The Biden administration, some Arab writers have said, has adopted a policy of antagonizing allies while appeasing enemies.
By Khaled Abu Toameh, The Gatestone Institute
Prominent Arab political analysts and commentators are dumbfounded that the Biden administration has chosen to appease Iran and Islamists instead of working with Washington’s traditional and long-time allies in the Arab world.
In a series of articles published after the release of the US intelligence report on the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, many Arab analysts and columnists have warned that the Biden administration was harming US interests in the Middle East.
Some said they saw the decision to release the report as a kind of sequel to the Obama administration’s failed policy of meddling in the internal affairs of Arab countries.
They noted that the Saudi authorities had already punished those involved in the 2018 murder of Khashoggi inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey. The Biden administration, some Arab writers have said, has adopted a policy of antagonizing allies while appeasing enemies.
“The Saudi judiciary has imposed the most severe penalties on the perpetrators of this morally and legally unacceptable act,” wrote Syrian journalist Abduljalil Alsaeid, referring to the murder of Khashoggi. “The Saudi leadership was keen not to politicize this case.”
Alsaeid said he believed that former Obama administration officials who are now part of the Biden administration are intentionally trying to damage US-Saudi relations:
“The wing of former President Barack Obama among the Biden team considers itself in a state of hostility with Saudi Arabia because of the kingdom’s diplomacy that succeeded in persuading former President Donald Trump to withdraw from the ill-fated nuclear deal… The Obama wing inside the ruling Democratic Party accepts the Iranian regime and turns a blind eye to Iran’s terrorism in Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Lebanon.”
Alsaeid pointed out that Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are opposed to a return to the old nuclear deal with Iran:
The failed campaign of pressures on Saudi Arabia will ultimately produce an unwanted American scenario, which is to antagonize allies and appease enemies… Riyadh, like the Arab Gulf states, has very important alliances with America, and the Saudi partnership with the US extends for long decades, and has resulted in a serious fight against terrorism.”
President Biden, he added, “has the right to talk about America’s democratic values, but why have these values not been expanded to hold Hezbollah accountable for the recent killing of [anti-Hezbollah Lebanese publisher] Loqman Slim or the slaughter of thousands of thousands of Syrians by pro-Iranian groups?
Emad El Din Adeeb, a prominent Egyptian businessman and famous political television show host, said that the Biden administration was “rewarding Iranian despotism while punishing Saudi Arabia.”
The Biden administration, Adeeb warned, was dealing harshly with Riyadh “because of one crime, the killing of Khashoggi, while rehabilitating Tehran, which has carried out a million crimes worse than Khashoggi’s crime.”
Adeeb pointed out that Iran was continuing with its human rights violations while Saudi Arabia has in recent years embarked on large-scale reforms.
“Freedom of expression, assembly and association are prohibited in Iran,” he said.
“It prevents normal social life and attacks protests, private parties and intellectual seminars. It is issues death sentences against political opponents and practices all forms of systematic torture against detainees and prisoners. The Iranian authorities also practice persecution and oppression against religious minorities.”
Instead of punishing Iran, Adeeb said, “The Biden administration is seeking to bring Iran back to the negotiating table, lift sanctions, and release its assets while halting arms and spare parts shipments to Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates.”
“Now Washington is revoking the terror designation of the Houthi terrorist movement in Yemen, thereby encouraging it to increase its missile attacks against innocent Saudi civilians and installations. Washington is now turning a blind eye to Iran’s proxies in the region.”
Emirati writer Mohammed Khalfan Al-Sawafi said that one of the “calamities” that the Arabs suffered during the presidency of Barack Obama was US interference in the internal affairs of the Arab countries.
Al-Sawafi warned that Biden was repeating the “same mistake” of the Obama administration by publishing the report about the murder of Khashoggi.
‘Certain Agendas Not Completed During the Obama Era’
“As Arabs, we do not have any problem with regional or superpower parties playing a role in the international arena… But we reject the interference of any political system or administration that believes its international status and military and financial power allow it to harm our leaders.
“It seems there are certain agendas that were not completed during the Obama era, and the Biden administration wants to take us back to the time when Biden was Vice President. Instead of confirming the Arab’s concerns about the return of Obama’s policy to the region, it would be appropriate [for the Biden administration] to respect the Arab’s social and political culture, which does not accept any harm to political and religious symbols.”
