chant the slogan “Death to America, death to Israel, curse upon the Jews, victory to Islam!”
Nonetheless, Biden and the Democrats continue to pretend that America’s ally, Saudi Arabia, rather than America’s enemy—Iran—is the aggressor in the conflict.
As to the Biden administration’s ostensible concern for human rights, it is no secret that Saudi society has a vastly different conception of human rights than most Americans are comfortable with. However, as the Trump administration proved, efforts to encourage change are best conducted quietly, as a committed ally—not by lecturing and shaming in the manner of the Obama administration.
Bolstered by just such an approach, Saudi Arabia made significant changes over the course of the Trump administration, progress which has continued into the Biden administration. The Kingdom just announced that it has officially allowed women to live independently in a house without permission from a father or any other male guardian. The Saudis also recently said that women can now take part in the holy Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia without needing a male guardian accompanying them.
These developments herald significant progress, but neither story is being covered in the American press.
The Biden administration’s completely disproportionate hostility to the Saudis also ignores that the alliance is critical to American interests. Saudi Arabia is an important partner in counterterrorism and a significant military power in the region, a power sustained by large purchases of American arms. Saudi Arabia is also a pillar of the global oil market, which still greatly affects the American economy (even if the US imports less oil from the Middle East than it used to). And most importantly, Saudi Arabia is a crucial counterweight to Iran, which, unlike Saudi Arabia, is ruled by a regime that is fundamentally anti-American and has been waging war against the US for decades.
President Trump recognized Saudi Arabia’s strategic importance, which is why he didn’t spend his time publicly denouncing and demonizing the regime over how Saudi women dressed. Trump saw the Saudis were making progress and gave them the latitude to continue that path without embarrassing them or undermining the alliance.
Biden, however, is pursuing a foreign policy that divides the world between autocracies and democracies, with no room in between (except for dictatorships such as Iran, that is). But foreign policy is not a moral vanity. The US has important allies that aren’t democracies, especially in the Middle East, with Saudi Arabia being near the top of the list.
As Trump saw, the proper approach to foreign affairs is partnering with countries that both advance American interests and support the American-led security system (which happens to advance democracy and human rights) and opposing those countries that don’t.
Unfortunately, with Biden in the White House, it is increasingly clear that it doesn’t pay to be America’s friend — certainly not in the Middle East. The results will almost certainly be bad for America, and bad for human rights as well.