Joe Biden seems to think that the key to victory in November is to stop making sense.
Examples abound, but the latest concerns the Middle East. On Sept. 13, the Democratic candidate published a 970-word CNN essay attacking Donald Trump for abandoning the 2015 Iran nuclear accord. A few days later, he issued a statement praising Trump for making peace between Israel, Bahrain, and the United Arab Emirates. If elected, he promised that he’d “build on these steps, challenge other nations to keep pace, and work to leverage these growing ties into progress toward a two-state solution and a more stable, peaceful region.”
Biden thus favors peace between and among Israel, the Arab gulf states, Iran, and whoever else might come along as well. But there’s a problem. The 2015 nuclear deal was supposed to normalize relations by ending sanctions and allowing Iran to re-enter the global market. But the Trump accord does the opposite by enlisting the Gulf states in a war pact whose purpose is to isolate the Islamic republic and surround it with a string of hostile states.
So Biden favors isolating Iran and not isolating it at the same time. What next – a ringing statement that war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength?
The last time Democrats tried driving with one foot on the gas pedal and the other on the brake was in early 2015, and the results were disastrous. This is back when the handwriting was on the wall that a nuclear deal with Iran was approaching and the gulf petro-states – the Saudis, the UAE, the Bahraini royal family, and the rest – were besides themselves with dismay. After all, they thought they enjoyed a special relationship with the U.S., their protector, arms supplier, and long-term customer, yet here was Barack Obama suggesting, as he would later put it, that they “share the neighborhood” with their arch-foe. Their feelings were hurt, and so the U.S. felt it had no choice but to patch things up.
What did it do? The answer is that it presented Saudi Arabia with a consolation prize in the form of a green light to go on the offensive on two fronts. In Syria, Washington looked the other way as the kingdom shipped hundreds of U.S.-made TOW missiles to Al Qaeda and other rebel groups, weapons that Al Qaeda – yes, the same Al Qaeda that toppled the Twin Towers on 9/11 – then used them with devastating effectiveness against Syrian government tanks and trucks in the northwest province of Idlib.
Simultaneously, it gave the go-ahead for an air war against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Why would the Saudis support one rebel group while attacking another? Because Al Qaeda is Wahhabist, the only brand of Sunni Islam the Al-Saud tolerate in their kingdom, while the Houthis are Shi’ite, which is to say Sunni Islam’s age-old rival. Not only did the Obama administration greenlight war, in other words, but it greenlit a form of sectarian warfare that is particularly primitive and cruel.
But the kingdom was upset, you see, and so an anonymous Defense Department official told the New York Times that it was “important that the Saudis know that we have an arm around their shoulder.”
Uncle Sam thus gave it a hug. Half a decade later, the results are in. Idlib is still under the control of an Al Qaeda successor known as Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and home to some 1.5 million refugees, while Yemen is “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world” according to UN Secretary-General António Guterres. A war that was supposed to be quick and clean and over in a matter of weeks has turned into an endless quagmire, with more than 12,000 civilians killed as a result of the fighting so far and at least 85,000 children under the age of five dead from malnutrition.
Rather than peace, the JCPOA thus brought war and boundless human suffering. It’s almost funny to go back and read some of the expert opinion justifying U.S. actions at the time. Tamara Cofman Wittes, currently a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution and a Biden supporter to boot, admitted to the New York Times back in 2015 that Obama administration policy was a puzzle, but added that “whether that puzzle reflects the lack of a coherent policy on the administration side or whether that puzzle simply reflects the complexity of the power struggles on the ground in the region — well, both are probably true.” Added Barbara Bodine, a former U.S. ambassador to Yemen: “I would be more concerned if we had some sort of overly rigid policy. It is messy. It is contradictory. That’s foreign policy.”
Ordinary people might think that incoherence is something to be avoided, but experts know better. They assume that the Middle East is such a mess that the U.S. is allowed to be messy as it wants in return. So the messiness deepened, and thousands died as a consequence.
Now Biden wants us to give the old foreign-policy incoherence another go by putting the old Obama screw-up back in its place. But Biden-style incoherence will work not better than the current Trumpian nonsense. The United States is using the Middle East as its own private playground, and millions of people are paying a deadly price.