According to al-Sawafi, the release of the report on the slain Saudi journalist was a sign that the Biden administration “stands against the aspirations of the Saudi and Gulf people in achieving reform and stability. The Biden administration, he added, should avoid getting itself into a situation that could damage US relations with the Arab countries. “The Obama administration pushed a number of Arab countries toward rapprochement with China and Russia,” he remarked. “The Biden administration is now working on the basis of: If you have a problem and are unable to solve it, complicate it or work against it.”
Saudi columnist Hamood Abu Talib accused the Biden administration of handing out gifts to Iranian-backed terror groups while punishing its Arab allies, including Saudi Arabia.
Abu Talib noted that on the same day the Biden administration announced its intention to remove the Houthi militia from the US list of foreign terrorist organizations, the Yemen-based terror group fired ballistic missiles and explosive drones toward Saudi Arabia. “America is now providing free gifts to the Houthi militia,” Abu Talib said.
“The false accusations adopted by the Biden administration against the kingdom and the attempts to interfere with its sovereign decisions complicate the situation and make cooperation with the kingdom more difficult. America knows well that the kingdom plays an important pivotal role in all regional issues, in addition to its political and economic weight and depth in the Islamic world and its position in the Arab world, as well as its strategic partnership as a reliable and strong ally of America for eight decades. Therefore, it would be a great folly for the Biden administration if it continues to provoke the kingdom or if it continues to support the Houthis and stand by and watch their attacks.”
The Saudi columnist advised the Biden administration to avoid complicating the problems of the Middle East and “stop supporting terrorist militias that threaten the region’s security, such as the Houthi militia that is supported by the Iranian regime, which is the worst terrorist regime in the world.”
‘Pompeo was Right’
Another Saudi columnist and political activist, Zuhair Al-Harthi, expressed fear that the policy of Biden in the Middle East would be similar to Obama’s “capitulation.”
“American hesitation and inaction, interpreted by Tehran at the time [of the Obama administration] as weakness, is what tempted it [Iran] today to think in the same way and blackmail the new president… The new administration in the White House is in a state of retreat and is lacking a clear vision. The Iranian regime practiced these methods before and is applying them today with the Biden administration in light of behavior similar to that of former President Obama.
“The state of political numbness of the administration that we are witnessing these days does not have a logical explanation, especially when comparing it to what the administration of former President Trump did to curtail the Iranian regime. It is important for President Biden to feel the real dangers facing the Gulf states, the role of US allies, and the danger of enemies. Former Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was right when he asserted that the Iranian regime understands only the language of force. We expected Biden to employ the sanctions that Trump re-imposed on Iran to force it to negotiate issues that were not included in the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action.”
The last three years of the Obama presidency were “catastrophic in every sense of this word,” al-Harthi said.
“Will Biden fall into the same trap? Washington’s standing declined during the Obama presidency. Will Biden repeat Obama’s fatal mistakes? The US dealings at the time with regional issues were a source of ridicule, as Washington delivered Iraq and Afghanistan on a golden platter to Iran and supported the Muslim Brotherhood.”
Egyptian writer Emile Amin also warned Biden against replicating the policies of the Obama administration in the Middle East, especially with regards to endorsing and “flirting with Islamic fundamentalism.” Amin said that no one in the Arab world knows the reason behind Biden’s rush to “fall into the arms” of Iran and Islamists.
“Looking at Washington today, and before the first hundred days of Biden’s presidency have elapsed, it appears the US has not learned from its bad experiences,” he wrote. “Biden’s team is very close to repeating the mistakes of the past, especially concerning the Islamists.”
The Arabs, in short, are telling the Biden administration: The President’s first days in office have hardly elapsed and you are already putting your relations with your Arab allies in serious jeopardy. By blowing the Khashoggi case out of proportion, you are losing your friends in the Middle East. By appeasing Iran, you are emboldening Muslim terrorists. Be aware: repeating the misguided and mistaken policies of the Obama administration will not serve US interests, but considerably harm them.
Khaled Abu Toameh is an award-winning journalist based in Jerusalem.