The case for American diplomacy in the Middle East

In an article criticizing US President Biden’s policy in the Middle East published in Haaretz on May 28, 2021 (President Joe Biden’s dangerous policy of appeasement – Israel News – Gadi Taub Israeli polemicist and former writer and Michael Doran, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, accuse the Biden administration of “appeasement” in its intention to “complete the realignment with respect to Iran, which Barack Obama began”.

The approach presented by the authors reveals a lack of understanding of the nature of diplomacy and of US and Israeli interests.

Taub and Duran are correct that the Biden administration, like its two predecessors, seeks to reduce U.S. military presence in the region. Indeed, the reasons for American physical presence in the region diminishes as it approaches energy independence and the importance of the competition with China in Asian-Pacific arena is rising. However, their claim that the Trump Administration replaced the military involvement in the Middle East by multilateral means is completely contrary to reality.

The Trump administration shattered the multilateral coalition that the Obama administration worked tirelessly to establish by unilaterally abandoning the nuclear deal (JCPOA) negotiated and agreed between Iran and the P5 +1 (UN Security Council plus Germany). Trump’s heavy-handed unilateral approach led to the decision of Iran to abandon its commitments and they progressed steadily toward the development of nuclear weapons capabilities.

If the Trump administration’s goal was to create poverty and suffering for the people of Iran, then it did have achievements, but the abandonment of the nuclear deal led to the Iranian leadership’s greater public determination to advance the pace of uranium enrichment and caused US and Israeli isolation instead of Iran’s.

Trump did advance the normalization process of Israel with Arab states, but Biden has no intention of withdrawing from this process (even if he has reservations about the F-35 fighter deal, removing Sudan from the list of pro-terror states and recognizing Morocco’s sovereignty over Western Sahara), but rather to strengthen the process and leverage it to advance a settlement with the Palestinians.

Duran and Taub’s attempt to present the choice of diplomacy vis-à-vis Iran as a conciliatory approach is a false choice and completely misses the role of foreign policy in promoting interests and values ​​even with rivals and enemies. An attempt to reach an agreement with Iran, does not mean an approval of Iranian ideology or support for its policies. There’s simply no evidence that the Biden administration has naive illusions about Iran’s goals.

Precisely the opposite approach to that of Biden, it was the American invasion of Iraq, that strengthened Iran and made Iraq an Iranian protectorate. Instead of improving stability in the Middle East and weakening the enemies of the US and Israel, the results of American military involvement achieved just the opposite. The US lost lives and treasure in the decade’s long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and did not advance its interests. The result of all the American investment and sacrifice was that ISIS filled in the power vacuum that the Iraq invasion created.

The example given by Duran and Taub for Obama’s alleged failure to deal with the Syrian use of chemical weapons only underscores the absurdity of their claim. What happened, in reality, is that Obama managed through diplomacy in cooperation with Russia and the UN to remove most of the chemical weapons from Syria (indeed not all). This move caused Israel to stop distributing gas masks to its citizens after many years that we had become accustomed to preparing for a Syrian chemical attack. The joint US-Russian move has achieved far more than the 59 cruise missiles that Trump launched towards Syria and accomplished nothing. It was during Trump’s time that the United States lost all influence over the future of Syria, which is now being decided according to the interests of Russia, Iran and Turkey.

The writers’ example of Biden’s so-called conciliatory approach in Yemen ignores the fact that Biden’s refusal to fund the Saudi adventures in Yemen proved successful. It has led to initial contacts between Saudi Arabia and the Houthis to end one of the most terrible humanitarian crises of our time. The Saudis will eventually thank Biden for allowing them to get out of the futile entanglement in Yemen.

The Biden administration’s approach to reducing tensions in the region is already bearing fruit, although it has not yet invested the necessary diplomatic resources due to the burden of priorities it faces. The contacts we have seen around us since the leadership change in Washington, between Egypt and Turkey, between Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and between the Emirates and Iran, have great potential for promoting stability in the Middle East which is an American and Israeli interest.

If the US had adopted Taub and Duran’s approach, there would never have been a peace agreement between Israel and Egypt, the US would still be under threat of a nuclear war with the USSR and the US military would continue to shuffle hopelessly in the “quicksand” of the Middle East.

It is gratifying that America has finally realized the risk in the conservative approach expressed by Taub and Duran. This approach of conservative Republicans and the evangelical base of the Republican Party, that divides the region into the sons of light and the sons of darkness has already exacted an unnecessary bloody price.

The intention of the Biden administration to reorganize in the Middle East by reducing tensions between the countries of the region is the way to achieve stability and prosperity. Israel only stands to benefit by supporting the Biden administration’s redeployment and reject the advice of Duran and Taub.

About the Author
Nadav Tamir is the executive director of J Street Israel, a member of the board of the Mitvim think-tank, adviser for international affairs at the Peres Center for Peace and Innovation, and member of the steering committee of the Geneva Initiative. He was an adviser of President Shimon Peres and served in the Israel embassy in Washington and as consul general to New England.
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