Kissinger: Biden Must Uphold Trump Admin's 'Brilliant' Success in the Middle East

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March 3, 2021

Henry Kissinger said President Joe Biden should uphold the "brilliant" realignment in Middle Eastern politics achieved under the Trump administration during a Tuesday event.

Kissinger praised the Trump administration’s diplomatic corps for its strategy of pitting major Sunni Muslim countries in the Middle East against Iran. The strategy, Kissinger said, served to isolate Tehran and opened the door to a new approach to Middle Eastern foreign policy that advances American interests.

"I think that one of the great successes of the previous administration was that they had lined up, that they had achieved two things in the Middle East," Kissinger said. "One, to separate the Palestinian problem from all of the other problems so that it did not become a veto over everything else—and secondly, of lining up the Sunni states in actual or potential combination against the Shiite states, which is Iran, that was developing a capacity to threaten them. I think that this was a brilliant concept. We were just at the beginning of it." 

Kissinger, who was secretary of state under the Nixon and Ford administrations, made the remarks during the first seminar of a new monthly series from the Richard Nixon Foundation focused on national security and foreign policy. Former secretary of state Mike Pompeo, former national security adviser Robert O’Brien, Rep. Mike Gallagher (R., Wis.), and former deputy national security adviser Matt Pottinger also participated in the seminar.

Kissinger pointed to Washington's pressure on countries in the Middle East to pivot away from Iran as the major achievement of the Trump administration. The Abraham Accords, which were brokered in August 2020, brought Israel together with Muslim-majority countries such as the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain in an implicit rebuke to Tehran. 

The Trump administration also confronted Iran directly through a "maximum pressure" campaign and "snapback" sanctions in an effort to slow the Iranian economy and halt the Iranian nuclear program.

Kissinger exhorted the Biden administration to keep the course on this new-look policy in the Middle East.

"We should not give up the pressures that exist on Iran until we know where they are heading," Kissinger said. "If we break out the Iranian issue from the overall Middle Eastern issue, we run the risk of losing the two achievements, namely of separating the Palestinian issue, which removes it as a veto over everything else, and the Sunni cooperation with Israel, which is unique in its openness."  

The Biden administration has shown little interest in heeding Kissinger’s advice. Biden has elevated several Obama-era diplomats who argued for the Iran deal to senior positions, such as climate czar John Kerry, Iran envoy Robert Malley, and nominee for undersecretary of defense Colin Kahl. Even with strong bipartisan opposition from Congress, the White House has said it still hopes to reengage in nuclear talks with Iran in the coming months.

In February, Biden also spurned Saudi Arabia by halting arms deals with the country. Biden also removed the Iran-backed Houthi militias in Yemen from terror watchlists, a move met with strong opposition from Republicans. Days later, Houthi militants bombed an airport in Saudi Arabia.