The U.S. has a chance to slam the door shut on Russia and China in the Middle East for the foreseeable future. Will it take advantage of the opportunity?
By Pete Hoekstra, Gatestone Institute
It is time for the Biden administration to come to terms with the challenging situation in Yemen.
It seems that the administration is trying to pick a middle ground, but the Houthis’ ongoing terrorist attacks and the massive scale of the humanitarian crisis rule out staying the course of strategic compromise.
Despite multiple attacks on Abu Dhabi, which include an airbase that hosts American military personnel, the current administration seems unwilling to designate the Houthis as the terrorist organization it is.
At the same time, however, it wants to put constraints on the use of weapons the U.S. might sell to the United Arab Emirates, whose civilian population has been targeted by the Houthis.
As so often happens when you fail to identify a clear direction, the status quo is maintained. For Yemen, this is no longer acceptable.
Recently, I argued for the U.S. State Department to redesignate the Houthis as a terrorist organization. While hopeful, I am not optimistic that the decision will be forthcoming.
Even though it is not a strategy, hope, not deterrence, is exactly what the Biden administration seems to be hanging its decision-making on — hoping the Houthis will stop civilian attacks and hoping the Iranians will help President Joe Biden complete his campaign promise to reenter the disastrous 2015 Obama-era nuclear deal.
Now another big decision is looming on the horizon. Shortly before the end of the Trump administration, the U.S. finalized an agreement with the UAE for $23 billion worth of U.S.-made weapons. The sale included F-35s, the latest drone technology, and other miscellaneous equipment.
Recently, the UAE suspended finalizing the agreement due to its belief the restrictions being placed on the deal by the U.S. government would infringe on its national sovereignty.
The Biden Administration needs to move swiftly to remove these obstacles and enable the arms sale to move forward.
While most of the sales of advanced weapons will not happen for several years, it is important to signal to the UAE and other players in the region, most notably Iran, that the relationship between the U.S. and UAE is ironclad.
The UAE and its leadership have, unlike Iran, demonstrated strong support for the U.S. and stability in the Middle East by embracing people from other cultures and other religions.
The leaders of the UAE should be recognized and rewarded for it, instead of rewarding countries that call for the death of America and other democracies.
Otherwise, the message being sent, as the late historian Bernard Lewis wrote, is that it is far better to be America’s enemy than its friend.
Determination and strength
While the Biden administration has made clear its desire to restart nuclear talks with Iran, why not try doing it from a position of strength, for instance, deterrence?
One of the pillars of strength would be presenting a united front against Iran, with our Gulf allies and Israel at its core. Iran recognizes and responds to strength. It also recognizes weakness and responds by taking advantage of it.
It is vitally important that the Biden administration stabilize relationships with key U.S. allies in the Middle East before Iran and Russia destabilize them, or it will justly receive the blame for the chaos that will ensue.
The Middle East is one area where the U.S. is a dominant power influencer, and we must make clear to our friends that we will stand by them and to our enemies that they are endangering only themselves.
Having stood along the Damascus Road and talked with people in this region, I can attest that they have long memories. This is the time to strengthen the modernizing, stabilizing relationships and solidify a foundation that will enable them to survive for decades.
The U.S. and its allies can stand strong against Iran, which is not only a disruptive and dangerous player in the region, it also is one of the few countries there forging increasingly strong ties with Russia and China.
As Russia and China challenge America’s status as the global superpower — politically, economically, and militarily — in Europe with Ukraine, in Asia with Taiwan, India and Japan, and throughout eastern Asia and Africa with China’s Belt and Road Initiative — now is not the time to open a window of opportunity for them to exploit in the Middle East.
At the moment, the U.S. has a chance effectively to slam the door shut on Russia and China in the Middle East for the foreseeable future.
Agreeing to provide the UAE with some of the most advanced, American-made military technology sends a strong signal that the U.S. is fully committed to having a long-term, strategic relationship with a great ally, the UAE. Delaying, or perhaps even potentially having the entire sale collapse, signals the exact opposite.
We are seeing our adversaries exploiting perceived U.S. weakness and lack of resolve in other parts of the world. We cannot let that happen in the Middle East. We must have a long-term, strategic plan that does not rely on hope but instead on determination and strength.
Let us go all-in: anything less will be perceived as not being in at all.