Dana Stroul, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East recently attended a series of meetings in the GCC to discuss regional threats. Stroul leads the development of U.S. Department of Defense Policy and Strategy for Bahrain, Egypt, Israel, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestinian Authority, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Syria, United Arab Emirates and Yemen. Dana Stroul was clear about the threats posed to the GCC, the US (and implicitly, Israel) which invariably emanate from Iran. In her recent high-level meetings, she focused on Iran and its proxies namely, the Houthis, Hezbollah, and Hamas. Military threats were also well-defined as being aerial (missiles and UAVs) and maritime in nature, as well as the destabilizing behavior of non-state actors across the region.
What occurred in the GCC, during the same time, were a series of meetings by Robert Malley with several GCC diplomats to brief them on the latest progress (or lack thereof) in the US-Iranian nuclear (JCPOA) discussions. Surely, Malley a pro-Iranian diplomat who is a legacy leftover from the Obama administration loathes the GCC, disrespects the Arabs’ viewpoint, while believing in Iran’s ‘manifest destiny’ as the only worthy interlocutor of the US in the Persian Gulf. A sort of replacement of Iran under the Shah, with Iran under the Ayatollahs.
So, why did the US send Stroul -a clear headed and candid official- and Malley -a known Iranian sympathizer- to the GCC at this time? What is changing in Biden’s foreign policy towards the region, if any?
The Ukraine war and, consequently, the dark role that Iran is playing in this conflict, are the essential game changers that emerged since Biden’s last visit to the region.
Iran is siding with Russia and supplying the latter with killer drones to attack urban areas and murder civilians in Ukraine. By doing so, Iran has crossed the Rubicon of the present-day national policy of this peculiar White House. Not the salvos of missiles and drones hitting Aramco or Abu Dhabi, not the repeated maritime attacks on civilian vessels in the Strait of Hormuz, and not the periodic shelling of US barracks in Iraq and Southern Syria. Furthermore, it was not the uranium enrichment level at Iranian sites which has presently reached 84% vs. 30% when Biden took office, that got this White House ticked-off.
All such Iranian transgressions could have been -and are in fact- largely tolerated by the Biden administration and their Obama-era alumnus. They are constantly swept under the carpet and usually avoided during diplomatic meetings and defense roundtables. They are often dismissed as being the product of Israeli obsessiveness with the Mullah regime, or as some form of religious intolerance by the Sunni-majority GCC against a Shia-dominated Iran. Every excuse is good enough for the Biden-Obama team to keep Iran outside the net of such flagrant crimes, irrespective of the unescapable realities on the ground.
So, this dubious, almost 180 degrees realignment by the Biden administration with the GCC has to do with the need to weaken Russia, and by proxy, to keep Iran in check, but not yet weakening it or giving sufficient media support to popular uproars throughout Iranian cities and towns. That would be too much of a departure from the Obama (saintly) legacy or the Biden (hesitant) policy.
Biden’s representatives who visit the region, and Obama’s multiple cronies in Foggy Bottom, still delude themselves by thinking that they are dealing with Arab characters out of the motion picture Lawrence of Arabia. Meaning, somewhat cunning counterparts but gullible interlocutors who are impressed beyond belief with the might of a superpower. When T.E. Lawrence incited Arabs to revolt against the Ottomans his masters in Cairo and London offered the carrots of gold, to fund the revolt and, the promise of a Cherifian rule, post-war. The gold was delivered but the promises of a Cherifian rule -or even self-rule- were torpedoed by the Sykes-Picot accord. Once the Great War ended and the Ottoman defeated, the gold ceased to flow, and the lash replaced the handshakes. A new period of colonialism, post-Ottoman era, begun its ugly chapter.
So, the war in Ukraine is raging and the promises -not gold this time- are flowing again from the mouths of the very same US diplomats who taunted the JCPOA as the greatest geopolitical breakthrough since the Camp David Accords. The Abraham Accords which were frequently belittled by the Biden administration, only because they were sealed by Trump, are receiving lately some lip-service respect to keep up with the momentum of this renewed diplomatic push.
T.E. Lawrence died without recognition and his deeds on the battlefields long forgotten, and so will the promises of the Biden diplomats if they are not backed by a firm stand on Iran. The region does not want the demise of Iran or its regime. That job is best left to the Iranian people, but it requires a clear and unequivocal position by the US on Iran’s missiles proliferation, the role of its proxy armies, the JCPOA, and muzzling Iran’s both will and capacity to harm its neighbors. If that brings a halt to Iran’s interferences on the Ukrainian front, it could be a win-win.
In an unforgettable scene in the movie Lawrence of Arabia this passage remains the most memorable:
Once diplomats’ mothers mate with truth and transparency, Auda will go to Aqaba.