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A foreign policy without the backing of force is an uncredible foreign policy. What would have been a foundational maxim of statecraft a decade ago today became a contentious notion. US policymakers apparently decided that neither force nor the threat of force are useful foreign policy tools and unwittingly heralding an era of American incredibility. But is this truly about the fear of war? 

 Not too long ago, it would have been unimaginable for an Iranian proxy to routinely bomb America’s closest allies in the Middle East or American bases in Iraq, expecting no American retaliation. Moreover, a new American administration inaugurated its foreign policy by removing the first proxy, the Houthis of Yemen, from the Foreign Terrorist Organization (FTO) list. This is not a fluke but the result of a new orientation of American foreign policy backed by an entire ideological paradigm complete with a new historicist foundation. In this paradigm, American force is shunned and disregarded as a support for policy and replaced by openness to accommodations and deference to adversaries. 

In Vienna, the administration is attempting to reach an agreement with the Islamic Republic of Iran that achieves very little and concedes too much. Policymakers insist on having a deal for the sake of having a deal regardless of whether such a deal would actually succeed in preventing a nuclear Iran or just delay it. Somehow, the process which was ostensibly a means to an end—preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon—became an end in itself, at the cost of alienating the US from its allies in the Middle East. This exemplifies a paradigm shift in vision within the current generation of foreign policymakers. 

In no place is this foreign policy paradigm shift more obvious than in the Middle East, where the United States is currently undermining its own influence, reaching accommodations with its main adversaries, abandoning past commitments and forsaking traditional allies.  

In my conversations with officials of the State Department, I was struck by this new vision of US policy in the Middle East. It is entirely built around reaching an arrangement with the Islamic Republic of Iran, which, in their view, is the only way to achieve Middle East stability and US interests. One official insisted that no progress will happen in our Middle East policy, whether in Lebanon, Yemen or Iraq, without first reaching an agreement with Iran and that Iran, not Israel nor the Arab Gulf, holds the key to the Middle East. Therefore, a good relationship with Iran is even more important than the strength of American-Israeli or American-Arab relations. 

Given this view, it becomes understandable why this administration let every Iranian challenge in the region go answered and we made so many concessions to Iran, starting from the delisting of the Houthis to being open to delisting the IRGC. Pundits of this administration are already trying to sell the American people that delisting the largest global sponsor of terrorism from the terrorist organizations’ list is merely a symbolic move, not to mention the suspicious anti-Saudi, anti-Emirati, and anti-Israel clear media line. 

This is not a single policy choice; this is a strategic vision for all American foreign policy in the Middle East. The de facto deference to Iran is a recognition of the Middle East’s Iranian sphere of influence in which the US would seek to achieve its interests by working with the regional hegemon. This view, while present in the Obama administration, is now shared by not only a clique in the White House, but within the ranks of the State Department. An official in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs expressed her frustration with the US Congress for being an obstacle to this new vision by maintaining a traditional strong anti-Iran stance propagated by the “bad” think tanks of Washington.  

This line of thinking goes significantly beyond the strong American will to avoid more conflict in the Middle East to a new understanding of the American role in the region and the world. It’s a revision of American foreign policy identity in which America of the past is condemned and replaced. This also entails an entire rearrangement of American strategic relations in the Middle East. This is obviously felt by our traditional Arab allies in the region, who are currently undermining of American interests and refused to even take President Biden’s calls during one of the worst international crises in decades. I firmly believe how Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates see the current American abandonment of their alliance accurately reflects the thinking of many officials 

If the policy shift in the Middle East were just a problem of the loss of credibility, the solution would have been easy. We would have had to aggressively insist that the US defend its interests and image and punish any power testing US resolve and that diplomacy must have teeth to be credible. The United States’ policy of undermining its own influence in the Middle East and deferring to Iran is not a result of a mistaken political calculus or miscalculating pragmatism, but the ideological presupposition of a whole political orientation. America is changing. 

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Hussein Aboubakr Mansour

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