Iran and China Love Friday Afternoons in the White House | Opinion

On a Friday afternoon while the federal government was closed for Juneteenth, the White House hoped that no one would notice that Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin ordered the drawdown of troops and military materiel from the Middle East. There was no one around to answer the obvious questions when this news story dropped. Why draw down anti-missile systems from the Middle East? How has the pullout actually begun without anyone being informed? How is this good for America? Why remove U.S. troops without announcement and without fanfare?

The drawdown wasn't all that happened over the new federal holiday weekend. Iran held an election, and it was not a democratic one. The presumed victor has previously been sanctioned by the United States for gross human rights abuses. "President-elect" Ebrahim Raisi presided over the executions of thousands of political prisoners. This is the guy the White House's special envoy for Iran, Rob Malley, will join in negotiations over America's re-entry into the failed Iran nuclear deal. This is the guy Rob Malley and Joe Biden are going to empower with nuclear weapons. This is a very bad idea.

What are our allies in the Middle East to think?

The Biden administration is starting to develop a Middle East track record. First it undercut Israel in May during the terror war launched by Iran-funded Hamas. Then team Biden opened the financial floodgates to help Hamas rebuild its terror enclave. Now it sold out our Sunni allies in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Iraq and Jordan. Most of the defensive hardware being removed from the Middle East is coming out of Saudi Arabia.

Why are U.S. troops and military materiel in the Middle East to begin with? They are there in large part to counter the influence of malefactors like Iran. They are also there to demonstrate that the U.S. is committed to standing by its allies and friends. The precipitous removal, reported on the Friday afternoon of a long holiday weekend in the Wall Street Journal, appears to have begun with no warning immediately following a call between Defense Secretary Austin and Saudi crown prince Mohammed bin Salman earlier in June. There was no advance consultation with either the U.S. Congress or our allies.

It's important for the American people to take notice. America won the Cold War against the Soviet Union because we stood up to our adversary. The United States did not withdraw American forces from West Germany in 1950, because doing so would have left the door wide open for Moscow to walk through. We protected our allies, and they knew where we stood, even as Moscow was looking to exploit chinks in the Western armor.

U.S. President Joe Biden
U.S. President Joe Biden speaks about the nation's COVID-19 response and the vaccination program in the State Dining Room of the White House on June 18, 2021 in Washington, DC. The U.S. has shared fewer than 10 million COVID-19 vaccine doses despite Biden's goal of 80 million to be distributed by the end of June. Drew Angerer/Getty Images

By withdrawing troops and materiel from the Middle East, we are demonstrating to our allies that we are ok with our longstanding adversary, Iran, walking right through their door. Texas senator Ted Cruz tweeted a comparison of President Biden to former British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, widely remembered for his appeasement of the Nazi war machine. That didn't end too well for Europe. But after the war, we stood by our allies, we built NATO and our friends knew that we were there for them.

After the first Gulf War in 1991, we made clear to our allies that we would protect them from their enemies, who were also our enemies. Over time, the face of the enemy morphed from Saddam Hussein to the Ayatollahs in Iran. Through it all, we were there.

Team Biden claims that it made the decision to withdraw forces and materiel in order to focus on China. Leaving aside the fact that the president of the United States and his secretary of defense should be able to focus on two things at the same time, this move actually helps Beijing. China imports its energy from the Middle East. Climate envoy John Kerry and his enormous team have been leaning on countries in the Arabian Gulf to cut emissions and focus on cleaner energy. It is important to consider that, on the global landscape and as part of our competition with China, it is in our national security interest to have the Gulf nations consider cutting back on energy sales to China. But what incentive do countries in the Gulf have now to do anything other than increase sales to China and dispense with the concepts behind Kerry's pleas for a Green New Deal? None.

And it's not as if the existential threat from Iran is going to go away. China (and Russia) can capitalize on team Biden's decision and begin, in earnest, to sell weapons systems in the Middle East. The need for antiaircraft systems and fighter jets remains, and the incentives formerly associated with buying them from the United States are diminished now that the Biden administration is proving to be an unreliable ally. If a country needs to defend itself, it will look to any and all quarters, perhaps including China and Russia, to do so. Proverbially speaking, the Neville Chamberlain of our day cut off his nose to spite his face.

What happens when you leave your friends and allies vulnerable? They don't buckle. They look for other, newer, more reliable friends and allies. China's and Russia's defense industries are loving the Juneteenth holiday break in the United States. Iran's mullahs are loving team Biden even more. They are loving that no one was paying attention on a Friday afternoon while the Biden administration quietly walked away from America's allies and thought that no one was paying attention.

Bonnie Glick is a senior advisor at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. and a fellow in the Harvard Kennedy School of Government's Institute of Politics. She served as the Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development January 2019-November 2020.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.