- - Wednesday, March 3, 2021

President Biden has begun a foreign policy swivel away from Saudi Arabia and toward Iran. If there is a rationale for the Biden pivot, it could only be rooted in the belief that predecessor Barack Obama, with his personal Islamic experience, displayed better instincts for Middle East relations than Donald Trump. America’s diplomatic about-face is driven more by political preference than prospects for peace.

Mr. Biden‘s inauguration confetti had barely been swept up before he announced an end to Trump-era support for the Saudis’ five-year military offensive against Iran-backed rebels in Yemen. The president called the ongoing conflict a “humanitarian and strategic catastrophe.” It surely is, owing to a blockade of Yemeni air and sea ports that has denied entry to not only weapons, but necessities like food. In the Saudi kingdom, where beheadings are still public, spilled blood soaks quickly into the sand and is easily forgotten.

The president made little mention of the other player driving the violence in Yemen. Iran‘s support for Yemen’s Houthi rebels has been “a good way to bleed the Saudis,” writes Phillip Smyth of the Washington Institute on Near East Policy.

Iranian missiles flank the Saudis from the northeastern shore of Persian Gulf and others controlled by Tehran’s proxies threaten from the south. Emboldened Houthis fired missiles at Riyadh on Sunday, which were fortunately intercepted. If Iran were to orchestrate attacks on Saudi oil shipments at Yemen’s Red Sea chokepoint, the consequences would be felt globally.

Mr. Biden chose to enrage Riyadh last week by releasing a declassified intelligence report implicating Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the 2018 murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The White House says it intends to “recalibrate” its relationship with the Saudis. “Mutilate” would be a more accurate description.

Tempering his headlong tilt toward Tehran, Mr. Biden on Thursday ordered airstrikes on supply trucks in Syria serving Iranian-backed militia groups. Congressional Democrats complained louder than the mullahs.

The reason for the sudden Biden pivot toward Iran is likely the simplest: Barack Obama, who warmed to the Muslim experience during his childhood years in Indonesia, instinctually prefers Iranian leadership in the Islamic world over the Saudi variety.

Mr. Trump deployed economic weaponry rather than bullets and bombs to alter the behavior of bad international actors. Economic sanctions leveled to induce Iran to surrender its nuclear designs had the Islamic republic begging for relief, threatening to expose the naive, Obama-era diplomatic strategy of achieving peace through bribery.

Mr. Biden‘s team, loaded with Obama retreads, refuses to acknowledge the superiority of the Trump approach, which led to unprecedented peace deals between Israel and regional rivals United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Sudan and Morocco.

Taking the boot off the neck of Iran and placing it on Saudi Arabia is not about prospects for peace, but political preference. President Biden‘s efforts to cancel the Trump effect is the wrong choice.

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