President Joe Biden is tired of dealing with the Middle East — and, barely a month into his tenure, the region has noticed.
The signals are not meant to be subtle, his advisers say. The president has made only one call to a head of state in the Middle East — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday — which itself was delayed by more than three weeks and followed calls to other allies and even adversaries like Russia and China. He announced an end to U.S. support for Saudi-led operations in Yemen in his first two weeks in office, a move preceded by a freeze on some arms sales to the region. And his administration has deliberately taken a back seat in responding to a recent deadly rocket attack in northern Iraq that targeted the U.S.-led coalition.
“If you are going to list the regions Biden sees as a priority, the Middle East is not in the top three,” said a former senior national security official and close Biden adviser. “It’s Asia-Pacific, then Europe, and then the Western Hemisphere. And that reflects a bipartisan consensus that the issues demanding our attention have changed as great power competition [with China and Russia] is resurgent.”
Another informal Biden adviser put it more bluntly: “They are just being extremely purposeful to not get dragged into the Middle East.”
The shift in energy and resources away from the region reflects what advisers have described as a deliberate effort to prioritize what they view as more pressing global matters. It’s an approach Biden’s immediate predecessors tried themselves, often unsuccessfully. And at its heart is a sense of exasperation that U.S. foreign policy frequently becomes overwhelmed by quagmires in the Gulf. [Continue reading…]