Skip to content

Diminished Prestige

City JournalPresident Biden has been solid, so far, in pledging support for Israel, but a long trail of bad policies has weakened the American hand in the Middle East.

“We’re the United States of America, for God’s sake!” an exasperated President Biden told 60 Minutes the day after Hamas’s horrific attacks on Israel. “We’re the most powerful nation in the history, not in the world, in the history of the world,” Biden stumbled along, “We are the essential nation . . . and if we don’t [support Israel and Ukraine], who does?”

In the Middle East last week, Biden’s self-regard fell on deaf ears when Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas unceremoniously withdrew from a planned summit with Arab leaders and the U.S. president, leading the Jordanians to cancel the meeting just hours later. Abbas’s pretext for withdrawing was the explosion at the Al Ahli Hospital, a Christian facility in Gaza heavily damaged from what evidence now suggests was Hamas’s friendly fire. The Arab street and international media, however, widely blamed Israel—and, by proxy, the United States—for the incident. The cancelled summit followed a listening tour of Middle Eastern capitals by Secretary of State Antony Blinken. After being snubbed by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who made him wait for hours before postponing their meeting, Blinken ended his stop in Cairo with the uninspiring announcement, “I heard a lot of good ideas about some of the things we need to do.” Like a spurned schoolboy, Blinken reportedly called Abbas to “express profound condolences for the civilian lives lost in the explosion,” and Biden also called the Palestinian president, but no plans have been announced to reschedule the summit.

While considerable anger persists throughout the Muslim world, this is the first time in history that foreign leaders have cancelled a summit meeting with the president of the United States. Not even during the worst moments of the Cold War has international esteem for Washington’s position and potential role in resolving international conflict fallen so low. To Arab potentates, America under Joe Biden appears to be a non-essential, and even dispensable, nation, little respected and certainly not feared.

Biden entered office in 2021 committed not just to a rushed withdrawal from Afghanistan, but to reinstating Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, which essentially paid that country’s anti-American Islamist regime billions to delay, but not cancel, its plan to acquire nuclear weapons. The deal’s proponents hoped it would lull Iran into regional restraint and convince the country to respect Washington’s so-called rules-based international order.

Tehran’s response to these overtures has been to exploit Washington’s lack of resolve. It has rushed more money and weapons to its Hezbollah allies in Lebanon, where Hamas’s attack is widely believed to have been planned and approved with decisive Iranian participation. Lebanese prime minister Najib Mikati, whose government relies on Hezbollah and allied parties, said on television last week that he opposes entering the war, but lamented that he has received no assurances that Lebanon will be kept out of it, and added that he has no power to prevent it from happening. Since Biden’s return to an appeasement policy vis-à-vis Tehran, the Iranian regime has created a similar patron-client relationship with Hamas, which now receives an estimated 93 percent of its support from Iran despite the once-unbridgeable Shia/Sunni sectarian divide, putting Israel in a potential two-front conflict.

Until last month, the Iranian regime also held imprisoned American citizens, essentially as hostages. Biden’s response has inspired little confidence. To secure the release of just five individuals, the administration agreed to unfreeze $6 billion in Iranian assets for what it insisted would be “humanitarian” purposes. The money was held by the Central Bank of Qatar and subject to monitoring—it now cannot be accessed by the Iranians—but to an observer with even a rudimentary understanding of financial economics, releasing the funds substantially boosted Iran’s fungible resources, just weeks before its new Palestinian clients launched their bloody attack.

Meantime, Arab observers of the American street watch with satisfaction as leftist mass protests in favor of the Palestinian cause beset most major American cities—and the Capitol itself—while our uniformly pro-Biden elite institutions equivocate over how to respond to Hamas’s attack without offending terrorist sympathizers.

Biden skipped an unreceptive Amman for Tel Aviv, where he pledged full support to Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, while simultaneously urging him to act with restraint. Last Thursday, after returning to Washington, Biden gave a strong and well received televised address promising Israel “unprecedented” military support, to be advanced in an emergency $105 billion bill that will also provide additional support to Ukraine. U.S. military deployments in the Eastern Mediterranean since Hamas’s attack are impressive and may have some deterrent power against Arab aggressors while also mollifying Israel. At the same time, however, Biden renewed U.S. support for Palestinian self-determination, following on his promise of another $100 million in humanitarian aid despite Hamas’s murder of least 31 Americans in its attack last week and continuing detention of another 11 as hostages. The volume of American support will command Israeli attention for the foreseeable future, but how restrained Israel will be—and can afford to be—remains to be seen.

Share

Recent Articles