January 16, 2024

Instead of reversing Trump’s Middle East policy, the Biden Administration has become its custodian.

We remain profoundly concerned with the Biden Administration’s Middle East policy – or lack thereof – and its continued inability to seize the reins to demand the simple solution to humanitarian suffering and risk of regional war in the Middle East: a ceasefire.

Instead, the Administration’s kowtowing to the Netanyahu government’s misbegotten, genocidal military quagmire in Gaza has put U.S. interests, and humanitarian interests across the region, in extreme peril. With each passing incident, efforts to avoid a regional conflagration are being tested – from Iran’s recent strikes in Iraq and Syria, to Iran-linked militia attacks and U.S. reprisals in Syria and Iraq, to Houthi attacks against commercial shipping in the Red Sea and U.S. strikes on Houthi forces in Yemen, to Israel’s bombings in Lebanon and Syria and continued slaughter of Palestinians. 

Perhaps the most concerning signal of the Biden Administration’s position is the decision to engage in military action in Yemen without Congressional approval. It is unclear if the intent is “deterrence” of the Houthis, and by extension Iran, or “reassurance” to Israel that the U.S. is committed to military action. But the result has clearly not turned the course and stopped Houthi or other militants from engaging in provocations apparently aimed at raising the cost for the continuation of the war in Gaza. Instead, as we warned with many others in December, U.S. strikes on the Houthis in Yemen have only increased threats to commercial shipping in the Red Sea and elsewhere, while bringing the U.S. closer to a broader regional war. 

With the prospect of a second Donald Trump presidency looming on the horizon, and legitimate concerns that American democracy is very much in jeopardy, the Administration’s failures are doubly damning. By failing to embrace the strategic and moral imperative of a ceasefire, the Biden team is helping pave the way for Trump’s return as many Americans are repulsed by our government’s complicity with the slaughter in Gaza and dumbfounded by the apparent willingness to drift into regional war.

Sadly, instead of reversing Trump’s Middle East policy, the Biden Administration has become its custodian. Donald Trump built the foundation for the current Middle East crisis with his ill advised “Abraham Accords” and disastrous abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal. The Abraham Accords sought to paper over the challenges plaguing the region, most notably between Israel and Palestine, and codify tensions with Iran as the region’s central organizing principle while flooding the region with billions of dollars in new weapons. Trump’s abandonment of the Iran nuclear deal in favor of “maximum pressure” sanctions has put Iran on the brink of a nuclear weapon and handed all leverage with Iran to China and Russia. Unfortunately, the Biden administration failed to restore the Iran nuclear deal as he promised on the campaign trail and is apparently seeking to prioritize and expand normalization deals on Israel’s behalf. Three years into his term, Biden now owns these policies and the consequences.

It is not too late to reverse course. Until now, Biden’s team has seemingly buried its heads in the sand as Israel has inflicted a devastating war on the Palestinian people and tensions in the region have boiled over. The truth is the same it has been for months: we urgently need a sustainable ceasefire to halt the killing and prevent a broader war from breaking out – before it is too late.

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