Russia isn’t parked, Iran isn’t pacified, and both are coordinating strategies with China.
I was here last week to interview Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Tikvah Israel Security Conclave. The interview, available on the Journal’s website, combined a tour d’horizon of Mr. Netanyahu’s view of world politics with some candid reflections on the history of Zionism. As for the rest of the conference, I came away thinking that the U.S. is much closer to getting involved in another Middle East war than most in Washington understand, and that minimizing this danger requires rapid and sweeping policy change from an administration still struggling to comprehend the most serious international crisis since the late 1930s.
The Biden administration came to office with an elegant and cohesive geopolitical strategy. It would address the China challenge by driving wedges between China and its fellow revisionist powers. It would park Russia by accommodating Vladimir Putin and stabilize the Middle East by reviving the nuclear deal with Iran even as it pursued aggressive trade and security policies to limit China’s rise.
From the outset, the administration knew that the American-led world system was in trouble, but it underestimated the severity of the threat and misunderstood its causes. To its credit, Team Biden saw the China challenge clearly from day one, but failed to understand how weak the foundations of American power had become or how far the revisionist powers—China, Russia, Iran and hangers-on such as Venezuela and Syria—were willing to cooperate to weaken an American hegemony they both resented and despised.
Two years later, the Biden administration is struggling to manage the failure of its original design. Its aggressive rhetoric and policy toward China have intensified China’s hostility, but instead of facing an isolated China in an otherwise calm world, the administration faces simultaneous confrontations in Europe and the Far East. Russia isn’t parked, Iran isn’t pacified, and the three revisionists are coordinating their strategy and messaging to an unprecedented degree.
Worse, Iran’s inexorable march toward nuclear weapons, combined with its deepening partnership with Russia, is driving the Middle East steadily closer to a war that is likely to engage the U.S.—one that the Biden administration desperately wants to avoid.
For Mr. Putin, a major military confrontation in the Middle East would be an unmitigated blessing. Oil prices would spike, filling Moscow’s coffers and intensifying pressures on Europe. The Pentagon would have to split available weapons between Ukraine and Middle East allies. The balance in the Taiwan Strait would significantly shift in China’s favor. Spiking energy prices would boost inflation in the U.S. just as Mr. Biden tries to persuade antiwar Democrats to support another American military venture in the Middle East.
And while in a perfect world Russia might oppose an Iranian nuclear weapon, under current circumstances—in which Mr. Putin desperately needs Iran to help disrupt American strategy—Mr. Putin might well decide to help Iran cross the nuclear threshold.
But the Russian dictator doesn’t need to go that far. Simply by increasing Iranian military capabilities that limit Israel’s ability to attack Iran’s nuclear facilities, Mr. Putin could force Israel into a pre-emptive strike that would set off a regional war.
The U.S. can’t compel Iran and Russia to avoid actions that trigger a new Middle East war, but strong policy on our part still might deter them. Unfortunately for the Biden administration, that involves precisely the kind of hawkish Middle East posture that many Democrats—including senior Biden officials—viscerally loathe. The American approach to Saudi Arabia will have to move from a fist bump to wholehearted embrace. Drone attacks and other provocations by Iran and its allies against the Saudis, Emiratis and their neighbors will have to be met with the kind of American military response that leaves no doubt of our determination to prevail.
The best way to avoid war, and to minimize direct American engagement should war break out, is to ensure that our Middle East allies have the power to defend themselves. We must make it unmistakably clear that we will ensure our allies win should hostilities break out. Nothing else will do.
The administration seems to be moving, slowly, in the right direction in the Middle East, but time is not on its side. Wishful thinking and strategic incompetence led the bipartisan foreign-policy establishment first to ignore and then to appease rising challengers to the post-Cold War world order.
Now the Biden administration faces the consequences of a generational failure in American foreign policy. We must wish Team Biden success as it struggles to cope with a world that it, along with the American foreign-policy community as a whole, largely failed to foresee
News Source: WSJ