Shifting paradigms: Advocating for US policy reform in the Middle East

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Shifting paradigms: Advocating for US policy reform in the Middle East

When the number of people killed in Gaza exceeded 2,000 as a result of the Hamas attacks on October 7, Josh Paul, a State Department staffer who assisted in the transfer of weapons to other countries for eleven years, announced his resignation on October 18. Mr. Paul expressed his worry that Palestinian people were being targeted by American weapons. In addition, he declared that certain actions, such as “rushing more arms to one side of the conflict,” were “unjust and contradictory to the very values that we publicly espouse.”

Grassroots movements

Priorities in US foreign policy are changing, and this is changing the balance of power in the world. The United States has indicated a waning interest in the Middle East following a time of protracted obsession with the region. China, and by extension the Asia-Pacific area, has become the new focal point. 

This change is acknowledged by both China and the Middle East. While the Middle East is confused and “running for cover,” Beijing is preparing to face what it sees as the primary danger to its rise on the international scene. Presidents Biden and Trump have similar foreign policy positions, in contrast to their respective domestic approaches. China quickly became the focal point of Trump’s foreign policy agenda. During his administration, the U.S. implemented a whole-of-government strategy that resulted in “at least 210 public actions related to China that spanned at least 10 departments” and increased taxes on Chinese goods (WGA). Biden predicted a continuation of Trump’s hard-on-China policy and continued emphasis on the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Although previous President Barack Obama was the one to initially declare his intention to turn his focus to Asia, Trump and now Biden should be primarily credited for the change.

Congressional action

The National Security staff in the Middle East and Asia directorates has been reorganized by national security adviser Jake Sullivan, who has bolstered the unit that coordinates US policy toward the vast region of the world that stretches from the Indian Ocean to the Pacific and shrunk the team focused on the Middle East. The modifications basically reversed the organization of the NSC from the Obama administration, when the Asia portfolio was overseen by a small number of more junior employees and the Middle East directorate was substantially larger than it is today. The National Security Council currently functions on the false pretext that China and Russia pose the greatest threats to US security going forward and pose the main challenges to the US, the West, and the liberal international order.

Policy think tanks and experts

Conversely, Middle East policy has become one of acquiescence. The most striking indication of the US withdrawal from the Middle East may have been the contradictory approach to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA; Iran Nuclear Deal). US foreign policy has taken startling u-turns, supporting the JCPOA at one point, withdrawing from it at another, and then expressing a renewed interest in it. 

The international community once held the view that the US’s foreign policy course is less dependent on the whims of the White House and more on a set of guiding principles and institutional precedents. This conclusion is no longer valued in the Middle East. Middle Eastern officials have also been taken aback by the US’s precipitous withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan and by the fact that the US still has a strategy for its future involvement in the area. They have read it as a deliberate disengagement and even separation from anything that is not China , in addition to a lack of interest in anything other than China.

Diplomatic initiatives

Many regional powers in the Middle East and the larger Arab World now have more freedom to choose a different course as a result of American regional disengagement. From an American standpoint, two changes stand out as particularly significant: the normalization of Syria and Iran. The “anti-Iran” alliance, which the US had labored to construct, lost faith in the US after its reversals on the Iran nuclear deal. Despite the fact that nations like Israel and Saudi Arabia didn’t need the US to encourage them to despise Iran, others, like the United Arab Emirates, are beginning to ease their own tensions with Tehran after years of adopting a more assertive position. 


In conclusion, With no longer being subject to American coercion, Saudi Arabia even seems eager to “shed its reputation as an American client state” and develop its own foreign policy. Saudi Arabia is currently seeking to restore relations with Iran through Chinese mediation. While Iran’s finance minister was in Jeddah discussing potential economic cooperation, Saudi Arabia reopened its embassy and dispatched an envoy to Tehran. 

Research Staff

Research Staff

Sign up for our Newsletter