A raft of foreign policy decisions since the Biden administration took office — some ill advised, some badly timed, and in some cases both — prompt a question I thought would never have to be asked: Do US foreign policy advisers know who their friends in this region actually are?
US allies and partners alike are puzzled. More dangerously, America’s enemies, who threaten regional stability, are empowered and emboldened.
Take the recent withdrawal by the US of its most advanced missile defense system and Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia, a strategic partner. I am not sure if anyone in Washington has thought of it this way, but since Houthi terrorists in Yemen regularly and deliberately target civilian areas in the Kingdom, this is the equivalent of America denying Israel its Iron Dome technology while it was under attack from Hamas.
Even that comparison falls short of describing how inexplicable the US position is. The Houthis, whose official slogan is “Death to America” and who targeted the US Navy during the Obama era, have actually had their terrorist designation removed by the Biden administration. (The claim is the removal helps facilitate the flow of aid into Yemen, strangely, aid still goes into Gaza despite Hamas remaining on the US terror list.)
Of course, Saudi Arabia is fully capable of defending itself, as is its right. It has been remarkably successful in protecting innocent lives from most Houthi missiles and drones, all of them made or supplied by Iran. With those weapons, the Houthis do not hesitate to attack oil facilities, civilian airports, and Saudi cities.
The withdrawal by the US of Patriot batteries from Saudi Arabia is the equivalent of denying Israel its Iron Dome technology while it was under attack from Hamas
Faisal J. Abbas
The Houthis have launched hundreds of missile and drone attacks on Saudi Arabia. Their frequency has intensified this year, especially since the Houthis’ removal from the US terror list. American diplomats and high-ranking officials have condemned every attack, and publicly acknowledged that the Houthis seem uninterested in any political solution to the conflict in Yemen.
Redeploying the Patriot batteries is an incomprehensible decision at a time when a strategic partner is under attack, but a bigger concern is the message it sends to the Houthis and their Iranian backers. Both Saudi Arabia and the US want to bring them to the table for peaceful negotiations, although the elephant in the room is the Biden administration’s desperation to sign a new nuclear deal with Tehran.
All of this comes hard on the heels of the debacle of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan, and all the negativity that accompanied it, particularly as it also portrayed Washington as turning its back on its longtime partners in the Afghan government
None of this shines a favorable light on America’s image, or the consistency of its foreign policy.
Some observers mistakenly link the recent US decisions with the declassification of the FBI investigation into the 9/11 attacks 20 years ago, but surely there is no connection. In fact, America’s decision to withdraw and redeploy military assets started much earlier this year. As for the 9/11 report, Saudi Arabia has welcomed what was published, since it proves what the Kingdom has said all along: The 9/11 attacks were individual acts, unrelated to any Saudi government policy.
This is not just rhetoric. Critics need to remember that official Saudi policy has been — and remains — to fight terrorism and all those who espouse it. The Kingdom not only stripped Osama bin Laden of his Saudi citizenship, but also gave early warnings about Al-Qaeda and its malign intentions long before 9/11.
The Kingdom itself suffered from Al-Qaeda and its barbaric attacks. It criminalized and prosecuted Al-Qaeda sympathizers, and did everything in its power to stop the flow of money to the terrorists. Against this background, it beggars belief that the US would extend an olive branch to an Iranian regime whose official doctrine is the complete opposite. Iranian policy is actually to support and export terror. US government departments, from State to the Treasury, have ample evidence that Iran has harbored and financed both Shiite extremists and even Sunni Al-Qaeda terrorists.
What is the sentiment in Tehran toward the US today? Well, if I were an Iranian official I would surely be thinking: With enemies like these, who needs friends?
• Faisal J. Abbas is the editor in chief of Arab News