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Biden Left a Power Vacuum in the Middle East and Beijing Took Advantage

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The Persian Gulf is a battleground in the new Cold War between the U.S. and China. Allies and foes of Washington perceive clear signs of declining American hegemony in Biden’s contradictory, erratic and weak foreign policy.

Three recent alarm bells for America’s Persian Gulf allies were:

  • The disastrous withdrawal from Afghanistan, which handed Central Asia to Beijing.
  • Biden’s resumption of Obama’s weak nuclear deal with Iran and the lifting of sanctions, without demanding the cessation of Tehran’s support for terrorism against Washington’s allies in the Persian Gulf.
  • The removal of the Houthi rebels who overthrew Yemen’s government from the list of terrorist organizations on which the Trump administration had placed them.

Since Obama signed the failed nuclear deal with Iran in 2015, Washington’s allies in the Gulf began to doubt the American commitment to protect them from the Iranian threat. Biden destroyed, in less than one year, the confidence of those allies Trump had supported during four. 

Beijing took advantage of Biden’s weakness with effective opportunistic diplomacy in the Persian Gulf, making deals with Kuwait, Qatar, Oman, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), and the Saudi Kingdom swiftly. Security cooperation between the UAE and Beijing set the alarm bells ringing in Washington in November 2021, when China reached an agreement to build a port in Abu Dhabi as a strategic point on the New Maritime Silk Road, which is Xi Jinping’s grand imperial project, as he seeks to control routes from the Indian Ocean to the Middle East and beyond.

This Chinese port project in Abu Dhabi forced the UAE to give up its $23 billion purchase of American F-35 fighters. Washington also pressured the UAE to pull Huawei out of its 5G network. And with the bipartisan Monitoring China-UAE Cooperation Act introduced in the House of Representatives by Congressman Chris Stewart (R-UT) and Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL), Washington monitors the China-UAE relationship to safeguard U.S. strategic technology from China.

But Biden pressures his Gulf allies without offering them nothing in return for what he seeks to prevent them from getting from Beijing. With the Democrat in power, Washington has given up on containing Iran, and for its Gulf allies, Tehran is the biggest threat to their security.

Last week’s drone and missile attacks in the UAE by Iranian-backed Houthi terrorists showed that removing the Houthi rebels from the list of terrorist organizations was interpreted by Tehran and its allies as another sign of weakness from Biden’s Washington.

The strikes against U.S. allies in the Gulf were a response to the latest bombings by the Saudi-led coalition against Houthi bases in Yemen. The Houthis launched five ballistic missiles and an unspecified number of drones against Dubai and Abu Dhabi airports, the Musaffah oil refinery, and other civilian targets.

The action replicated the September 2019 attack on Saudi oil facilities with Iranian missiles and drones. The UAE still hosts 5,000 American military personnel, so Secretary of State Blinken obviously condemned the attack. UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al-Nahan asked President Biden to designate Houthi rebels as terrorists again.

I had already advanced in a previous column that, by retaking Obama’s failed nuclear pact with Tehran, Biden destabilizes the Middle East, weakens his allies in the Gulf, opens the doors of nuclear power to Tehran in the near future and creates a power vacuum that Beijing rushes to fill by strengthening its imperial New Maritime Silk Road. And the truth is that American influence in the Persian Gulf will continue to weaken unless Washington soon corrects this contradictory, erratic and weak Middle East policy.

Guillermo Rodríguez is a professor of Political Economy in the extension area of the Faculty of Economic and Administrative Sciences at Universidad Monteávila, in Caracas. A researcher at the Juan de Mariana Center and author of several books // Guillermo es profesor de Economía Política en el área de extensión de la Facultad de Ciencias Económicas y Administrativas de la Universidad Monteávila, en Caracas, investigador en el Centro Juan de Mariana y autor de varios libros

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