The Biden administration, whose failed efforts to appease the Taliban with a one-sided “peace” agreement have been exposed as a catastrophic error in Afghanistan, is under pressure to step back from confronting Iran on nuclear and other issues.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., chairman of the relevant Foreign Relations Committee subcommittee, has called for the U.S. to “deprioritize” efforts to deter Iran and pressure Saudi Arabia to “come to terms” with the influence of Iran and its Hezbollah proxies in Lebanon.
In a podcast interview last week with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Murphy queried: “How much does it matter to the United States what share of power Iran and Saudi Arabia have in the region 10 or 20 years from now? We act as if that question is existential to the United States. I’m not sure that it is.”
Murphy, whose subcommittee covers counterterrorism and the Near East, South Asia, and Central Asia, noted that he meets regularly with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif.
Zarif, Murphy said, “always reminds me that Iran’s missiles are not pointed at Israel; they’re pointed at Saudi Arabia, and Iran sees our massive influence and arms sales to the Saudis and Emiratis as provocative.”
Although the Connecticut Democrat allowed that he takes everything Zarif says “with a large shaker of salt,” one wonders why he would so glibly repeat the Iranian foreign minister’s propaganda claims.
A big chunk of Murphy’s motivation appears to be linked to his distaste for the Saudi government. Although his concerns for Saudi human rights may be valid, the senator says little about Iran’s even greater human rights violations.
Murphy also glosses over Iran’s persistent threat to U.S. interests and allies, as well as Tehran’s responsibility for the deaths of many Americans, including more than 600 U.S. personnel killed in Iraq by explosive devices supplied by Iran.
Should U.S. ‘Step Back’?
By downplaying Iran’s security threats, Murphy feels free to argue that Washington should reduce security assistance to Persian Gulf allies, which he says Tehran deems “provocative.”
“I think part of the solution here is for the United States to step back and lessen its militaristic footprint in the region,” the senator said.
Murphy argued that shrinking the U.S. military presence and reducing security aid to Gulf allies would “create the space for there to be conversations between the Iranians and the Saudis.”
But he appears unconcerned that reduced U.S. support also would enable Iran to intimidate neighbors and undermine Saudi bargaining leverage in any bilateral talks with Iran.
“I just think it’s time to play hardball with the Saudis,” Murphy said, adding:
I don’t believe this argument that the Saudis are going to walk away from a security alliance with the United States. They will never get from the Chinese nor the Russians what they get from the United States today.
That may be true, but playing hardball with allies while playing softball with Iran is not a winning long-term strategy.
Narrow Definition of Iran Threat
The gist of Murphy’s podcast comments is that Saudi Arabia, and to a lesser extent the United Arab Emirates, have warped U.S. foreign policy by encouraging a hard line against Iran that undermines U.S. national interests.
But the senator ignores a long history of terrorist attacks against Americans by Iran and its proxies, as well as the multiple threats Iran poses to other countries.
Although Murphy would prefer to define Iran’s threats in terms of a Saudi-Iranian rivalry, Iran’s ambitions run much deeper than that.
Tehran not only remains committed to the destruction of Israel, but also to the subversion of Bahrain, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Yemen.
In recent years, Iran also has attacked international shipping as part of its undeclared war on Israel and the Arab Gulf states.
A U.S. withdrawal from the region would leave a dangerous vacuum that Iran would fill, as it did after the implosion of weak governments in Iraq, Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen.
Iran and its proxies threaten much more than Saudi Arabia, despite what Zarif whispers in Murphy’s ear.
The Connecticut Democrat should listen more to U.S. allies in the region, such as the governments of Israel and Arab states threatened by Iran, and less to Iranian propagandists such as Zarif.
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