Mar 5, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Ro Khanna wary of Biden approach on Middle East

Rep. Ro Khanna is seen speaking on stage.

Rep. Ro Khanna. Photo: Cody Glenn/Sportsfile for Web Summit via Getty Images

An outspoken progressive Democrat is wary of President Biden’s approach to the Middle East, arguing it’s like “conceding defeat of the aspiration” to win a Nobel Peace Prize.

Why it matters: A number of members of Biden’s own party dislike his Middle East strategy, as his administration signals the region is no longer the priority it was for President Obama and his predecessors.

  • “Obama strove for greatness,” California Democrat Rep. Ro Khanna told Axios. “He, at least, tried."
  • Khanna, 44, backed Sen. Bernie Sanders for president and has worked with Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) to enact a non-interventionist foreign policy.

Khanna has criticized Biden for not imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia’s crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, after intelligence showed he was responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

  • In a five-point plan shared exclusively with Axios, he suggests the administration withdraw all remaining U.S. forces in Iraq. He favors striking a multilateral agreement with regional partners to prevent ISIS from retaking territory.
  • He's also joined Democrats in criticizing the administration for a recent airstrike against facilities in Syria linked to Iran-backed militia groups.
  • Khanna proposes announcing additional resources for security and stability, including aid and development.
  • And Khanna’s plan effectively asks other regional players to increase their presence in the region as the United States withdraws.

But, but, but: Other major players in the region often have very different views about how to maintain stability.

  • When the U.S. pulled back from Syria under Donald Trump, it was Russia and Turkey — two countries with whom the U.S. has difficult relations — that filled the void.

Flashback: Obama withdrew U.S. military forces from Iraq by 2011, after which sectarian tensions and a weak Iraqi state created a ripe environment for the formation of ISIS.

  • This necessitated another American-led intervention in the region in 2014 — a move Khanna supported.
  • Biden told congressional leaders in a letter Saturday his Syria strike last week was consistent with the U.S. right of self-defense.
  • The White House declined to comment on Khanna's suggestions.

The Biden administration has made clear in recent moves it intends to refocus on what it sees as more pressing issues.

  • During his first foreign policy address, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the United States’ relationship with China the "biggest geopolitical test of the 21st century."
  • While acknowledging other nations present their own challenges, Blinken noted China's ability to destabilize the international system.
  • Biden didn’t call Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu until almost a month into his term.

The bottom line: As Axios’ Barak Ravid reported from Tel Aviv, U.S. presidents have for decades arrived in office hoping to reach a historic peace deal.

  • Biden doesn't see that as achievable under the current circumstances.

Editor’s note: The headline on this story has been updated.

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