America’s Disingenuous Criticism of Its Middle Eastern Allies

April 1, 2022 | Michael Doran
About the author: Michael Doran is a senior fellow and director of the Center for Peace and Security in the Middle East at Hudson Institute. The author of Ike’s Gamble: America’s Rise to Dominance in the Middle East (2016), he is also a former deputy assistant secretary of defense and a former senior director of the National Security Council. He tweets @doranimated.

Earlier this month, the State Department declared that it was “profoundly disappointed and troubled” by the United Arab Emirates’ decision to invite the Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad—Iran’s closest ally—for an official visit. Shortly thereafter, when Qatar hosted Iranian military officers at an arms exhibition, the State Department again announced that it was “deeply disappointed and troubled.” Michael Doran argues that such condemnations would be deserved, if Washington weren’t guilty of even worse:

If it had been sincere, then the Biden administration would be deeply or even profoundly disappointed and troubled by its own behavior, starting with its reported willingness to consider removing [Iran’s] Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) from the State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations. “We are very concerned about the United States’ intention to give in to Iran’s outrageous demand and remove the IRGC from the list of terrorist organizations,” the Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett said at a recent cabinet meeting.

Bennett had good reason to be outraged, but the willingness to consider de-listing the IRGC is not the main reason why. The Israelis are witnessing a region-wide shift in the balance of power in favor of Iran—a shift of which the Emirati and Qatari embrace of Iran and Syria is part. The cause of the shift is the decision of the Biden administration to return to the Iran nuclear deal. Not only does the deal put an international stamp of approval on Iran’s military nuclear program, but it also channels tens of billions of dollars to Iran’s coffers in the short term, hundreds of billions over the next decade. The IRGC’s power will increase exponentially, and the Assad regime will benefit substantially from its success.

As if to drive the point home, the American military has remained largely supine over the last year as Iran has repeatedly used its proxies or its own forces to subject Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Israel, and Iraq to attacks from drones and ballistic missiles. On at least one occasion, an Iranian-backed group in Iraq conducted a direct attack on American forces—in al-Tanf, Syria. These provocations neither triggered a meaningful American military countermeasure nor prompted the White House to consider breaking off the negotiations in Vienna.

Consequently, the deterrent power of the United States eroded significantly. . . . If the White House truly expects the allies to take a harder line, it must start by taking a harder line itself.

Read more on Struggle for Mastery in the Middle East: